What can be more painful than a dentist appointment? In Pakistan, it can be said that the honor goes to a dose of news-watching. The horrific experience can be compared to a roller coaster ride through Hell ,while a demon sends electric jolts through your body. So when you are watching the news, you are taken through an array of (bad) news while the graphic, should-have-been-censored images of a recent blast at a busy commercial area in Karachi/a bustling bazaar in Lahore bring you on the verge on nausea.
I suffered the pain of watching the news on just another fine Karachi day, with lots of stifling heat and nothing to do. I was surfing the channels and as I came upon a news channel, a reporter’s flushed face appeared on the screen. She stood on a piece of barren land yelled in the microphone, “This is unbelievable, barbaric. Right in the 21st century, Baluchistan has been plunged in the Dark Ages. Recently. three unfortunate girls of the Umrani tribe in Baluchistan namely, Jannat Bibi, Fatima, Fauzia were murdered ruthlessly for marrying men of their own choice. Here lie their unmarked graves”. She pointed frantically to the fresh mounds of mud beside her and paused to catch her breath. I sat there, alert ,waiting for her to provide more information. Maybe to see the paunchy policemen share his investigation, or to see the heavily-mustached provincial minister condemn the issue. But the reporter had decided that it’s been enough time when the world hadn’t listened to her award-winning speech on “Plight of women in Pakistan” and launched into it again.”I repeat, this is unbearable..”. I switched off the TV.
I sat there apathetically, wishing I could be surprised, or better disgusted. To say I was taken aback would be a lie, and “Numb” is just a Linkin Park song. In Pakistan lately, we have been hearing of such incidents so frequently that they fail to move us. If such news ever cross our eyes ,we carry on the same ritual .News channels run a two-minute clip on the biography of victims(only to be replaced by a more sensational news in the next bulletin),members of some nameless NGO take out rallies and pose for photographs in their designer wear and the tribal leader justifies the killings according to the tribe’s moral code. Then, we all set out to permanently remove the incident form our memories.
Though the incident couldn’t stir me sentimentally, I must admit, it quizzed me. It really is confusing, if you look at it from this angle: In a country where women are treated as such precious gemstones that they are not allowed to leave the confinements of chaddor and chardiwari , they are aterall,considered
objects, who can be married to or betrothed to anyone without their consent, and if the master wills, the object can always be discarded of.
The reasons for Pakistanis acting so ‘queer’, to put in mild terms towards their women were not too clear for me. I have heard people saying that it’s because of a lack of education. Sure, lack of education is a major reason for these inhumane activities. But what about the foreign-educated tribal leaders, who are almost always involved in such heinous crimes? There was to be a root cause for this.
I was totally absorbed in these thoughts when my cellphone rang. It was Areeba*,the confident, chirpy girl in my school.”Hey Amna, “she started right away,” Listen! You HAVE to come tomorrow. It’s my sister’s wedding and we are going to have loads of fun and dance to old Raheem Shah songs and..” “Wait, wait!”I cut her off.”Are you talking about Fareeha? God, she is only 14,hasn’t even been to college yet!”. “Amna calm down! You know girls get married at a young age in my family. It’s the custom ,ok? Oh and try to make it tomorrow.BYE!” She hung up. I realized I had found the cause for the lowly position women have in our society. The culprits were none other than our backward social customs.
Social customs are to Pakistan what football is to Brazil. With a lack of healthy activities, Pakistanis have developed a strange obsession for these customs. These customs are so dominant in our society that they have even had influence on our interpretation of the words of God, our religion. Indeed, that is one main reason why we so blindly follow our customs. A small section of our respected and much rightly done so ,ulema ,religious scholars have been using religion to justify and promote their own beliefs. Pakistanis, with a knack of believing everything that passes around here for religion have whole-heartedly accepted their views, leading to the creation of even more absurd customs. And because everyone who dare challenge the rationality of these customs is labeled a heretic, we are still largely shackled by these ridiculous practices.
A name predominant in these practices is honor killing, simply meaning killing to safeguard one’s honor. This is what took the lives of the three Baluch girls. The practice is not very new. Taking its roots in Japan in the early 11th century as “Harakiri”, where samurai warriors took their lives after a defeat on the battlefield, this practice soon spread to other
parts of the world. Though the basic concept remained the same ,the custom ,like most other customs ,was modified to suit the lifestyle of the local people. In the rural areas of subcontinent, clenched by a staunch belief in feudalism, the tribal chiefs who attained supreme authority over the lives of their people , were entrusted with the task of ending a person’s life. If they believed his/her actions went against the moral codes prescribed by the tribe, had a corrupting effect on the people or violated the chief’s authority in any way, the person was to be killed, his/her voice silenced.The practice came to be known as karo-kari.
Though it has been often said, mostly by the feudal lords themselves, but the main motive of honor killing is not to protect the honor of the land ,but to preserve their own thrones. With the world’s gradual move through rationalism, monarchies were abolished and customs gotten rid of. The chiefs were quick and cunning enough to realize that their kingdoms will not last long if their people will follow in the footsteps of the educated world. So to eradicate this threat, people in these areas were distanced from education, barred from attending schools and religious thoughts misinterpreted and distorted to suppress the masses even more. And if anyone dared to make their decisions themselves ,or have some legitimate control over their own lives, they were immediately killed to “save the honor of the land”. To say that the tribes of Baluchistan were “plunged into the Dark Ages” would be wrong. They never left the “Dark Ages.”
In 1947, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was established. Now in no way do the concept of republic or Islam encourage monarchy and feudalism, quite the contrary, but feudalism has continued to haunt the region. Feudal lords, the undisputed leaders of their respective areas, were quick to enter the political arena. Usually, no other person was, and is allowed to contest the elections other than the tribal chief. And if anyone could ever muster up the courage to do so, they had to be ready to face the wrath of the tribal chief. The chiefs attained high positions in government and made sure that the funds for education in rural areas were adequately used to pay for their children’s foreign education. They also worked tirelessly to ensure that no law against the ridiculous social custom or encouraging the notions of free speech is passed. This is not to say that such law have never been passed. But in most cases, these laws have been unsatisfactory, usually giving the culprit a chance to buy his way out of jail. Also, the major problem lies in the implementation of these laws. The tribal chiefs have the law enforcement agencies firmly in their control and they see to it that most FIRs regarding honor killings are not acted upon. This has obviously resulted in more deaths, and most recently of the young girls of the Umrani tribe.
To state the obvious ,Pakistan’s social customs and the tribal system in our countryside is antiquated and MUST be removed, by laws, their implementation, education or any other way to propel Pakistan into the 21st century. What the common person like me can do is to keep the issue alive, through blogs ,TV shows, internet or even a simple essay, and never let people overlook the misery the girls of this country are in. Otherwise, as an elderly woman of Baluchistan noted ,”It’s a man’s world and these practices will never stop.”
*not her real name
Originally written for Commonwealth Essay Competition in the hopes of winning a trip to UK