The bill was set to be a bill all its life
But then it became a law
Despite the usual objections
To all attempts to amend a flaw
The Anti-Honour Killing bill which had been pending for a long time has finally made it through both houses of Parliament and attained the status of law. Under this new law a murderer is no longer able to get away with his crime the way it was previously possible, always hoping that the law is implemented the way it should be. The bill’s tortuous passage to its current status illustrates Pakistan’s struggles to achieve what is hopefully a saner future. Although the Anti-Honour Killing law still leaves something to be desired, it is a great achievement since without it women were even more exposed to the sick practice of ‘honour’ killing so rampant in Pakistan.
The bill for this law was initiated in 2015 by Sughra Imam, in her capacity as Senator. It followed a convoluted path and faced great opposition including being allowed to lapse along the way.
It is always hard to determine what exactly a given case of violence consists of, and to obtain a conviction for that violence. In Pakistan a case of murder may be an ‘honour killing’, or it may be a murder committed for some other reason such as a property dispute.
Qisas and Diyat laws came into force in Pakistan in 1990. Diyat allows the victim’s family to forgive the murderer if he pays a sum of money to the family. As a result of these laws, according to one calculation, the conviction rate for murder in Pakistan went down from 29% to 12%. In a country like Pakistan where poverty stalks people with as great a menace as murder, and there exists a segment of persons rich enough to offer large sums as compensation… and powerful enough to ensure pardon with or without the payment of that compensation, it is well-nigh impossible to ensure a conviction if the killer is a person of means. An incident that caught international attention was the case of Raymond Davis a member of the CIA who shot two men dead in Lahore, yet walked free in return for a settlement of more than two million dollars agreed upon with the victims’ families. There are many other similar cases.
Conviction previously had to be based either on confession or eye witness testimony. Yet in the case of Raymond Davis the murder took place in public and Davis still went free. In the unlikely case of rape taking place as publically, conviction would similarly be influenced by the extent of power possessed by the rapist’s family.
A factor that contributes to conviction is physical proof. If the victim of violence happens to be a woman, the crime may include rape which is difficult to prove the traditional way. It is ironic the extent to which the severely flawed interpretation of religion stands in the way of sanity in Pakistan. It has been possible for a long time to obtain clear proof of sexual contact by means of DNA. Perhaps it thought that DNA stood for Devils Not Angels but in 2013 our Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) which disputed the Women’s Protection Act insisting that that Act violated Islamic principles, ruled out DNA as primary evidence in the case of rape. Mercifully, first Sindh and now this newly passed law accepts DNA as primary evidence, and even calls for it to be obtained and used. That the legislature has overridden the CII in this case is promising, since although the CII can only make recommendations it has a powerful influence. The law also makes changes to the Pakistan Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and the Qanun-e-Shahadat Order by increasing punishment for rape, and instituting fines and punishments for suppressing or distorting evidence.
It is mentioned above that the new law possesses certain shortcomings. If you remember the Qandeel Baloch case, Qandeel was murdered by her brother in the name of ‘honour’. There was a distinct possibility then that her family would forgive him and he would go free; to prevent this, the State became the plaintiff. Unfortunately the new law still leaves scope for a pardon by the victim’s family, but it restricts the extent to which that pardon if obtained lets the killer off the hook, allowing the killer to only escape execution. He or she still faces life in prison which is much more than the punishment he would have faced earlier.
Sadly, it took some high profile deaths for this law get to this point, but that it has should be welcomed. It is hoped that other such laws will follow, more of them flying in the face of opposition, such as there was in this case from the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam Fazal (JUI-F), and the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) who considered the new law to be un-Islamic. Credit goes to Sughra Imam who initiated the law and to Sherry Rahman who pushed the law through in spite of such opposition which can turn violent as opposition from such quarters often does.
The possibility of a killer being forgiven for his crime is a great option but only with regards to the Divine court. It may happen that a person is convicted here and he may seek forgiveness from his Maker, and for this it helps to have the forgiveness of his fellow men whom he has wronged. If the two courts Divine and corporeal are fused into one people tend to take advantage of the fact and lives right here are threatened. Law makers need to take cognizance of this tendency and move accordingly. The State is and should always appear as the plaintiff on behalf of its citizens and in the interest of law, order and security. It is the State’s laws that are broken in the event of a crime. The Divine is strong enough to take care of Himself and does not require our interference.