PAKISTAN: Mothers set fire to daughters in Nuclear Nation

A State that prides itself on being a nuclear State, a symbol of strength and technological advancement, needs a double take. There is something very wrong in a nation and a society where the most fundamental human relationships are mired in violent brutality.

Ms. Zeenat 17, was caught off guard when her own mother doused her with petrol and set her on fire. Her crime? She had dared to marry the man of her choice and had left home to elope and make a life with him.

Incidents like this are everyday news in Pakistan. If in case after case the basic relationships between mothers and daughters end up in violence and murder, how safe are nuclear weapons housed within this jurisdiction?

Or to put it differently, a nation that has devised nuclear weapons against its professed enemies has failed to protect 52% of its population against atrocities and torture, meted out in the name of honour. Are the enemies outside the border the real threats or the ones lurking inside the country? Pakistan is the third most dangerous country to be a woman. Given this, what on earth is the nuclear nation trying to protect with such weapons if it cannot even protect its women and grant them their human rights on a day to day basis?

As per media reports, Zeenat had married Hassan a week ago after leaving her house. Zeenat’s mother Parveen contacted her and told her that she had forgiven her. Parveen took her daughter back home, assuring her that she wants to arrange a proper marriage function for her. Early in the morning, on 8th June 2016, Parveen doused Zeenat in petrol and set her on fire. The victim succumbed to burn injuries in the hospital. And, so the nation has observed silently as yet another young woman has been set on fire, taking the toll to three in the past two months.

The act of live burning of young girls has become endemic. While most go unreported, recently three cases have found space in the press. There is the case of 19-year-old Maria Sadaqat and 16-year-old Amber who were burnt for daring to exercise their right to choose whom to marry. While the former was burnt for refusing a marriage proposal, the latter was torched for assisting her friend to elope.

The State does little to protect its vulnerable; despite constitutional guarantee and laws guaranteeing free will to the women of Pakistan, they are denied their fundamental right. “Honour killing” alone claims a thousand lives each year in Pakistan. It is as if free will has become a crime in “the land of the pure”.

Women are forced to marry against their will and many suffer domestic violence for as long as they live. At times cases of violence against women garner media attention, but nothing is done to curb the menace. In the annals of Pakistani women’s victimization, these three girls will go down as just other unfortunate souls who met a gruesome end. Such incidents neither elicit a change in mind-set nor do they bring about any concrete action plan from the State.

Despite a lapse of 69 years since its inception, the State has not been able to empower its women and girls. Rather, Pakistan has regressed to the stone ages, where women may have been traded and bartered as chattel. While their peers are heading nations, corporations, and multinational entities, Pakistani women have to suffer the wrath of the Council of Islamic Ideology, who dwell on the best methods to hit a woman and what kind of weapons can be used to “lightly” beat wives.

The increasing intolerance and radicalization is reflected in the societal disorder that manifests every time a woman suffers torture and violence. Legislative lip service such as Women Protection Act, Anti-Honour Killing Laws Amendment) Bill 2014 and Anti-Rape Laws have failed to change the patriarchal mindset; the laws have lost their credibility due to lack of implementation. Sensitization of police and general public is not even an empty mantra anymore. In a conservative society, rooted in orthodox interpretations of Islam, change in mindset is hard to come by. Radicalization and militarization has further eroded the moral fabric of the society, generating intolerance and violence against the more vulnerable.

Violence against women is a natural outcome in a morally bankrupt society, which has reduced its mothers, sisters, daughters to chattels, who do not have any say in their lives. Rule of law is a misnomer in a country where barbaric actions are granted impunity. The complete judicial and executive apathy is proven by one statistic alone: the conviction rate for “honour killing” in Pakistan is close to zero.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) strongly condemns the incidents of burning of women in Pakistan and demands that the State takes stern action against the culprits. The State must play its role in ensuring that the perpetrators are brought to book without delay and that they are given exemplary punishment to discourage repetition of such savagery.

A country where 52% of the population suffers some form of abuse cannot be expected to prosper or survive in the long run. It is time that the society in general and the authorities in particular identify the core of the problem to uproot the menace once and for all. In a society like Pakistan where women are already vulnerable and subject to violence, a rational approach towards religion must be adopted.

Pakistan, a nuclear state, sees thousands of cases of violence against women every year, from rape and acid attacks to sexual assault, kidnappings and so-called honour killings, such violence is never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue. While violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, it does have a gender.