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LAHORE: ‘Domestic violence to be made crime’

November 26, 2001

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LAHORE, Nov 25: Federal Women Development, Social Welfare and Special Education Minister Dr Attiya Inayatullah has said that the government is formulating a zero tolerance policy in respect of the gender-based violence against women and their exploitation.

Speaking at a one-day “National seminar on honour killings” organized by an NGO in connection with the commencement of 10 days of activism against the gender-based violence here on Sunday, the minister said that the government was preparing a package of legal framework under which the domestic violence would be considered a crime and not a private affair as it not only affected the health of the women but was also a gross violation of human rights. An effective law would be promulgated in this regard in the next six months.

She said that a survey report on exploitation of women and domestic violence would be released by the government by July 2002. Her ministry had also formulated a strategic framework for the protection of women under which family protection complexes consisting of homes for the wronged and helpless women and crisis centres would be established in every district. These complexes would be managed with the assistance of the NGOs to enable a maximum number of women to benefit from the shelter facilities available there. The UK government had assured necessary financial assistance for the project.

The minister said that the government was also considering provision of free legal assistance to women suffering as a result of domestic violence and handling of their complaints by a separate police force under the district government. The police would be trained to discourage the tendency to process the complaints of women on a gender basis in the next four months under the reform programme. She said that the temperament of the judiciary and the police towards women required to be changed.

Dr Attiya Inayatullah said that the government had already signed the ILO Convention to equalize the wages of women with those of men. It had not only to attend to the evil of rape and un-Islamic custom of honour killings but to abolish the feudal philosophy of “zan, zar and zamin” (the woman, the money and the land) also which could not be allowed to prevail during the 21st century. She said that the philosophy of murder for honour was contradictory as murder could not take place where honour was respected.

She said that she agreed with Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid (retired) that the honour killing was a premeditated murder and the government was trying to combat such social evils in practice under the garb of customs and traditions. Apart from the so-called honour killings it had to check the child marriages as well.She said that she was happy that the general marriage age of women was going up and had reached 20 to 22 years in most cases. It was required to be go up further.

The minister said that it was an established fact that a member of the family was responsible for the violence against a woman and that evil custom of “karaa kari” (honour killing) was in fact “karobari” (a business proposition). The government wanted to abolish such customs along with the menace of domestic violence and child labour. The federal cabinet had already approved a plan to abolish child labour by the year 2010. An ordinance had also been promulgated for the introduction of compulsory primary education by the year 2005.

Commending the good work done by NGO Shirkatgah for checking domestic violence against women and honour killings, Dr Attiya Inayatullah said such meetings should also be held in the rural areas so that women could move forward shoulder to shoulder with men. She said that the Shirkatgah should continue its research and raise its voice at the SAARC level as well.

Concluding her address, the minister expressed solidarity with women in occupied Kashmir where over 80,000 women had been dishonoured and another 20,000 widowed as a result of the excesses perpetrated by the India’s occupation forces. She called upon the countries around the world to fulfil their moral responsibilities and pressurize the Indian government to stop the gross violations of human rights in Held Valley.

She said that the government would give all possible facilities to women and children in refugee camps and make efforts for the participation of two Afghan women delegates in the Bonn Conference.

Mr Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid (retired) said that women in India, Pakistan and other South Asian countries had been suffering for centuries because their men treated them like cattle. Their rights were not protected by the courts because an overwhelming majority of the judges there were men. There were only three women judges in the high courts whereas the Supreme Court and the Federal Shariat Court did not have even a single woman judge.

He said that the rights of the women were not protected in the laws as these were framed by men who also presided over the courts. A male judge hearing a rape case of a minor girl dismissed the case by declaring her molestation an act of consent because he failed to understand that a minor girl could not resist a rape attempt because of being too much afraid.

The former SC judge said that the so-called honour killings were nothing but premeditated murders because the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance did not mention sudden and grave provocation as a justification for murder anywhere. Anyone being convicted for murder was to be sentenced to death or transportation for life or rigorous imprisonment for 25 years. Male judges, however, opted for a lenient view of the honour killings and awarded mild punishments to murderers.

He said that the law should be made clear and honour killings and the so-called “kara kari” be treated as premeditated murders. Moreover, the murder cases should be heard promptly so that the accused were not enlarged on bail due to over two years delay in the commencement of the trial of their cases. He said that the male judges were so lenient in honour killing cases that one of them had sentenced the accused only till the rising of the court.

He said that hardly 10 per cent rape cases reached the courts. He said that the superior judiciary needed to be reminded that men and women were equal before the law under Article 25 of the Constitution but they were not treated as equals in the courts of law.

Former federal law minister and senator Syed Iqbal Haider described the so-called honour killings as the worst examples of dishonour and barbarity. He said that the custom of “kara kari” was a product of the feudal system which thrived on ruthless exploitation of its victims. Laws in a feudal society were meant only for its subjects and not the feudals who remained above the law and were free to commit all sorts of crimes.

He said that he was astonished when his motion against “kara kari” was opposed in the Senate in October, 1999, because most of the former senators had a feudal background despite being educated. He was of the view that the high court had upheld the feudal traditions in decisions of 90 per cent cases by reducing the sentences of the convicted murderers in the cases of so-called honour killings ignoring the principle that nobody could be given a licence to murder under any law.

Mrs Shamim Hidayatullah agreed with Syed Iqbal Haider’s point of view that the feudal system was the root cause of the violation of the rights of women. She said that most of women accused in Qisas and Diyat ordinance cases could not be bailed out because nobody came to their help due to social taboos. She said that the “maulvi” needed to be educated about Islam and told that the so-called honour killings were nothing but cold-blooded murders.

Neelam Husain said that women in our male-dominated society were considered incubators in which the men produced their heirs. She said that reduction in sentences of the murderers on the plea of killing for honour were regrettable.

Wahab and Shaheena from Sindh, Yasmin and Viqarun Nisa from the NWFP and Shahnaz and Narjis from the Punjab presented their research reports about “kara kari”. They said that the evil custom had come to Balochistan from Arabia and then travelled to parts of Sindh and the Punjab. Women were treated as slaves by men and killed and sold after being accused of adultery. The pirs and waderas protected the system and exploited the women accused of betraying their men. The men were free to marry the women of their choice but the girls trying to do so were accused of “kara kari” and murdered or sold out.

The participants in the seminar recommended establishment of a network of state-supported shelters for providing refuge to women leaving their homes for saving their lives from their aggressive male relatives. Free legal services should be provided to such women for saving their lives and honour from their blood thirsty male relatives.