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Violent authoritarianism: time to change the mindset

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Despite the passage of laws, the practice of honour killings and other punishments falling under these categories are becoming intensive in nature. Just imagine, four brothers killed their 50-year-old mother for honour here on Sunday. Police said that Sultana Bibi with her four sons was residing in a rented house in the Naseerabad area near Chakwal city. Her husband had died about five years ago. Her sons doubted the character of their mother. On the day of the incident, Sultana was allegedly killed by her sons with the blows of a sharp-edged weapon.

Separately, a young man was blinded over honour in Balochistan. Yes, in a horrific act of familial violence, a young man, beginning his adult life, has been left sightless. As reported, the 22-year-old, hailing from a village near Loralai in Balochistan, had approached his parents hoping to convince them to send a marriage proposal to a woman he wanted to wed. Matters needlessly escalated to a point where the mother was forcibly removed from the scene, and the victim’s father, along with his other sons, meted out his own unique brand of punishment by gouging out the eyes of his youngest.

A police case was registered in the aftermath; two of the four brothers who abetted the father in the crime were arrested while the search for the remaining perpetrators continues. It is commendable that the police took quick action in this crime of monstrous proportions – and it is hoped that the guilty are duly punished. Unfortunately, the swiftness with which this case has been handled is the exception, rather than the norm. While laws to protect individuals from family-inflicted violence have been strengthened in recent years, for most victims, the wheels of justice don’t turn at all – in part because many crimes such as spousal violence, corporal punishment, child sexual abuse, even ‘honour’ killings, go unreported.

It is essential to understand and explore the causes both from a legal and societal perspective. The inability to resolve family crises amicably, a lack of coping skills to navigate family relations and deficient self-esteem can lead to violent acts within family units.  No longer can society afford to define personhood conditionally through values reinforced by a patriarchal society; instead, we should recognise personhood as an individual’s right to inherent human dignity to be protected by the state and its machinery.

The Pakistani justice system should not allow patriarchal constructs to perpetuate violence, misogyny and intolerance.

Just imagine, Abdul Baqi’s only crime was to propose to a young woman of his own choice. Naturally, there are fears for her safety.

Abdul is now irreversibly blind. After his ordeal, he begged his family to kill him. But they refused; preferring to let him live so that he would be made an example to other young men in the village. A veritable deterrent to ensure that there is no going against traditional norms. But to be clear, this has nothing to do with culture, conservative or otherwise.  It has everything to do with violent authoritarianism. This is what happens when the patriarchy begins to eat itself. And Pakistan should be very afraid.

For if this can happen to a young man, it may signal that things could be about to get even worse for women. For what Abdul suffered is the equivalent to having acid thrown in his face; an all too common occurrence that women across the country are subjected to, usually for rejecting unwelcome advances or unsolicited proposals.

Thus far, it is not clear whether any local NGO has stepped forward to help fund further medical expenses. Or to help Abdul find some kind of work once he has healed. Though the bigger and more immediate test lies in what will happen to Abdul’s father and two brothers who have been arrested.

They should be charged without delay and all efforts must be made to apprehend the two other brothers who are reportedly still on the run.

Indeed, it might be welcome if the Chief Justice of Pakistan takes notice of the case. Not because a man had to suffer such brutality. But because by talking about what happened to Abdul, there may just be a chance to broaden the scope of accompanying narratives. That is, without the false constraints of what the victim did or did not do to ‘provoke’ his family.

One thinks that if this can happen, offers hope that such dialogue can eventually become normalised when it comes to honour attacks against women.

Admittedly, this is a long-shot. But we have to start somewhere. For this, both men and women should be on the same page and we collectively should be standing together against such cruel mindset.

Pakistani people carry a heavy burden of cultural norms, social practices and restricted opportunities. Violence is often used as a tool to control and make them conform to patriarchal ideology. Time has come to sensitize the society about this issue. Basically no law can help bring a change in society unless, the mindset is changed.

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