A 25-year old woman waits outside the Lahore High Court (LHC). She has committed an unforgivable crime; that of marrying the man she loves against the wishes of her family. Her family has registered a case claiming that she has been kidnapped by her new husband. She wants to tell the court that it is not so. As she waits outside for the doors to open, her father, two brothers and former fiancé attack her with bricks leading to her death. The familiar brand of barbaric ‘justice’ yet again triumphs over the written law of the land. Another case is settled outside the courts. Another woman, in search of justice, stoned to death, in the name of honour.
Farzana Iqbal’s story is both common and unique. It is common because thousands of women like her suffer the same fate every year in Pakistan, and unique simply because we were able to hear it. The basic problem is that of social behaviours and mindsets. Women are not considered human beings entitled to rights or equal treatment. It’s a patriarchal society, and its reflection is visible even on the walls of our justice system. Whereas changing mindsets requires education and time, holding aggressors accountable before law is a matter of will and policy. While others remain at large, Farzana’s father is in custody and has confessed to the crime. The courts must ensure that he pays for it, and so does everyone else who participated in the murder. Precedents matter, and setting the right ones can save lives.
Furthermore, the incident causes one to wonder how these men were able to stone a woman to death in front of a High Court in an urban centre. Did anybody rush to her help? Were there no security personnel outside the LHC? And finally, will the macabre symbolism, the misunderstood religiosity of such horrific punishments, create sympathisers for the accused?