THE outcry over the death of Qandeel Baloch had just barely died down, the follow-ups to the murder, its special treatment, the arrest of the brother, the statements by solemn-faced politicians just barely wrapped up, when new episodes of horror took their place. On July 26, news broke that a British member of parliament had written to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif regarding the murder of Samia Shahid, a British woman who had been duped into visiting Pakistan and was now dead. Her husband, Syed Mukhtar Kazam, who is in Britain, was alleging that Samia had been killed by her family because she had divorced the man whom they had chosen for her and married him instead.
The facts, even as they span two continents and communities seemingly separated by great distances, are not new. Samia Shahid, part of Britain’s Pakistani community, had been engaged when she was young to a relative belonging to the same clan and village. Despite her own opposition to the marriage, she acquiesced to her family’s wishes and married the man. As she was a British citizen, her husband was able to travel to the UK. Samia eventually filed for divorce from this person.
She was later introduced to her current husband and married him despite her family’s opposition. Efforts at reconciliation, some of them taking place in the presence of a police officer in the United Kingdom, were not successful. Early last month, Samia received a call from her family saying that her father was ill and at death’s door. Distraught, she decided to travel to Pakistan and be at her father’s bedside, even as her current husband told her that it was likely to be a trick.
Pakistani society refuses to budge from the premise that women’s lives belong ultimately to men.
In the last week of July, Samia was supposed to travel back to the UK. The text messages she had been sending her husband abruptly ceased and there was no more news of her. When her husband called other relatives, he was told that his 28-year-old wife, who was healthy in every other way, had died of a sudden “heart attack”. Her father, who was not sick at all, later changed the heart attack story to say that his daughter had committed suicide. An autopsy report revealed ligature marks on Samia’s throat, suggesting that she had been strangled. Her body was found lying on the stairway of her cousin’s house.
Nor was this the only honour killing to take place last week. On Friday evening, Kausar and Gulzar Bibi, two sisters from Vehari, in Punjab, were murdered by their brother. The two sisters liked the men they were about to marry, both of whom lived in Karachi. The parents had agreed to the match and the wedding was set for this Saturday past. One of their brothers, Nasir, did not agree with the match and decided, therefore, to kill his sisters, even as they were preparing to become brides. On Friday evening, he gunned them down. A home that was preparing for two weddings was left arranging for two funerals.
There is no surprise in either of these cases. In the first, because of some minimal pressure of international attention, some feeble efforts at investigation were made, an autopsy conducted, arrests made. The second has only received perfunctory coverage; poor women dying poor, hapless deaths at the hands of enraged men. To the readers of this newspaper, none of this should be shocking. Pakistani society, on a daily basis and with great consistency, refuses to budge from the premise that women’s lives belong ultimately and entirely to the men that ‘own’ them — fathers, brothers, husbands and sons. The theatre of outrage plays out in the aftermath of one or another killing that involves a woman that commands a bit more attention than the nameless ones that are murdered every day.
Everyone, including the living women, the women not yet murdered, the women toeing the line that men have prescribed for them, is inured to the arrangement. Even women’s rights activists are in a sense complicit in the situation. After the death of Qandeel Baloch, many wrote analyses and condemnations, yet few (as noted by columnist Zubeida Mustafa) have tried to make the effort to organise and empower women into anything beyond an elitist discourse. The concern of many seemed to revolve far more around creating limits over who was permitted to speak about and on behalf of Pakistani women to the international media, rather than the core issue of actually developing initiatives that could assist in ending the crimes themselves.
There are Pakistani women alive this week that will be dead next week, killed by men who are their fathers, their brothers, their husbands. Others live half-lives, effectively having extinguished their desires, their hopes, their dreams — their control over their own lives such that they may continue to live in a physical sense. They withstand slurs and beatings, being locked up and being silenced. Like hardened prisoners used to confinements, many have mastered the rules: the silence, they know, is required for survival. Like birds who do not fly even when the doors of their cages are opened, they seem resigned to their constraints, even angry at rebellious others who would defy them. For their good behaviour, a patriarchal society rewards them, by simply allowing them to live.
The deaths are many and they seem to come week after week. What they do not bring with them, other than the shouts, the momentary outrage, the limpid promises by compromised politicians, is actual moral change. This elusive moral change — the shift that would mean an end to the killing of women, an end to the attachment of rationalisations as to why, insist on controls over their behaviour, offer judgements over whether they were right or wrong in doing what they want — doesn’t seem to be arriving any time soon. So next week, more will die, shot or burned or strangled, and all the rest, unfeeling, uncaring, unmoved, will live on.
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2016