The Ultimate Violation
By Beena Sarwar


"What happened to Shazia should not happen to anybody. And those who want to suppress the case, hid the reality, protect the sinners who committed this act, have they ever thought that this could happen in their own house too, to their own daughter or wife... What will they do then?
"My brother, who is the eldest son, the support of our old father, today when he talks to me, he starts crying. And I can do nothing, I cannot even dry my dear brother's tears. Today my heart is weeping tears of blood along with his tears. Dr Shazia was the honor of our family, and Inshallah, always will be. She is the daughter of our household, our daughter-in-law. In our eyes, she is as pure and unsullied as she has ever been. Her honor has not reduced, nor will it ever be. But who knows why this educated society with its educated people armed with big degrees talk like illiterates, talk of Karo Kari. I ask them who has given them the right to pronounce such a sentence on an innocent, responsible doctor, that she should be killed, that she has no right to live. Under what law do they make these statement, where is the Ayat in the Qur’an that decrees punishment on the downtrodden?
"... Dr Shazia's condition is deteriorating by the day. She can't sleep at night. My brother sits up all night by her side with a light on, she is afraid of the dark, she screams. What she has gone through, it is very painful, the horror will always stay with her deep in her heart. She can't face anyone, she is unable to meet anyone. A talented and responsible girl, a professional doctor, a savior of human beings, is today fighting for her own life. She just wants to live with the same respect she had..."
This is a partial translation of the long, heartbreaking email that Dr Shazia's sister-in-law Sameera Shah wrote from Canada to the Anaa News list, in Roman Urdu, posted out on January 31. Anaa is the American Asian Network Against Abuse of Women, set up by some concerned ex-pat Pakistani doctors based in the USA. They run an active email list focusing on violence against women, http://4anaa.org/, which has taken up the Sui rape case with great enthusiasm, including a signature campaign that they hope to pressure the government into action with. They also initially offered to try and get Dr Shazia and her husband over to the USA, but appear to have realized that such a move is beyond their scope. Now a Canadian organization of Pakistani-origin professionals has reportedly made such arrangements.
The Sui rape is probably Pakistan's most high profile such case since the prominent politician Sardar Shaukat Hayat went public with the rape of his daughter Veena Hyat over a decade ago. Then too, there was a lot of public outrage, demonstrations, petitions and what not. In the end, those arrested were released for 'lack of evidence', and Veena Hayat eventually moved abroad. It is not just women who are raped who find no hope in this society. Those who marry without their family's permission also often find themselves unable to live here, particularly if their case hits the headlines -- Shaista Almani, and earlier, Riffat Afridi and Saima Waheed Ropri, have all had to leave the country with their husbands, for fear of being killed if they remained in Pakistan.
Obviously, sending threatened women away is no solution to the problem, but it has become a form of political asylum. The main reason for this, and for the increase in violence against women, as has been pointed out again and again, is the lack of rule of law, the fact that culprits are never arrested, tried and punished. The lack, eventually, is of accountability. And without accountability, we cannot build a just, democratic society, in which the citizens feel safe and secure.
It is all very well and good that the government is engaged in the image building of Pakistan. We all agree that this country is misrepresented in the West and even in the East, and that there's a lot more to life in the Land of the Pure than violent fanatics who would like to criminalize every little joy in life (much like the Saudis who banned red roses on Valentine's Day). But unless we Pakistanis feel safe and secure in our own land, why would foreign investors be willing to risk life and limb in this potentially promising investment climate. It's only a few crazies more attuned to journalism and/or social development than investments and finance, like the Brits George Fulton and Chris Cork, or Germans Claus Euler and Hans Bremer (all married, incidentally, to Pakistani women), or the UK-based American Ethan Casey who will take the risk of living here for any extended period (There are a few brave women too).
Pakistan is probably one of the few countries where violence against women is actually on the rise. According to official figures cited in the HRCP Report 2004, an average of a thousand women die in Pakistan every year as a result of 'honor' killings. Add to this the thousands who suffer domestic violence, or are burnt with acid or kerosene, and the picture that emerges is one of extreme hatred of women (misogyny), violence, and deep-rooted concepts about women being the property of men, to do with as they will.
Think of the pain of young Aasiya in Karachi, just 16, raped by her employer's son and then burnt when she resisted -- doctors were amazed that she survived as long as she did, for two weeks, with 90 percent burns. The police refused to even register an FIR, until the intervention of rights organizations. In another recent case, Ghazala, a young graduate working in the advertising section of a local newspaper, was taken to Islamabad and raped by the owner-editor who photographed her nude in order to blackmail her into silence... but Ghazala isn't keeping silent, just as Aasiya refused to. Her family is standing by her (her father is a retired Steel Mills worker, and her mother a principal at a school in Karachi's Lines area); they have registered an FIR. Dr Shazia isn't keeping silent either.
The State must support such struggles for women for justice with more than just words or (inadequate) bills on 'honor killing'. For Aasiya and others like her, it is too late. But there are hundreds if not thousands of other such cases screaming for justice, accountability, and the rule of law. Until the government takes steps to ensure these basics, all attempts at improving Pakistan's image abroad will remain a superficial veneer.


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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