New Age Islam
Mon Jun 27 2022, 06:52 PM

Islam and Human Rights ( 23 Sept 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Murder as tradition: Baluchis defend burying five girls, women alive

By D Suba Chandran


These are centuries-old traditions, and I will continue to defend them," thundered Israr Ullah Zehri, a Senator from Baluchistan, in Pakistan's Parliament on August 29, 2008. Obviously, the people of any democracy would love to see their elected representative defend their traditions, especially if it is centuries old. But what is the tradition that the Senator was defending? He was referring to the shooting of five women in Baluchistan by armed men, sometime in July 2008, and then burying the injured women alive.


No one is quite sure when this barbarism took place, though it came to light after the Asian Human Rights Commission made an urgent appeal in mid-August. The five women -- including two married women and three unmarried teenagers -- were about to leave for Usta Mohammed in Jafarabad district. Since the three girls wanted to marry men of their choice, which was not approved by their elders, they had decided to get married in the civil court in Usta Mohammed. A group of six armed men abducted the women, fired at the three girls, and then buried them alive. When the two elder women, an aunt and a mother of the victims, protested, they were also buried alive.


Who is responsible for this crime? What prompted it? And how has the state reacted? Abdul Sattar Umrani, who led the killing squad, is a brother of Sadiq Umrani, who is a PPP member of the Baluchistan Provincial Assembly and a Minister. Abdul Sattar Umrani, according to the Asian Human Rights Commission report, was also involved in a similar killing in January 2006, when his armed men killed three people, including a couple, who were about to get married in a civil court in Nasserabad district. Despite the intervention then by Iftikhar Chaudhary, the deposed Chief Justice, Abdul Sattar Umrani could not be arrested, thanks to the police and the local judiciary.


In the recent killings, Abdul Sattar Umrani abducted the five women in a Land Cruiser with a Baluch Government number plate. The police refused to file an FIR on account of heavy political pressure against any formal action against the perpetrators. Even if an FIR were to be registered now, all the material evidence would have disappeared.


This is certainly not the first such incident in Baluchistan; perhaps it is the first to get so much publicity. In a society dominated by tribal leaders -- the 'Sardars' -- where governance is yet to reach the masses, Baluch women have always been at the receiving end in the area. From education to maternal mortality, Baluch women are the worst affected in Pakistan. Unfortunately, the state is not too keen to enforce its writ; it adopts the same strategy that the British did under the 'Sandeman System' -- deal only with the Sardars; let them manage local affairs. The Sardars continue to mete out justice and even run illegal jails.


There was another instance in January 2005, when an Army official raped a doctor at Sui in Baluchistan. The Bugti tribes, then led by Akbar Bugti, made this their battle cry for protecting the honour of their women. Since the accused was a non-Baluchi, the tribals rose against the state. But now that the accused belong to a local tribe, they are being supported in the name of 'honour' and 'tradition'. Obviously, the 'honour' and 'tradition' of Baluch society change depending on who the criminal is.


The Pakistani state should not remain a mute spectator and enforce its writ. Unfortunately, a section within Pakistan's Parliament is seen as supporting such criminality in Baluchistan. When the issue was raised by Senator Yasmin Shah of the PML(Q), Mr Jan Muhammad Jamali, acting Chairman of the Senate, has been quoted as telling him: "Yasmin Shah should go to our society and see for herself what the situation is like there and then come back to raise such questions in the House."


Mr Jamali also criticised the media for its "out of proportion" emphasis as it "gave the matter such a colour as if heavens have fallen". True, heavens have not fallen, but heads in the civilised world are hanging in shame. Three of those killed were less than 18 years old, studying in 10th and 12th standards. From when did the killing of women and children in the name of honour become a part of one's culture and tradition?


-- The writer is deputy director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi.

Source: The Pioneer, New Delhi