An Editorial in The News, Islamabad
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
The issue of the incident in Jaffarabad district in Balochistan, where five women were reportedly buried alive, has finally created a national furore. This of course is as things should be. Protests have been staged outside parliament over the remarks made by Senator Israrullah Zehri attempting to defend the gruesome 'honour' killing as 'tribal custom'. Other leaders from Balochistan have denied such practices are a part of tradition.
But, sadly, even as the Senate passed a unanimous resolution condemning the incident and demanding punishment for its perpetrators, an attempt at a cover-up is on. The government presented an extremely dubious report before the Senate, stating three women and not five had been killed, that the incident involved a property dispute and was not a case of 'honour' killing and that the women had been killed before being buried. The adviser on interior, perhaps realizing that all this sounded blatantly unbelievable given mounting evidence of the horrific event that had actually taken place, has conceded that this version based on local police accounts differs from the report by the IG and a full investigation is on.
But an obvious attempt seems to be on to bury the truth, alongside the hapless women who met so terrible an end. The interior adviser himself shied away from making any reference to a live burial, focusing instead on 'honour' killings that he emphasized also took place outside Balochistan. While three arrests have been made, including that of the fathers of the girls and the brother of two, and two bodies exhumed, authorities insist the brother of a PPP provincial minister was not involved. They have maintained media reports accusing him of playing a part in the whole sordid incident are inaccurate.
This is a distinct diversion from accounts from NGOs that have investigated the happening. People in Usta Muhammad, the principal town of Jaffarabad, had reported a vehicle with government number plates had been used to whisk away the three teenage girls – and possibly another woman accompanying them – from a hotel. They speak of a 'tribal influential' being involved. It is thought the young women, all of them educated, who had chosen to exercise their lawful right to make their own choice in marriage, had come to the town to enter into court marriages with the men of their choosing. Many details, lost amidst various cover-ups, remain hazy. Police now say two and not five women were killed. Local people, in the village of Babakot where the event took place, are clearly too terrorized to talk. The arrested brother of two of the women killed has reportedly taken responsibility. This seems like a replication of the pattern seen in numerous 'honour' killings, where a brother accepts blame, and is then 'forgiven' by the father of the victim, thus ensuring that under the country's Qisas and Diyat law his son escapes scot-free and no one is punished.
The fact that the Balochistan High Court has taken suo motu notice of the incident is good news. This raises some hope the truth will eventually emerge from amidst the sands in which an attempt is being made to bury it. The central government must ensure it participates fully in the effort to punish all those involved in the crime and join hands with civil society for this. The fact that in the first three months of this year, at least 90 women suffered 'honour' killings according to the Aurat Foundation indicates how grave the problem is. Thousands are believed to have died over the past five years for the sake of family 'honour'. The 2005 law that set in place tougher penalties for such crimes remains poorly enforced. These are the wrongs a government, led till the end of this year by a woman in whose name it still speaks, must right. Attempting a cover-up would only add to the crime itself.
Source: The News, Pakistan