- By Syed Ehtisham
iolence against women has been a universal phenomenon in the East and the West. In the West measures have been taken against it. They have met a certain degree of success.
In the East and Africa, identification of the problem has just begun in the last two decades and little by way of effective measures against it has been done. In fact crimes against women are on the rise.
The list of violent acts is long-wife beating, marital and other rape, sale and exchange of women, bride burning, genital mutilation, nose slashing, forced and child marriage and coercion and finally murder of women in the name of honor.
Two major schools of thought offer an explanation of women’s subordination:
a) Idealist school holds that inferior status of women is natural, trans-historical and immutable. Conditions of women can be rectified by demanding protection from the state, ignoring the fact that state itself is patriarchal.
b) Materialist theory holds that oppression of women is social, historical and alterable phenomenon. Institutions are shaped by ownership of private property and the mode of production. Social norms, traditions, religious dictates and imagery have all been developed out of material basis and economic system of societies.
Judaic and Islamic sources refer to sperm as seed and womb as cultivating field. Quran says “Your wives are as a tilth unto you. So approach your tilth when and how you will” (Q 2:223) is in an agricultural context (1).
Honor revolves around sexuality of women.
Materialist approach offers that surplus value gave birth to private property which accumulated in the hands of men, who wanted their legitimate issue to inherit the property. Female fidelity thus acquired overwhelming importance. That led to the end of polyandry.
Materialist theory is applicable to both personal and familial/structural violence. In one case violence can be traced to an individual. In the other violence is built into the structure of society. Personal violence is manifest, direct and visible. John Gaitlung asserts that structural violence is indirect and invisible. (2) He later added cultural violence, “Culture used to legitimize violence”. There is a causal relationship between the three kinds of violence.
Structure and culture make unequal laws for men and women. Honor/Passion crimes are tri-dimensional and involve all the three actors-personal, familial and cultural. Money and sex are directly linked. Violence is committed by individuals facilitated by religious, legal, social and political institutions. Men were divided into Free-Slave, Rich and Poor. Women on the other hand were compartmentalized into attached (Wife, Sister, Daughter) and unattached (Concubine and Prostitutes). I saw a video on the History channel that the prophet Lot when besieged by his town people to surrender two male companions, offered his young virgin daughters instead; mercifully, in this case God did not agree and rained sulfur and fire on the besiegers.
Reporting crimes against women is a recent phenomenon. It started only from 1970 on in Mediterranean and Latin American countries. They hit the headlines in Pakistan in 1993. Mazhar H Khan’s is the earliest research. 4. He traces the historical roots of violence against women among the Turkish tribes before and after the advent of Islam and focuses on changes in material forces and economic system. He also researched son-preference; how female fetuses are aborted and female infants killed.
A Mr. Anwar Pirzado wrote in Daily Star, Karachi, Pakistan, “We are husbands and strong. We can have more than one wife. They cannot have more than one husband. We sometimes kill them for looking beyond chardiwari-outside the boundary of the home.” 6. A few years ago Dr Shazia Khalid was raped in Sui Baluchistan, Pakistan, allegedly by army officers. She was declared Kari by her husband’s grandfather who wanted her killed.
In spite of more frequent reporting a curtain of silence still hides such crimes in the country.
Daughters and sisters of expatriates in European countries have been murdered for wanting to marry a man of their choice and for rejecting arranged marriages. One subterfuge is to take girls to “Home countries” for a visit and force them to marry in the clan. Neighbors, police and administration aid and abet the perpetrators. Examples are numerous. 15.
Informants prefer to remain anonymous. (Rape is rampant in jails, police stations, military hospitals, feudal, tribal chief’s houses in Pakistan). Survivors of outrages did not want to mention their real names. 16.
Naval El Saadawi, a physician of Egypt was jailed for her research. Fatima Mernissi, a social scientist from Morocco was physically assaulted by a male “scholar” from Pakistan in a conference in Malaysia. Ayaan Hirsi, a Somali born Dutch parliamentarian had to go into hiding after murder of Van Gogh, the film maker’s movie “Submission” on the abuse of Muslim women. She had written the script.
Socio- Historical links:
During the early centuries of Islam, misinterpretation of the institutions of veiling, physical segregation, polygamous marriage and concubines had a very negative impact on Muslim women’s status. Historians tell us that during the period of the Prophet and the first four caliphs the concept of veil, segregation and exclusion of women from outdoor social and economic activities did not exist. The prophet’s first wife Khatija continued her business and his last wife Ayesha led an army. 18
Veiling as a device of social exclusion of women emerged in the latter period of Umayyad rule (AD 661-750). It was due to increasing profligacy, rampant polygamy, ownership of concubines, (slave girls brought from conquered lands) which led to male jealousy and prudery in concealing their women from the eyes of other men.
By the time of Abbasids (AD 750-1258) veiling and segregation of women had trickled down to middle classes.
The medieval Muslims never questioned the Harem as Clerics convinced them of its Islamic sanction. They also justified polygamy, slavery, concubines as Islamic institutions.
Turkish regions in the south of the country in which Honor crimes are frequent are still in the grip of feudalism and tribalism. 19.
Honor related violence among non-Muslims:
Such violence among Hindus is related to caste system, which is ordained by religion. Feminists have traced historic roots of culture of virginity in Hindu religion- one should marry a virgin, younger than oneself. According to Rahul Verma a caste Punchayat distinct from legal Punchayat hands out death punishment for transgressing women in Punjab and Haryana in India. (20). In the UP India, Muzzafargarh is the worst affected district.
Australian penal code allows sexual provocation as a cultural defense to murder. (21). In Latin America it is related to machismo (manliness) and verguenza (sexual purity of women). In Cuba, it is used as defense against mixed race marriages. In Spain pure blood and sexual purity of women are important notions in theological, literary and legal texts. (22).
M. Asano-Tamanoi studied the concept of shame, family and state in Japan. The state constructs a moral universe with family and households as its center. Women have defined roles which control their sexuality.
Passion crimes are defined by Abu-Odeh as a private relationship between a man and a woman as opposed to a collective one between a woman and several male relatives engaged in defending their masculinity. (24). It is less a matter of castrated masculinity than passionate jealousy.
Brazil leads in the crime.
Hillary Charlesworth quotes from Women’s Rights Project of America Watch, “Defense of honor in cases of wife murder was successful in 80% of cases. (25). Very rarely would a woman get a reduced sentence if she murders her husband in a fit of jealous anger.
Western feminists and media label wife murder in the West as crime of passion, but apply the term Honor crime when it occurs in the East (It may not be subconscious discrimination. Honor in the West is not associated with infidelity).
Islam broke the back bone of tribalism and the focus of honor shifted to the family. (26). The victim is usually a young unmarried female killed by male relatives. It is not a fit of jealous anger, but a matter of control over and defiance and rebellion of the victim.
Passion and honor are supposedly male virtues; otherwise there would be an equal number of murders of husbands.
According to Dr Tahira Khan, honor and shame are dialectical terms; both are male attributes and by remaining silent and obedient a woman maintains a state of honor. (27).
Actors can be divided into a) direct and b) indirect.
Direct are the perpetrators. Indirect are first the members of the community, who goad perpetrators to the crime and protect them after the crime. Second are the lawyers and judges who defend and acquit or give light sentences to criminals on the pleas of passion-honor.
Mothers in the East play overt/covert role in oppression of their daughters, either because they are afraid or because they have been so socialized.
One never hears of a father/mother killing a son. It actually has an economic basis, that of inheritance to legitimate children. Women are socialized to obey the existing misogynist norms. Older women become enforcers. To keep property in the family, feudal families in Pakistan marry females to the Quran. (28).
Gender bias has resulted in imbalance between the two sexes (In India it is 10 males to 9.2 females and ironically has revived the practice of polyandry).
Also Read : Unwarranted Criticism
Consensus on the victim is “She deserved it”.
Irrespective of class, caste, creed ethnicity or religion, community members develop a common mindset towards women’s moral conduct. Community pressure is such that even if men do not want to kill their women, social coercion makes them do it.
Economically dispossessed men tend to uphold social possessions more strongly as that is all they have. On occasion, they black mail richer men or may kill both and put the bodies together and hope to get lighter sentence on the plea of provocation. This is a common practice in rural/semi-rural areas of Punjab and Sindh.
Religious roots of sexuality:
Islam continued most of the socio-legal disciplinary tools of the society it was born in, with some modifications.
In contrast to Islam, in which female sexuality is considered very strong though under male domination, it is considered weak, passive and abhorrent in Judeo-Christian tradition. Islam created more rigid methods to curb pre and extra-marital sex.
Once inheritance was introduced, marriage became an important custom for men and virginity of women an important commodity for linking blood lines and estates. (30). Marriages were arranged purely on basis of socio-economic calculations. Romantic love was not a factor.
Absence of honor crimes in the West is related to change in mode of production.
Family institution is political. In Greek, Roman, Jewish and Christian systems, women had a lower position. Women were special targets of inquisition. Women were burnt as witches for defiance. Napoleonic code characterized women as lifelong, irresponsible minors.
But historical roots of misogyny existed before Christianity. In Biblical times a Jewish wife, sometimes one of many, could be put away at the wish of her husband. (31). Women are supposed to keep silent in churches. If they want to learn anything they should ask their husbands.
Under Mosaic Law, divorce was initially permissible though only the husband could give it. Part of the clash between Jewish society and Christian doctrine was related to abolition of divorce as single women became a burden on parents and society.
Stoning to death as punishment for loss of virginity predates Islam. Veiling and proper dress code for upper class women long predates Islam as well and was practiced in Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. Umar, the second Caliph is reported to have beaten a slave girl for wearing a head scarf, accusing her of trying to look like her superiors. (32).
Coole quotes St Paul “Women but not men should cover their heads in church as a sign of submission. (33). Martin Luther would have it that women by nature were made for care of infants and home. (34).
Female sexuality in Muslim family and community:
Mecca was the home of competing tribal communities. Tribe superseded family. Some tribes were matrilineal, others were patrilineal. Islam transformed all into strict patrilineal mode and abolished polyandry while legalizing polygamy. Islam continued some of the beliefs of previous monotheistic religions, discontinued others and introduced new ones.
The controlling process in Islam:
It has been argued that many of Islam’s institutions were in response to new needs that emerged with disintegration of tribal communalism. Polygamy has been described as such an institution (35).
Meccan women’s reaction and resistance to Islamic ethics provides an apt example, “Resistance to Islam’s uncompromising and overtly paternalistic monotheism understandably, came from women”. (36)
Code of sexual ethics of Meccan society was lax for both males and females. (37). Monotheism as well as polytheism, matrilineal and patrilineal, polygamy and polyandry, exogamy and endogamy existed side by side. Male and female deities were worshiped by men and women equally. Women did have substantial level of religio-sexual freedom which they lost with the advent of Islam.
Islam condemned all sexual relations outside marriage or ownership (of slave girls-women under your right hand) as Zina (adultery). (38). It gave men right to have several wives and replace them at will. (39). There was no concept of an unattached or single woman. They had to be a part of joint, biological or marital family.
Muslim law is particularly permissive for men. He has the right to repudiate his wife by simply saying the words.
Veiling and segregation accelerated the process of women becoming the property of men; their membership of Ummah (the illusory concept of all Muslims being one nation) depended on their relationship with males. Muslim women were thrown out of the fold of Ummah if they married a non-Muslim, whereas men were allowed to marry women of the book (Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians and Sabians).
In the Quran we find discrepancy between the rights and duties of men and women. “Mankind fear your Lord, who created you of a single soul and from it created its mate” (Q 4:1-40) Koran 3: 195. “But men have a degree of advantage over them (females) (Q 2: 228-42).
Status of women in Islam:
Al Razi as quoted by Haqq and Newton, “The male share is that of two females. Man is more perfect than woman in intelligence, in religious sphere, suitability to be a judge and leadership in worship. The testimony of a man is twice that of a woman” (43). Tohaffa says “God established the superiority of men over women” (Q 4:34-44). “Get two witnesses, if there are not two men, then a man and two women” (Q 2:282-45).
In Arabic woman is called “awrah” meaning a thing to be ashamed of. Prayer of the woman in the house is better than her prayer in the mosque (Haqq and Newton-46).
Imam Ghazali, “An ideal woman is the one who remains in her private quarters and never neglects her spindle”. Righteous women are devoutly obedient and guard in husband’s absence what Allah would have them guard. (Q 4;34-47). The spatial division according to sex reflects the division between those who hold authority and those who do not.
To ensure paternity of children within marriage there is a waiting period (Idda) for divorced or widowed woman during which they may not have sexual or social interaction with other men. Idda predates Islam. Traces can be found during Hammurabi and Roman periods.
There is no direct imposition of requirement of virginity for unmarried girls in the Quran or Hadith, but it is eulogized in the Quran in luxuries of paradise where eternally virgin women would be made available to pious men. (In Hindu folk lore five brothers go on a hunt and find a girl and bring her back. They want to surprise their mother and tell her that they have brought a gift for her. The mother tells them that she is old, what would she do with gifts and they were to share it among themselves.
They had to honor mother’s word and all five brothers married the girl.
When visiting her they used to leave their wooden slippers outside the door to warn off the other four. She used to regain her virgin hood after every visit. Firaq Garakhpuri, a renowned Urdu poet irreverently composed the following:
“hazar bar zamana edher sai guzra hai
nai nai si hai teri rahguzar phir bhi”
Many have passed through the track, but it is till pristine. 50.
Various punishments for transgression of the requirement of chastity like confinement to house till death, and flogging with hundred lashes are prescribed. Eighty lashes are awarded to person launching a false charge on chaste women.
Islam has neither condemned nor endorsed genital mutilation for the purpose of suppression of sexual desires.
Encouraging child marriage is another strategy to ensure virginity.
Determination of paternity could only be ensured by controlling woman’s womb. Being insecure and helpless against the biological reproductive superiority and natural command of woman’s knowledge about paternity of her child, men invented tools to ensure it. (Not sure of the claimed paternity, on the Day of Judgment, Allah will call every one with their mother’s name).
Mernissi compares and analyzes the philosophy of two early Muslim scholars Imam Ghazali and Qasim Amin and two non-Muslim scholars Freud and Murdoch, “In societies in which seclusion of women prevails, the implicit concept of female sexuality is active, in societies when this is not so, the concept of female sexuality is passive”. 51.
Uncontrolled female sexuality is thought to create fitna (public evil) in Muslim society and imbalance in the family is called nushuz (private rebellion). Mernissi opines that the entire Muslim social structure can be seen as an attack on and a defense against the disruptive power of female sexuality.
The socio-religious context in both non-Muslim West and Muslim Afro-Asia led to control and curb of females in a similar manner. As a result women became a commodity.
There is a direct connection between the charges against immoral and defiant women and the list of religious commands and social devices to control women’s bodies and sexuality. This environment existed in non-Muslim countries till less than a hundred years ago. St Paul emphasized veiling and proper dress for women. In St Augustine’s (413 AD) account woman is a) temptress and instrument of devil b) wife an instrument of her husband c) mother an instrument of God’s creativity.
In the 3rd century AD, Christianity encouraged a more flexible approach and discussed the possibility of marriage between slaves and their mistresses. The trend actually decreased the gulf between masters and slaves.
Driven by changes of mode of production from feudal-agrarian to mercantile-capital industrial, shape and nature of societal superstructures also changed extensively. Slaves, serfs and women were de-propertied and definitions of honor-shame changed in equal degree. Women started working in factories and offices. Employment of both sexes in labor cracked and weakened the wall of public and private exclusivity in economic activity. That paved the way to eliminate physical segregation, veiling and dress codes and resulted in social intermixing. Enlightenment which brought liberalism, capitalism, individualism and democracy, resulted in the birth of feminist movement. Consequently women gained rights.
Because both husband and wife were working, husbands became less obsessive about transfer of property to legitimate children. Father and brothers could no longer decide who the women would marry. To love and marry whoever he/she wanted, was recognized as an individual right. The loss of Church authority over the state affairs and personal life, and recognition of women’s rights brought changes in the institution of marriage and family. Female sexuality was de-virginized.
Societal acceptance of co-habitation brought major changes in status of out of wedlock children. Wife’s adultery is considered a breach of contract and a legal remedy offered to impassioned husbands. De-stigmatization of female divorcee led to much lower incidence of honor-shame killing in the West.
In Islam (7th century AD) there were almost no restrictions on marriage between slaves and masters, only women could not marry non-Muslim men. Islam never condemned or rejected love as a basis of marriage, but in the West romantic love is recognized as the only basis for marriage, whereas Muslim elders are strongly hostile to the idea.
In the past, Christian attitudes strictly required a girl to be virgin at marriage as it is still with most Muslim communities. The concept of stoning women to death for adultery was very much present in early Judaic and Christian writings as prescribed by Islam (Rajam) in 7th century AD. (54). Christian misogynistic attitude persisted till almost mid-19th century.
Changing global economic and political realities have caused Muslim elite and power brokers to react more conservatively and have enacted more misogynist legislation in the last three decades. A girl or a woman is always blamed and punished for a shameful act by her family. They are also expected to punish the relevant male of another family. No males are to be killed by their own family.
The two centuries of British colonization had an extremely adverse impact on gender relations among the Muslims. Women were harmed equally by colonial legislation and by male Muslim elite in public sphere and family members in private lives.
Muslim masculinity had been defeated in political arena. It could only assert itself in private arena of the family. The public sphere was considered dangerous for Muslim women due to presence of foreign men. A veiled and voiceless woman was considered a good Muslim woman.
It is strikingly similar to the attitude prevalent in Abbasid times, where due to thriving business of female slaves, Harems were built to protect upper-middle class women and streets were considered unsafe for them.
Another reason for control of female sexuality was the rise of agricultural economy and growth of landed property. Muslim women’s right to inheritance could reduce landed assets. One response was to get the widow to marry a brother of the deceased. Anther response was the development of Kafa’a (socio-economic compatibility); consequently women lost the right to marry according to their choice, a right Islam had guaranteed.
Kafa’a traveled to India, so that men could force women to divorce husbands they marry in civil courts. Fictional, religious and educational literature of 19th and the first half of 20th century is full of attempts by male writers and religious scholars to construct a subservient, docile and socially invisible feminity.
In the 20th century, Islam was used as a tool for construction of a Muslim identity and deconstruction of secular-Hindu identity.
The situation did not change much for women in independent Pakistan. It became more difficult in the nineteen eighties, when the state took over protection of inner family sanctum under Zia version of Islam.
Social conditioning and not state initiative, was the more pronounced factor shaping attitudes towards women. Public platform remained the preserve of women of eminent personalities.
Despite cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity, patterns of agriculture based tribal-feudal-clan and kinship networks are strikingly similar. The rate of honor crimes is shockingly higher in all the provinces in such areas, where as they are almost non-existent in urban centers.
Daughters of rural elite, educated or otherwise or of peasants can all face dire consequences if they try to assert their marital rights. Similarly wives of elites and their peasants in all four provinces are likely to be coerced or killed at the slightest suspicion of immorality, while they have no right to question their husband’s loose morals.
When they move to urban centers, the elite to palatial houses in posh areas and peasants to shanty town, their public lives change but power relations in the family remain the same.
Education of girls has become an economic necessity. Electronic media and multi-national corporations have loosened the hold of traditions. Girls think in terms of Hollywood and (Bollywood) film stars, get frustrated and elope. Divorce and suicide rate have also gone up due to the wide chasm between dreams and reality.
Public perception and media coverage of honor crimes:
Folk literature is replete with stories of romances of famous couples like Heer-Ranjha, Laila-Majnoon and Sohni-Mahival (57). In these stories girls were bold and defiant and leave a mark on young people. But they all end up in tragedy.
A Young man who sees himself as a Ranjha and expects his beloved to be rebellious like Heer cannot, however, tolerate his own sister playing the role. These dichotomous social attitudes have given rise to social conflicts and the result has been coercion of female sexuality.
In Pakistan in 1985, a commission of inquiry into Women’s problem was established under Begum Zari Sarfraz, a well-known social worker from NWFP. The report was shelved. (58). After Zia died, it was published during the first tenure of Benazir as prime minister. The findings were shocking, but after some discussion it was shelved again because Benazir was sacked by the President.
Under the second Benazir government another commission was formed which reported in 1995. The report did not use the term Honor, nor did it address the issue of Honor related crimes. It stated that the average rural woman of Pakistan is born in near slavery, leads a life of drudgery and dies in oblivion.
Karo-kari is believed to have arrived in Baluchistan and NWFP with Muslim invaders from central Asia. A 1997 commission of inquiry noted that the practice was more virulent in upper Sindh though it was prevalent in the Punjab and Baluchistan and KP as well. 59.
In January 2000 BBC reported that in 1999, 364 women were killed in Sindh and 800 in the Punjab. 60.
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimated that in 2000, Karo-kari killings in Sindh were 1410 and had been rising, 432 in 1993 to 886 in 1999. 61.
On April 9, 1999 Daily news reported that hundreds of Taliban led by leaders of JUI (an Islamist party) chanted slogans in a rally that Asma was an infidel serving Zionist interests, should be arrested and hanged.
A Sindhi journalist Shahid Soomro was killed on 22 October 2002 for exposing honor related crimes in Kandhkot, Sindh.
Humaira Khokhar had survived three attempts of murder by her father and brothers for marrying against their will. In 1999 she appeared in court in an armed police vehicle.
Shelters in the West have victims of spousal abuse. In Pakistan more than 70% are daughters and sisters.
Economic survival and financial problems are forcing a change in gender perceptions in Pakistan, but not when women challenge socio-religious patriarchal power. There is discrepancy in the public sphere and the private one leading to increased tension.
Honor related murders are rare in rural upper class where women are strictly controlled. When there is no knowledge of another way of life, there is no comparison and there is no dissatisfaction or resistance.
In Pakistan many young women remain unmarried as they cannot find a suitable male in their own socio-economic group. Mernissi argues that economic pressures are causing sexual segregation, one of the main pillars of Islam’s social control over sexuality to break down.
Politico- religious groups consider public expression of love as Western influence. Though commercial interests have cashed in Valentine’s Day celebration, all orthodox religious groups have reacted strongly. Jamaat e Islami and other religious groups have got into the act and for fear of breakdown of law and order public co-educational institutions barred the students from celebrating it.
In India RSS and Shiv Sena went on a rampage in 2001 and looted gift shops. In Vanarsi they cut off the hair of celebrants and in Kanpur they burnt the effigy of St Valentine.
Killers chase transgressing couples across borders to Europe and the USA. In April 2002, an uncle of a girl was convicted in N.Y of killing his niece for $60,000.00 from her father.
Caste plays a bloody role too. On 8/9/2001, the newspaper, Indian Express reported that two lovers were hanged by their own families. 75. The execution was approved by the village community and the government had to deploy paramilitary troops at the time of arrest of murderers.
In Pakistan a village woman, Mukhtaran Mai was gang raped in a hut surrounded by the village on the orders of the village council. Her younger brother had spurned the advances of the village chief. 76.
Police often coerce girls to say that they were not abducted. Many murders are reported as suicide.
Urbanization, education and change of locality do not affect any change in attitudes. If couples have civil marriage, they risk trial under Hudood ordinance. At times marriage without Wali’s (father/guardian) consent has been found illegal by courts, even though law allows such marriage between a boy over 18 and a girl over 16. In a recent article, a British Muslim girl reported that the Sharia council in Britain had decided that consent of a Wali was not essential and a woman could serve as witness in the marriage ceremony. The Imam of the Regent Street mosque in London refused to honor it.
Communities where honor crimes occur share certain characteristics. Birth of a female child is mourned, that of a male celebrated. Males control economic resources of the family and lives and sexuality of the females. Female sexuality is controlled to determine paternity. Purity of blood is an obsession. Male bondage is strong and pits women against each other. Women are socialized to define themselves through men and are socialized into the role of enforcers.
It is hard to separate religious beliefs from cultural practices which interact with each other. Muslims of the Far East, those of the Indian subcontinent, of the mid-East, Central Asia and Africa have different cultures and have similar patterns of honor crimes. Mernissi asserts that, “Islam, like any theocracy, is group oriented and individual wishes are put down as impious, whimsical, egoistical passions”.
Islam like all religions plays an important role in socialization at all levels. Quran 4: 34 “Men are protectors…of women, because Allah has given the one more strength and because they support them therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient and guard what Allah has given them to guard”. 80. These and other verses of the Quran are referred to in the areas of inequality in matrimonial rights and other rights. Women have been socialized to accept a low status as wives and a high one as mothers, thus mothers in law play a critical role in honor killings.
The origins of Kafa’a go back to Imam Abu Hanifa. Systematic socio-legal institution called kafa’a (compatibility) never specified in the Quran or by the prophet emerged during Omayyad and Abbasid periods. 81. The institution took its final shape during the Moghal Emperor Aurangzeb’s rule-Fatwa-e-Alamgiri. (82). It has become so deeply embedded in the social system of Muslims of the sub-continent that they follow it without understanding it or even knowing the term.
Basic principles of Kafa’a are, descent: should be from a similar group, preferable marriages are between Muslim men and women, piety: was held above all. Husband should not be in a weaker economic position and his profession should be worthy of wife’s family.
Kafa’a never became part of the formal legal system, but has remained customary law and Sharia tool to regulate women’s sexuality. If Islam, directly through the Quran, Hadith and Sunnah, had not designated father/husband/brother’s authority over women, the institution of Kafa’a would not have developed.
Hanbali school of thought endorsed further gender disparities and that led to a system under which men of all sects of Muslims have acquired unlimited powers to control their women’s sexuality. 83.
Violence against women and the law:
The legal system favors perpetrators of violence by providing loopholes in the law to escape punishment and mitigating punishment. Misogyny is inbuilt and penal codes contain implicit bias against female victims. Religious dicta and customary laws are used interchangeably with disastrous consequences on women. Crimes by family members are not treated in the same as by strangers, thus victims are denied equal protection under law.
Sharia laws are derived from the Koran, Sunna (practices of the prophet) and Hadith (sayings of the prophet). Some laws are directly derived from Quran; others are based on interpretations of verses or Sunna. Over all they are based on legal interpretations created by the four accepted jurists, Imam Abu Hanifa (699-767 AD), Imam Malik (713-795 AD), Imam Shafai (767-820) And Imam Hanbal (780-813). The Shia sect of Muslims follow the edict of the seventh Imam, Imam Jafar (702-765), called Fiqh Jafaria.
Due to vested political interests the British exploited the local power structure, made alliances with them and granted them vast powers over the lives of their people. The unchecked power of local/rural elite became institutionalized in the Jirga system in all provinces of Pakistan, except in the Punjab where they have Punchayat (sort of village council except that what the chief says, goes).
Within years of the initiation of the system women were bought and sold and killed on the slightest “moral’ pretext (Karo-kari in Sindh and Punjab, Sia-kari in Baluchistan, Tora-tor in KP).
A Jirga can be requested by complainants, or the head of the Jirga. In certain areas the accused is made to walk on live charcoal to prove his innocence. Women are not allowed to appear. Amnesty International prepared a report in 2002 after such horrifying Punchayat decisions like the gang rape of Mukhtarn Mai.
Abbas Jalbani writes that no appeal is allowed against the verdict of rural council in Sindh and Punjab. 87.
Local Police and bureaucracy support the system, but if a police officer tries to buck the trend, he is punished. Women are the main sufferers and do not even have access to the system.
Farida Shaheed Women’s Resource Center (1998) observes “Combined with ignorance, the primary hold of custom over the realm of gender relations in Pakistan negates access to any potential benefits provided by law”.
Many clauses in penal codes offer loop holes which facilitate compromises to allow perpetrators to get away with minimal or no sentence. Before incorporation of Sharia laws of Qisas (retribution) and Diyat (blood money) without any debate or discussion during military rule of Zia, murder was a crime against the state. Now it is an offense against an individual and his heirs.
Family may not even mourn the murder of a woman declared Kari. The feudal landowner may even benefit by not ordering murder and selling the woman.
1973 constitution of Pakistan declares all citizen equal under law, and prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. But the intent and purpose is subverted by loop holes in depriving women of the right to choose their own husband and divorce abusive ones.
Judiciary, lawyers and the police:
Women’s Resource and Publications center Lahore 1998 report, “Sex crimes treated as natural outcome of lust rather than brutal crimes. Socio-cultural conditions were not taken into consideration when women floundered under cross examination.
Under Zia, Federal Sharia courts made unprecedented decisions in acquitting abusive men and punishing women under Hudood laws. 92. Before 1980s there were a few dozen women in jails on charges of adultery. By 1990s, thousands were incarcerated without any legal help.
The role of guardian (Wali) has been augmented and marriage without his consent deemed null and void. On September 25, 1996, Justice Cheema of Lahore high court declared two marriages void as they did not have the consent of the Wali.
There have been instances of local Jirgas warning the state to stay away. In 1997, a Sunni girl was punished for marrying a Shia boy under Frontier Crime Regulations, another parallel legal system and a relic of colonial days.
Lawyers and the police are the product of the same socio-political system and share the same misogynistic attitudes.
Link of politicians to vested interests:
Women’s status has never been on the agenda of political parties in Pakistan except during election campaigns to draw female workers and voters to the polling station.
Pakistan is a signatory to Women’s and Child’s right convention at U.N level and Government employees attend international conferences.
Women’s movement never became a political force except for a short time after introduction of Hudood Ordinance in early eighties, when urban educated women formed Women’s Action Forum. Babar Ali criticized their view point as elitist. 94. Sumar argues that an activist organization should not be judged by the social origin of its leaders but by their political ideas. 95. WAF always projected itself as a non-political group. Shahnaz J Rouse a U.S University professor commented “The element in Pakistan Women’s Movement that …to support…a non-political posture must at some point realize the absurdity of their position. The demand for Women’s Rights is itself political and if it is to be achieved, it will only be through political means”.
On April 5, 1999 an “Honor” murder of a Pakhtoon girl took place in the office of Asma Jahangir. The chairman of the senate did not allow a resolution to condemn the murder. Senators from NWFP, including the ANP (a supposedly progressive party) ones joined hands to defend Pakhtoon “honor”. Its leader Ajmal Khattak insisted that the house should not even vote on the issue. Majority of the 22 senators who had signed the draft to condemn the murder backed off and left the chambers. Senators from all provinces irrespective of their political party were united against women’s basic rights.
Senate’s stance was widely condemned. The News called it “Senate’s shame” 98. Pakistan’s premier English daily, Dawn said “The Government should make up its mind if it stands on the side of bigotry or a just and civilized dispensation”
In October 1999, Musharraf, a person with apparently liberal and secular outlook overthrew the Nawaz government. During the last days of Nawaz government “chadar and chardivari” (women should be confined to the four walls of home and enveloped in a sheet) of Zia days were making a comeback. Musharraf made liberal gestures- appointing many women cabinet ministers. His wife also appeared to be an educated modern woman. But within a few months his fervor was checked by rightist religious political parties.
Musharraf established a permanent national commission on the status of women. In September 2000, the chair of the commission, Shaheen Ali, a professor of law in NWFP, recommended that Honor killings be considered an offense against the state.
By 2004, demand for legislation against Honor killings echoed in the national assembly. Finally a bill was presented. All the main stream political parties rejected the bill. Earlier in the year Sherry Rahman had presented a bill which the government party had totally ignored.
During Benazir’s administration women’s police stations were established. They were ill-equipped and could not save women seeking protection and handed them over to families thus leading to rise in Honor crimes.
As recently as a decade ago violence against women was dismissed as the propaganda of “Westernized, spoiled urban women”. These groups are funded as extensions of political parties and from Arab countries.
Religious scholars like Farhat Hashmi exhort women to return to Islamic teachings, “Cover yourselves, be good mothers, wives and daughters”. Jamaat e Islami leaders have similar approach-they would like to contain westernized fashionable women activists. They aggressively defend Hudood and advocate implementation of Saudi-style Sharia.
The concept of women as weaker sex was promulgated by pre-Islamic religions like Judaism and Christianity. Mernissi observes that “Islam, both a legal and cultural system is imbued with the idea that feminine is an uncontrollable power”.
In hunter-gatherer-nomadic stage of human evolution, polyandry was practiced as much as polygamy.
There is need for deeper historical analysis of control of woman’s sexuality. 105.
Mernissi analyzes, “The basis of misogyny in Islam is quite weak, resting only on the distribution of space. If women invade public space, male supremacy is seriously jeopardized”. 106.
Secular vision of law:
Radhika Coomaraswamy (Human Rights of Women) argues, “Without equity in the family, it is argued, there will not be equity in society”. (107).
Islamic Vision of law:
An-Na’im writes” What is commonly known as Sharia today was the product of interpretation of general principles and detailed rules by Muslim scholars in second and third centuries of Islam. The term was unknown to the earliest Muslims. Clearly the jurists were not engaged in construction of “A divine and eternal” Sharia, as claimed by many Muslims today. As a product of human interpretation, Sharia should be seen as inherently and constantly evolving…ethical and legal system… and each generation of Muslims have the right and duty to contribute to the process”.
Reza Arslan in his book, “No God but God” has presented similar views.
Private property was identified as a major cause of coercion of female sexuality. After disappearance of private property, the rationale of forced monogamy will disappear.
In the existing land holding feudal/tribal culture… state law will remain unable to check honor crimes. With industrialization the West, despite preservation of private property, developed a secular, individualistic and liberal culture.
Mazharulhaque Khan argued for de-tribalizing, de-casteifying and de-feudalizing Muslim societies, “This is not possible without abolishing purdah and polygamy, for then only Muslim society can be macro-socialized. All attempts at modernization will founder at (the) rocks of feudal and tribal groups”.
Author has Published two books ,:”A Medical Doctor Examines Life on Three Continents,” and ,”God, Government and Globalization”, and am working on the third one.”