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Women bear the brunt of Pakistan's obsession with dishonour
Financial Times - July 22, 2016
In May, a 17-year-old woman named Ambreen Riasat was strangled and then set alight for the crime of helping a friend elope. In June, Maria Sadaqat, a 19-year-old teacher was tortured and burnt to death for rejecting a marriage proposal. Before she was murdered, she had gone to the police and registered a complaint – five men had taken her from her home and beaten her, she said. But the police did nothing. The week after that, another teenager, Zeenat Rafiq, was tied to a bed and set on fire by her mother for marrying a man from a different province. As she struggled for her life, her mother ran out on to the streets and shouted: "I have killed my daughter. I have killed her for giving our family a bad name."
On July 15, Pakistan's obsession with honour made the news once again with the death of Qandeel Baloch, an internet and social media sensation whose brother drugged and then strangled her for bringing shame to their family. Before her murder, she spoke to a local reporter and told him that she worried about her safety. She had gone to the police for protection and they had refused her any help. She was going to leave the country, she said, but did not manage to get out in time.
Baloch was a divorced mother and a survivor of domestic abuse who took pictures of herself and posted them on social media. She used her celebrity to comment on, and protest at, the conditions endured by Pakistani women.
"Girls are born to stay at home and follow traditions," her brother, Waseem Azeem, said after his arrest. "My sister never did that." His friends shared her pictures on their mobile phones. It was, he said, too much to take. Baloch, meanwhile, had her eyes on the world but was operating in a space violently threatened by dissenting ideas. The tragedy is that both she and her killer are victims of the anger born of the colliding forces of globalisation.
The main currency an ordinary individual possesses in Pakistan is honour – it is what allows people to survive in a harsh system. Honour is collateral for informal loans, protection against thugs and mercenary police officers, a reference point for employment and opportunity. In a country where the state has long since abdicated its responsibilities, it falls to private citizens to police and punish violations of honour.
This year alone more than 200 women have been murdered in its name. On July 22, Maryam Sharif, the daughter of prime minister Nawaz Sharif and de facto family spokeswoman, declared that a bill would be passed banning honour killings – as though all that were missing were a formal law against the slaughter of innocents. In Pakistan, however, talk of stamping out honour killings is often mere lip service. What difference will a law banning honour killings make when the Pakistani legal code sanctions violence against women?
Retributive violence against women across the Indian subcontinent is so deeply embedded, so widely permitted, that women lack any protection. They do not get it from the law, nor from the media, nor even from their families.
Under the infamous Hudood ordinance, promulgated by former military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in 1979, women can be flogged and stoned. Adultery and premarital sex are crimes punishable by death, in effect criminalising rape victims. Eighty per cent of the women held in Pakistani jails today are incarcerated on charges related to the Hudood ordinance.
In the aftermath of Baloch's murder, members of the Pakistani intelligentsia fell over themselves to echo the mantra that there is no honour in honour killings. But those who played to the gallery on social media and memorialised Baloch with a Twitter hashtag made sure that their condolences were not to be mistaken for compassion. Baloch was "no role model" tweeted Sherry Rehman, a Pakistan People's party senator, but she "deserved a better life". Fauzia Kasuri – who is, with no irony, the gender empowerment organiser for Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party – posted the following message on Facebook: "Whatever Qandeel Baloch did?.?.?.?it was wrong?.?.?.?but her brutal death shouldn't have been her fate. She deserved religious and psychological counselling." (Ms Kasuri later claimed her page had been hacked.)
Killing of Pakistan social
media star highlights threat to women
In this photograph taken on June 28, 2016, Pakistani social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch speaks during a press conference in Lahore. A Pakistani social media celebrity whose online antics polarised the deeply conservative Muslim country has been murdered by her brother in a suspected honour killing, officials said on July 16, prompting a wave of shock and revulsion. Qandeel Baloch, held up by many of the country's youth for her willingness to break social taboos but condemned and reviled by traditional elements, was strangled near the city of Multan, police said./AFP PHOTO/STRSTR/AFP/Getty Images
Qandeel Baloch's death at hands of her brother is latest case of so-called 'honour killing'
Hamid Mir, a senior journalist with more than 2m Twitter followers, revealed, in a tweet later deleted, Baloch's real name, Fouzia Azeem – and claimed that she was dishonouring the name Baloch. At best, this was irresponsible; at worst, it was incitement.
Baloch's murder has nothing to do with honour. The same men who reviled her, filling social media with horrible abuse directed at her, are the very same men who desperately desired her.
Her killing is a sad reminder of the essential schizophrenia of a country that, in 2015, recorded more Google searches for pornography than anywhere else in the world – yet seeks constant confirmation not only that it is an Islamic republic but also that it is the purest possible version of such a state.
[The writer is author of 'The Shadow of The Crescent Moon'.]