By Feisal Naqvi
MAY 29 2014
On Tuesday morning, a 25-year-old woman by the name of Farzana Iqbal was beaten to death by her family. Farzana was on her way to the Lahore High Court when her father, her brother, and a mob of family members attacked her with guns. When they missed, she ran but her brother grabbed her headscarf, making her fall down. As she lay on the ground, she begged for her life. In response, her family members smashed her head in with bricks.
Farzana was killed because she had married a person of her choice. Her family reacted to the love marriage in time-honoured fashion; that is, by accusing her husband of kidnapping. Farzana was coming to the court to tell the judge she had not been kidnapped but had married of her own free will. She was three-months pregnant when she died.
Farzana died perhaps 10 to 20 yards from the gate of the Lahore High Court. To be more specific, she died on the potholed surface of Fane Road, next to where Turner Road branches off. Across the road—as in literally across the road—are the offices of the advocate-general of the Punjab and the Federal Judicial Academy. I suppose if the learned judges undergoing instruction at the Academy had been disturbed enough to come out and check what was going on, the dead body could have been used to instruct them in the finer points of criminal jurisprudence.
The judges were not alone in their indifference. Turner Road and Fane Road are Ground Zero for legal offices. There are at least a few thousand lawyers who work within a few blocks of where Farzana was killed. In the morning, which is when Farzana was killed, that particular crossroads is full of people hurrying to court. None of them did anything to stop her murder.
To be fair, the trainee judges and the passers-by have an excuse: they are not in the business of maintaining law and order. In Lahore, that privilege belongs to the Punjab police. There are at least two squads of police within 50 yards of where Farzana was killed. One squad guards the entrance to the Lahore High Court. The other guards the entrance to the Academy and the advocate-general’s office.
It takes time to beat a person to death, especially when the instrument in question is as blunt and unwieldy as a brick. In Farzana’s case, the attack reportedly lasted for about 15 minutes. During that time, Farzana’s husband ran to the police officers stationed at the court entrance and begged them to intervene. They refused.
This was not the first time that Farzana had been attacked. Her family members had first tried to kill her at her lawyer’s office but had been repulsed. They had then waited outside and tried to kill her again. This time, they were stopped by officers from a nearby police station. The relatives were then held for about an hour before being released without charge.
Fifty years ago, on March 13, 1964, a young woman by the name of Kitty Genovese was attacked and killed in New York City. The New York Times reported that, “For more than half an hour, 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks.” The Genovese murder touched a raw nerve in America’s conscience. For decades thereafter, it has been used as a symbol of all that was wrong with city life and the anonymity of urban existence.
I cannot speak as to why the police officers concerned did not respond. I cannot speak as to why the people there at the scene did not intervene. It is easy enough to be heroic in print; it is far more difficult to do something when confronted by an armed mob.
What I can speak to is the aftermath. Right after the killing, there was silence. As much as I detest suo motto actions, this was perhaps one moment when the chief justice of Pakistan should have demanded answers. But he didn’t. Even the chief justice of the Lahore High Court, the head of the august institution to which Farzana had turned for justice, said nothing. It was only on Thursday, 48 hours after the killing, that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif issued a statement condemning Farzana’s murder as “totally unacceptable” and directing the Punjab chief minister, his brother, to take “immediate action.”
I am tired of writing outraged columns. Outrage has become a cliché, the one mode of expression that never dulls in this country because there is always something new to be outraged about. My television offers me 57 flavours of outrage—liberal outrage, Fauji outrage, mullah outrage, feminist outrage. And yet, surrounded as we are by professional outragers—outragists?—nobody found the time to be outraged about the death of a woman who had the misfortune to find love and the greater misfortune to believe in justice.
According to newspaper reports, a bench of the august Supreme Court of Pakistan has demanded assurances from the federal government that the citizens of Pakistan will not be allowed to starve to death. If this is how institutions now work, perhaps their Lordships would like to assure Farzana’s husband his dead wife will receive justice.