Worse Than The Romans
In a torch-lit procession, she would be escorted from her family’s home to the groom’s home, where the latter would be waiting. On arrival the door posts of the house would be decorated with wooden fillets and anointed with oil. The bride would then be carried on shoulders over the threshold. This gesture is believed to date back to the rape of Sabine women when the Romans were able to find wives by kidnapping the daughters of neighboring communities. The earlier Roman brides therefore entered their new homes unwillingly, but later on the Roman brides were carried by their father’s family as a symbol of “difference” from the raped Sabine women.
The question is whether centuries after the Roman Empire the Pakistani society has evolved from man’s sordid past, or has our society ignored Islamic teachings towards better treatment of women.
There is a profound misconception in the West that honor killings are associated with Sharia law or countries with a majority of Muslim population. The Quran boldly speaks for itself in these words, “And those who accuse their wives and have no witnesses except themselves, let one of them testify four times, bearing Allah to witness, that he speaks the truth. And the fifth (time) that the curse of Allah be on him, if he is lying. And it shall avert the punishment from her, if she testifies four times, bearing Allah to witness, that he is lying. And the fifth (time) that the wrath of Allah be on her, if he speaks the truth”. Other than this, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) also consulted women on important matters. His first wife Hazrat Khadija was his chief advisor and first to become aware of his prophethood. His wife Hazrat Ayesha was a well-known authority in medicine and an important source of Hadith. This represents that Islam has always been a religion which hones the importance of women in every aspect and that women are born free and are entitled to have their opinions.
Nevertheless due to the ignorance of liberal teachings of Islam, the fate of the majority of women (especially in rural areas) is tainted with dictations, impositions and obligations. Their lives are “morally” owned, controlled and possessed by their fathers, brothers and husbands. Their freedom of speech is deeply incarcerated, so much so that their dissenting opinion, humble as it may be, is treated with such disdainful aggressiveness that it can potentially lead to the women being in a casket ready to be buried. Women face all kinds of violence from acid spills to the staggering rate of honor killings, to the cheap laughs and characterless giggles targeted towards passerby women. While laughing and giggling are unaccounted for, the rate of women butchered in the name of “honor” in Pakistan spanning from a period of February 2014 to February 2106 was 1,276. Data produced by Aurat Foundation reveals that only in Punjab 724 women were killed last year, not to mention the plethora of unreported cases.
Honor killing in South Asia is an endemic with absolutely no linkage to Islam. Land in all feudal systems represents power for the tribal clan and women are used as tools for the preservation of tribal values. The survival of the tribe is threatened if a woman does not agree to marry into her clan and decides to act upon her will. Moreover, in doing so there is a threat that the land would be inherited out of the family. Thus, in an attempt to save the clan, members of the family kill her in order to keep their honor intact. The core issue lies in the feudal system’s approach of indifference to the individuality of a woman. It is for this reason one concludes that women are treated as commodities that can be bought and sold like land, buried alive at birth, bartered like cattle or even killed with impunity.
Apart from the moral and sociological reasoning, it would be true to say that both socio-legal inequalities have coincided with one another to reach the epitome of today’s violent inequality. In the early case of Ghulam Yasin v The State, the High Court held it to be “obvious that a person guilty on account of ghairat is not the same as qatl-e-amd (intentional killing knowing that the nature of the act in normal circumstances would have caused death), thus persons killing on account of ghairat do deserve concession”, thus the offender’s sentence was reduced to 5 years. This reasoning is highly unjust for the aggrieved party (most likely to be a female) and promotes honor killings. The recent judgments are even more confusing and contradictory to one another whereby the ultimate victims are women. In a 2014 judgment of Zahidullah v The State, the court refused to accept “grave and sudden provocation plea”. By contrast, in Asghar Hussain v The State, the Sindh High Court heard an appeal and converted the death sentence to a life imprisonment sentence as the appellant had acted upon “sudden provocation”. These equally authoritative courts take divergent views that are often misleading for lawyers and the aggrieved party. Secondly, proportionality is missing from these cases. Even if provocation is a valid defence, then whether the reaction that follows such provocation is proportionate or not is vital to determine the liability of the offender. Apart from these conceptual issues, administrative weaknesses including the abuse of discretionary powers of evidence, or delays by adjourning the matter, work as tools to widen the gap of inequality and injustice.
Finally, to reiterate the initial question, is our society more corrupt than the ancient Romans? Perhaps, on a societal level we are at a stalemate, but coupled with legal injustices, we may have unfortunately bypassed the Romans. Nevertheless, one must not despair. It is important to break down the existing vicious power associated with the feudals and their lands, coupled with governmental rehabilitation projects and funding of the education sector. Likewise, laws on qisas and diyat urgently require reformation to deter offenders from seeping out without liability. Ultimately, it is imperative to understand that imprisoning would add to the expenditure of the state without much effectiveness. If the shift is made to the rehabilitative side then we might start living in a society where dissenting opinions are either valued, or rejected with reason rather than by force.
We seemed to have forgotten the words of our founding father:
“There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power stronger than both, that of the women”.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any other organization with which he might be associated.