Iddat ruling

Published February 6, 2024

IN our cultural norms, there are some lines that should never be crossed. Turning someone’s personal affairs into a public spectacle is one of them. It is not that our politics hasn’t seen its share of mud-slinging: one recalls several instances when politicians have stooped to base ad hominem attacks on their women opponents or even opponents’ families. One recalls character assassination campaigns against the late Benazir Bhutto and her mother, as well as the routine harassment Imran Khan’s first wife was subjected to. However, the judiciary, the state and mainstream media usually had the good sense to steer clear of such pedestrian discussions, and few dared bring them up in polite company. Not so this time.

For the first time in Pakistan’s history, a politician’s marital affairs have been subjected to such intense public scrutiny in the iddat case. The verdict handed to former prime minister Imran Khan and his spouse Bushra Bibi, after a hastily concluded case, will not be forgotten soon. The way a public figure and their spouse has been humiliated in such a manner in full public view is condemnable. One wonders if those who pursued this matter with such alacrity considered the consequences. The precedent that has been set will contribute to worsening the already sorry state of Pakistani women’s rights. This is a country where spousal rights are often terminated even before the marriage contract is signed. Now, the court has handed abusive husbands another tool with which to torment their former wives. A rights lawyer has pointed out that it is not just the dignity and privacy of the wife of a former prime minister that has been violated by dragging her marriage through a criminal inquiry; the verdict will impact women’s dignity and privacy rights in general, as well as their freedom to make decisions regarding marriage and divorce. PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari too has criticised the verdict. If it can be done to an ex-prime minister’s wife, what hope can a woman with fewer means have? It is a reflection of the depths to which this nation has fallen that this matter was ever turned into a public debate. Politicians and politically exposed persons should be held to a high standard of conduct; however, this can in no way justify intruding into their private lives.

Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2024

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