SC Judgment on Section 497: Impact in Pakistan
| VK Gaur - 28 Sep 2018

License to kill

 By V K Gaur

New Delhi, Sep 27, 2018: Supreme court of India in its Landmark Judgment on 27 Sep struck down section 497under which adultery was a criminal offence. The judgment should exhilarate social activists in the Indian subcontinent. In some countries honour killing for adultery is rampant.

Women rarely occupy news headlines in Pakistan. They are considered downtrodden without any significant recognition in the society. In patriarchal society of Pakistan, women are bound by a strict code of conduct. They are required to maintain an honour code. In order to preserve the woman's chastity, women must follow socially restrictive cultural practices and uphold family honour. They have to observe the practice of purdah and segregation of sexes in social and private gatherings. Violation of honour code sometimes results in honour killings. Such killings are usually very complex. Murders are committed to shortcut inheritance problems, feud-settling, or to get rid of the wife in order to remarry.

Women are often killed if they wish to marry of their choice or if they hold property in their names because male family members don’t want family property lost to another family. The concepts of women as property and honour are so deeply entrenched in the social, political and economic fabric of Pakistan that the government, for the most part, ignores the daily occurrences of women being killed and maimed by their families.

In its report some years ago Amnesty International pointed out to "the failure of the authorities to prevent these killings by investigating and punishing the perpetrators."[  Situation in Pakistan's  semi-autonomous Tribal Areas is precarious. Hardcore fundamentalist leaders are stumbling block against crime investigating Federal and provincial agencies.

Pakistan has the highest volume of honour killings per capita of any country in the world. Nearly one-fifth of the world's 5000 honour killings are reported from Pakistan. An honour killing is the brutal killing of a member of a family or social group by other members, due to the belief that the victim has brought dishonour to the family or community. The elimination of the victim is a way to restore the reputation and honour of the family.

The victims are either shot or stabbed to death, More brutal is killing by ‘stoning to death’. In Tribal areas, the victims are buried alive.

Honour killing is an act of murder, executed for immoral behaviour. Such "immoral behaviour" may take the form of alleged marital infidelity, flirtation, adultery, refusal to accept an arranged marriage, demanding a divorce, or alleging rape (if eyewitnesses don’t prove allegations).. Suspicion and accusations are usually enough to warrant the killing of the woman.

Punjab is the most ill-reputed province, for violence against women.

In February 2018, a 19-year-old woman was murdered in Karachi, by her brother for having an affair with one of her relatives. Local ‘jirga’ declared she was a "sinful woman.” Her brother and two accomplices murdered her.

 A Pakistani mother killed her daughter of  her by burning her alive, for ‘bringing shame to the family.’ The girl had married against the wishes her family.

In July 2016, a British citizen, Samia Shahid, came to see her ailing father living in Pakistan. She was raped and strangled - in Punjab in the house of her former husband Mohammed Shakeel, She had divorced Shakeel because he was aggressive and abusive.

In one of the most publicized honor killing case Samia Sarwar was murdered by her family in the Lahore office of well-known human rights activists Asma Jahangir and Hina Jilani. She sought assistance for a divorce from her first cousin, however, her family arranged her murder because the family members thought she intended to marry a man of her choice.

The police did not make any arrests or pursue prosecution as Sarwar's family was strongly placed in political circles. BBC made an award winning documentary, "License to Kill," covering Samia's killing in Pakistan.

A hair-raising documentary film in 2015 was in circulation on Saba Qaiser a woman from Punjab, Pakistan. She married a man against her family's wishes. Her father and uncle mercilessly beat her, shot her in the head and packed her body in a sack, and threw her into a river.

Saba miraculously survived the violent attack, escaped from the sack and swam to safety. Saba was pressured by community leaders to forgive her father and uncle.

The "forgiveness law" was still in place in Pakistan, allowing murderers of victims to be released if the family chose to forgive them. With the help of a human rights lawyer, Saba fought the case in court, but finally chose to declare forgiveness in court due to the pressure exerted on her.

In April 2009, Ayman Udas, a Pashtun singer from the Peshawar area, was shot to death apparently by her two brothers who "considered her divorce, remarriage and artistic career as damaging to family honor." No one was prosecuted.

The case of Tasleem Khatoon Solangi, 17, of Hajna Shah village in Khairpur district, was widely discussed in Pak media. Her father Gul Sher Solangi, alleged his eight months' pregnant daughter was tortured and killed by members of her village claiming that she had brought dishonour to the tribe.

Gul Sher alleged that it was orchestrated by her father-in-law, who accused her of carrying a child conceived outside her wedlock, The motive was to grab the family farm.

On 27 May 2014, a pregnant woman named Farzana Iqbal (aka Parveen) was stoned to death by her family in front of a Pakistani High Court for eloping and marrying the man she loved.

In July 2016, popular Pakistani social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch was strangled by her brother in an act of honour killing in Multan in the province of Punjab. She had reportedly raised controversy by posting controversial pictures of herself on social media, including one alongside a Muslim cleric, and her brothers had objected. 

 Pak law on honour killings has been reformed several times throughout the years. Notable legislation reforms to protect women in Pakistan from violence include The Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act of 2006, Criminal Law (Third Amendment) Act of 2011, The Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act of 2016, and The Criminal Law (Amendment) (Offences in the name or pretext of Honor) Act of 2016.

 The first-ever woman Judge, Justice Syeda Tahira Safdar was sworn in as Chief Justice of Baluchistan High Court in Quetta in the last week of September. The news of the appointment of women Chief Justice was highlighted by Pakistan media prominently. Almost every newspaper carried front page news. However, the impact of the judgment of SC of India saying that wife is not the property of husband and that adultery is not a criminal offence is bound to create serious undercurrents in Pakistan.

Tags: Adultery; Supreme Court of India; BBC; License to Kill; Samia's killing in Pakistan; Forgiveness law; Pakistan; India; Section 497; Impact of the judgment of SC of India in Pakistan; Stoning to death;

(The Writer VK Gaur is former IG, BSF and has written more than 50 Books on the issues related to Defence, Strategy and Internal security.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Indian Observer Post and Indian Observer Post does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.


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