More laws of social engineering may further aggravate such violence
I thought I was unable to explain Farzana’s tragedy the way I wanted to do in my TV program,Siyasat Aur Qanoon; idiot box as repeatedly pointed out by many veterans of print journalism has its limitations as a medium, but the way it has been discussed and commented upon by our “neo-liberal columnists” in the newspapers was equally disappointing. First, they mislead the world by repeatedly using expressions as “Stoned to Death”, “Inside Lahore High Court”, “Police watching as spectators”. Second and perhaps the worst part was: they brought this reinforced emphasis on “making laws” and “strict enforcements” as if making and enforcing laws, without considering the social construct, history and socio-economic circumstances, will help in a country like Pakistan – already dealing with chaos created by thoughtless lawmaking and confused patchy implementations that not only negate each other but make a hash of the whole system of governance.
Let’s start with the basic facts: This murder took place, in a flash, around 7.40am, in the midst of two small mobs, each consisting of ten to fifteen, clashing with each other on Fane Road (heading towards Mall Road, surrounded by buildings of State Bank and Lahore High Court). These two rival mobs, one with Farzana and her second husband and the other with her family and her first husband were coming from the lawyers’ chambers walking towards the High Court. One of the brothers (reportedly Ghulam Ali) had a .30 caliber pistol as well. This family came with the clear intention of killing Farzana and in all probability her lover. As they started challenging each other, in shouts and abusive provocations and were getting into fist fights, her brother took out his gun and shot Farzana hitting her in the shin. Right at that moment, an off-duty Police Sub-Inspector, Arif (travelling from Sialkot to record statements in Lahore High Court), an unrelated pedestrian that just happened to be there intervened and snatched the pistol from Ghulam Ali and became part of the scuffle between several men. It is during that scuffle that other men – probably father and brother and cousins – got hold of bricks from an ongoing construction site and hit Farzana several times, killing her.
All that tragic drama, extinguishing one and destroying several other lives from the same family, was over in less than three minutes or perhaps two. So technically speaking it’s true that the poor woman – Farzana- was brutally killed by her family using brick as a “murder weapon” but which ever journalist – Pakistani or international – created the term “stoned to death” inside the Lahore High Court with very clear connotations of a religious style sentencing was deliberately sending a wrong signal to the whole world. Pakistani columnists have later only reinforced the same story with vehemence and without bothering to check.
But our worthy columnists’ failure does not stop there. Their tragedy lies in knee jerk reactions, in not reflecting deeply, in not asking questions, and in not offering analysis or seeking solutions. They are clubbing together several incidents of violence and painting them with a broad brush; mostly in the realm of religion. Our columnists repeated lament: Oh! What is happening to us? is the tip of the ice-berg; most readers would expect them to provide answers instead of merely repeating what is on their own minds.
Unfortunately mere condemnation, however shrill the voice, will not resolve anything, and an unthinking tendency of blasting governments or pushing them to make more laws of social engineering may further aggravate such violence. What we need to realise is that many or perhaps most parts of Pakistan – in FATA, Baluchistan, Southern Punjab and interior Sindh – are still living amidst cultural values and social support systems anywhere from 8th century to 19th; depending upon where and in what circumstances you were born. But don’t be surprised if I argue that even the collective consciousness and value system in small towns in central Punjab, adjacent to Lahore, is locked in late 19th or early 20th century.
Many of us — sitting in our islands of Islamabad, Lahore and small parts of Karachi are experiencing 21st century glued to our Twitter handles on our fourth generation Samsung Galaxies – worry about what State Department or EU think about us. But we are not prepared to labour hard to analyse that how global integration, free flows of images and sounds, repeated waves of modernity and demands of change and our personal ambitions to transform lives of these communities, as per our desired self-image, merely through the tools of law making have created powerful pressures and uncertainties around “communities caught in time warp” and in many cases because we are the beneficiaries of an unequal society.
What we need are mechanisms of “alternate dispute resolution” and civil society institutions that can offer “structured counseling and solutions” tailored to local conventions, circumstances and needs within the overall ambit of national laws.
What we need are mechanisms of “alternate dispute resolution” and civil society institutions that can offer “structured counseling and solutions” tailored to local conventions, circumstances and needs within the overall ambit of national laws. Such non-coercive institutions can function with informal or formal police support. Our goals should be to reduce the possibilities of criminalisation of intra-family disputes — FIR’s, arrests, coercive police interventions, court cases, lawyers and bails. It may help us to understand that Iqbal (Farzana’s second husband and main culprit) had filed an application in Lahore High Court to quash the FIR’s lodged by Farzana’s father. Court cases in such circumstances only exacerbate social tensions; this was third such hearing on which Farzana was killed by her family – and the whole country or perhaps the world was rocked.
Why Iqbal the incurable lover was the real culprit? He is around 45, married before, has five children to his responsibility (including three from the previous marriage of his first wife Aisha), had the audacity of initiating a socially repugnant affair with an 18 year old girl in 2007-9, in a household he enjoyed access based on family trust. He strangulates his first wife apparently for love of Farzana; becomes a police absconder, gets arrested in Farzana’s village around Nankana, in 2013; manages his pardon of Qisas from Aisha’s son and then demands Farzana’s hand who meanwhile gets into nikah with her cousin – Mazhar – in May 2012. Could Farzana’s father, existing in the social pressure cooker of a late 19thcentury place like Nankana, have married his daughter to this man; 20 years older, five children, murderer and very poor?
In Jan 2014, Iqbal made Farzana elope with him, got married on 7th Jan and Farzana described herself “unmarried” on nikah register; Iqbal – knowing the system – lodges Farzana into a Dar-ul-Aman, takes Fazana to a Judicial Magistrate where she admits of marrying him of her free will (she is 24/25 now) and then lodged application in Lahore High Court to quash FIR by Farzana’s father. Interestingly, while Iqbal, doing all this, was throughout on the right side of the law in 21st century Pakistan; he was totally on the wrong side of a conservative society. This extreme form of Ishq-e-Mamnoon, will not be easily solemnised by South Asian film makers (try asking Mira Nair to give it a positive spin) and certainly the social order the way it stands in Nankana (a town steeped in late 19th century) had to resist and react.
Despite all the inherent conflict, most men, even rural, are not as irresponsible or rash as Iqbal was; most young or uneducated women – unlike Farzana — are wise to rebuff slippery situations like these and most families, despite their time warp, even in rural Punjab don’t end up murdering their daughters with bricks. But merely condemning them, making laws for them from Islamabad, Lahore or Karachi and shedding crocodile tears on television, through columns and on twitter won’t help them. We need to think out of box to find solutions. Patriarchal family is still the center of power and control across the country; it has its defects, many of them plain evil. But this “patriarchal family” nevertheless holds the society together; preventing violent criminal ghettos and denying supplies of millions of confused, disoriented young men and women — lost in time and space — as potential recruits to extremist ideologies. Patriarchal family’s sudden collapse will add to the chaos in a country which is already struggling to keep its head above water. We need to find ways to let this governing structure, this basic building block of our society, enter modernity without letting it suddenly collapse.
This is a large borderless debate, but our immediate goal should be to save family structure from criminalisation for issues that have been part of the family’s internal conflict. In this day and age we cannot demand married men and women – like Farzana and Iqbal – not to fall in love, however forbidden it may be. But we can create intermediate layers of intervention, of counseling and support that can find solutions or offer palliative understanding to make things easy for families caught in the kind of traumatic situation that finally ended in the murder in Lahore. Dar-ul-Amman, the kind of which Farzana was in since January, only offers food and protection. We need to build their capacity to offer counseling to families to find acceptable solutions.
Police, local political elite and lower judiciary – most of whom themselves are convinced of the value of ‘honor’ — need to be trained to understand these conflicts in the context of modernity and to be able to help institutions like Dar-ul-Amman, local councils and government approved local bodies to find solutions. In most cases these negotiations to find acceptability for situations that are locally unpalatable can take weeks or months and intervening layers of institutions have to be trained for that. This is what their capacity building is about. And perhaps most importantly media and educational institutions need to change the narrative; with the help of celluloid and books we need to spread the message around that young adults have the right to make their choices in love – and this includes the right to make painful blunders. And there is no family ‘dishonor’ in matters of heart.