The brutal killing of Farzana Parveen and its aftermath is indicative of how desensitized Pakistani society is to mindless violence, especially against women, writes Omar R. Quraishi.
You ask yourself, ‘could it possibly become any worse?”, and you think that that's not even possible… and then precisely that happens.
This must be what many Pakistanis – at least those who wish to see their country be a progressive, civilized and liberal entity – must have been feeling as they heard gruesome details of how 25-year-old pregnant Farzana Parveen was stoned to death by her own brothers as she was on her way to a high court in the city of Lahore.
Farzana had been in an abusive marriage and had left her first husband, marrying another man in her village outside the town of Jaranwala, some 120 kilometers west of Lahore, Pakistan's second-largest city and capital of its largest Punjab province.
When she decided to marry for the second time, her own family members – her parents and brothers – lodged a complaint with the police that she had been kidnapped (quite a common occurrence in Pakistan in such a case) and it was to contest this case that she was proceeding to the high court in Lahore when she was attacked and murdered.
That her own brothers killed her – first one of them fired from a pistol but she survived and then they got hold of some bricks from a nearby construction site and hit her on the head several times causing her death – is something unfortunately not all that unexpected.
That said, it would be fair to say that many Pakistanis are outraged at what has happened, though this din of outrage is perhaps far louder on social media than it has been so far in real life (a protest was held in the capital Islamabad following the gruesome killing but was attended only by hundreds not thousands).
It took over 48 hours for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to order action against the attackers – Farzana's father in fact surrendered himself to the police right after the murder and insisted that he had no regrets over killing her since she had sullied the family's “honor” by marrying of her own for a second time.
The police have now come out with a preliminary report much of which seems devoted to protecting itself from any future action by the government. For instance, the media had reported that the place where Farzana was killed – a very busy road in the city of Lahore – had several policemen close by but no one intervened.
Misogynistic and patriarchal
The report claims that police reached the spot very quickly, but doesn't explain how it was unable to save her from being hit by bricks, which led to her death. The report also took pains to deny media reports that Farzana had been stoned to death, saying that she was in fact hit three times with a brick by her brother.
Quite clearly, this is reflective of a state where most institutions see women from a deeply misogynistic and patriarchal lens in which a woman who tries to take decisions on her own and be even slightly independent is seen as of loose moral character.
Thus – as this reasoning goes – by such actions she brings her family's “honor” (the Urdu word is “izzat”) into disrepute and this is deemed such a crime that the woman can be punished by death. During the last year alone, there were hundreds of such cases in Pakistan and in many cases the killer – usually a father, brother or son – would give himself up the police.
However, if that happens, under the country's Qisas and Diyat laws (vestiges of military dictator General Zia's era from 1977 to 1988), the heirs of the woman who is killed in this manner have the legal authority to pardon the killer(s) in exchange for ‘blood money'. Given that many such cases of so-called ‘honor killing' involve families, in most cases a compromise is reached and the murderer gets away without serving any time in jail.
The worrying reality is that even if Farzana's brothers are arrested – her father gave himself up right after the killing – and if the case goes to trial, the Qisas and Diyat ordinance will come into play and it is quite possible that her family may end up pardoning the killers in exchange for blood money.
What Pakistan's government needs to do is to exercise the right in such cases to become a party to a case so that the possibility of the killers being pardoned by the victim's family does not arise.
While we wait for that to happen – a distant possibility despite this case – as a society Pakistan becomes even more desensitized to mindless violence, especially against its female members.
Omar R. Quraishi @omar_quraishi is editorial pages editor of The Express Tribune in Karachi, Pakistan.