By Rafia Zakaria
13 Feb 2015
For the past few weeks, Uzma Qayyum has been shuttled from shelter to shelter by the Islamabad Sessions Court where her case has been pending. At the hearing conducted at the end of January, Judge Nazir Ahmed Gajana had ordered shifting the girl from the Darul Aman Centre where she had been ordered to go earlier in the month to the Benazir Bhutto Shelter Home and Crisis Centre.
The new shelter offered counselling services, something pertinent and necessary in Uzma’s case since her father had alleged that she had been brainwashed.
As I wrote in an earlier article entitled 'Women and militancy', Uzma Qayyum’s case began last June when one evening she did not return home from the madrassa which she attended, and which is an affiliate of Jamia Hafsa. On her bed, her parents had found a burial shroud. When the father went looking for his daughter he was told by another student at the institution that she had left with Umme-Hassan, the head of Jamia Hafsa for that institution.
When her father arrived at Jamia Hafsa, he was not allowed to meet his daughter. The next day, he returned insisting that he be allowed to see Uzma. The meeting did happen then, but only in the presence of Umme Hassan and another Jamia Hafsa administrator.
Uzma herself did not speak but her father was told that she had decided to dedicate her life to the faith. According to Uzma’s father, Maulana Abdul Aziz (the head of the adjoining Lal Masjid) also met with him and told him that Uzma would not be returned to him
Uzma’s father decided to take the issue to court filing a petition with the Supreme Court of Pakistan, asking for judicial intervention and an order requiring Jamia Hafsa to return Uzma to his custody. The Supreme Court turned over the case to the Islamabad Sessions court so that they could conduct an investigation.
In the court filings, it was also discovered that he, Uzma’s father had arranged her marriage to a cousin. Uzma did not wish to marry this cousin and allegedly this was one of the reasons she took refuge at Jamia Hafsa. In a hearing on the case held on January 21, 2015, Uzma had refused to return to her father’s house.
The Sessions court judge ordered that she be placed in Darul Aman in Rawalpindi during the adjudication of the case. Then about a week later, at another hearing, he ordered that she be removed from the Darul Aman and transferred to the Benazir Bhutto Shelter and Crisis Centre so she could receive counselling.
This past week, the court reached a verdict.
Judge Nazir Ahmed Gajjana ordered that Uzma Qayyum be ordered to return to her father’s custody.
According to the court filing the parties had reached an agreement through which Uzma would be allowed to exercise her consent in who to marry and continue her education; and that the dictates of sharia would be followed by her family.
In return, Uzma promised not to run away again and not meet with the people from Jamia Hafsa without the presence of her parents. The law, mandates that fathers are the guardians of unmarried women, and per its stipulations, Uzma had to be returned.
Her case, however, represents more than that.
Pakistan is rife with examples of women’s choices being abridged by the law, by culture and by social mores.
In this case, Uzma ran from one hell to another; seeking to avoid the burden of an unwanted marriage by aligning herself with a militant agenda that delights in aggression against society.
In the bizarre binary that resulted from this, the court had to choose between sentencing Uzma to an old hell or allow her to remain in a new one.
That then, is the tragedy of the case — a choice between two competing banishments. Perhaps, the court considered that permitting Uzma to stay at Jamia Hafsa would entail greater ills; allow her to be implicated in the commission of crimes.
Against that, ordering her to return home involved a misery that would be limited only to her and possibly her family; a grown runaway woman returned home, hence sentenced to their control for lack of alternatives.
The stipulations of the Court agreement, including Uzma’s insistence that her choice and consent be respected in matters of marriage are laudable aspirations.
In reality, considering the daily wear and tear a family can exercise on anyone’s will, the Court's terms and conditions are unlikely to mean much when it comes to Uzma’s ability to make choices for herself.
Would it really surprise anyone if in the coming weeks and months and years, as the hubbub over the case dies and daily realities become more proximate, the dictates and demands of the near and dear eventually win out?
There is nowhere else to run to, and captivity eliminates all choice.
They will acquiesce to whatever marriage or pretence at happiness comes their way, and live the life of compromise so well known to the women of her country.
Uzma Qayyum’s case should give all Pakistani women pause.
Are these the only parameters of choice that we can offer girls like Uzma?
Their turn to militant institutions and their caustic seductions represent in sum the failure of Pakistani society to present any other options.
The court’s reiteration that a woman be returned to her father’s custody, while a reprieve against her cultish indoctrination by Jamia Hafsa, affirms the rule that should rile any Pakistani woman; that father, son, brother or husband, each and all are more entitled to make choices for them than they are for themselves.
Rafia Zakaria is an author, attorney and human rights activist. She is a columnist for DAWN Pakistan and a regular contributor for Al Jazeera America, Dissent, Guernica and many other publications.