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Tyranny of Hudood Laws

Tyranny of Hudood Laws

Author: Dr Farzana Bari
Publication: The News
Date: May 14, 2002

[The writer is Acting Director, Centre for Women's Studies, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad]

Rape victim Zafran Bibi was sentenced to death by stoning by a session court in Kohat under Hudood Laws for alleged adultery. This tragic case once again exposes the tyranny of Hudood Laws for women. Ever since its promulgation in 1980, the law has been subject to gross misinterpretation and misuse due to its inherent flaws and the misogyny of our judiciary and the society.

Thousands of women have suffered from the discriminatory legislation that was introduced to sanction the Islamisation drive of the military dictator Zia-ul-Haq. Through these laws, the legal basis for gender discrimination and to punish women for asserting their own will and choices was created by the state. The law is extremely unjust and gender biased. It equates rape with adultery and extends the requirement of four adult Muslim male witnesses to prove adultery to the cases of rape as well. This means in practice that the law protects rapists. Also, it excludes the testimony of women and minorities in awarding Hadd punishment. It does not recognise the rape of a minor wife as an offence and removes the legal protection given to children and makes them liable for punishment of these offences under the law.

There are no national level statistics available on the number of women who have been affected by these laws. Also no scientific investigation has ever been undertaken to systematically explore the negative implications of these laws on women, nevertheless, there is no shortage of micro-level research studies that provide irrefutable evidence that these discriminatory laws, particularly the Hudood law has unleashed a legalised terror against women in our country.

Hudood laws are clearly in conflict with the principle of gender equality that is enshrined in the article 25 of the constitution that does not permit discrimination on the basis of sex alone. It is a matter of great disappointment that no government after Zia's regime has had the courage to repeal these draconian laws despite a consistent demand of women's rights groups and the grave injustice done to women under these laws. The apathy of the political government towards the issue of the repeal of the Hudood and other discriminatory laws was mainly due to two reasons (a) religious groups despite their limited popular support were the most organised and militant force and trained in terrorist activities. These religious groups had the ability to paralyse governments by creating law and order situations. All political governments feared the backlash from religious orthodoxy, therefore, they were reluctant to touch these laws (b) despite the fact that women constitute fifty percent of the population, they are not a powerful constituency due to their dependent and subordinate status vis-a-vis men. Their electoral behaviour is primarily determined and influenced by the male members of their families. Also, they are not organised as women to be able to influence the politics or policies. So, by ignoring the violation of human rights of half of the female population of the country due to these discriminatory laws was perceived as posing far less political cost and risks for the political parties than to uphold the cause.

Both, Pakistan People's Party and Pakistan Muslim League used delaying tactics in this regard. Both parties set up committees to review these laws to pretend that they were serious about resolving the issue. The report of the Inquiry Commissionstrongly recommended the repeal of Hudood and other discriminatory laws due to its negative implications for women, however, no action was taken to implement the recommendations of the official report by the PPP government. Similarly, during Nawaz Sharif government, instead of implementing the recommendations of the Inquiry Commission, a committee was set-up by the Ministry for Women's Development to review these laws, the report of which was never seen by anyone. The present government did exactly the same and yet the National Commission on the Status of Women to review these laws and give recommendations had formed another committee. The report of this committee also is still being awaited. This shows the lack of commitment on the part of successive governments to address the issue of legal discrimination against women despite their tall claims for working towards gender equality.

The presence of these laws in our statute book continues to strike women in the most inhuman manner due to the patriarchal nature of our society and the judiciary. It is no chance that Hadd punishment is never awarded in other offences such as theft, prohibition and Qazf that are covered under the Hudood Ordinance as the majority who are involved in committing such crimes are men. The Hadd punishment is awarded in cases of Zina and the majority of people who are tried so far under Hudood laws are primarily women. With the exception of two cases (Fahmida-Alla Bukhsh, Shahida Parveen and Mohamad Sarwar) whereby men along with women were awarded Hadd (stoning to death) punishment, only women have been awarded the maximum punishment of adultery by the male judiciary. This includes Safia Bibi who was a blind woman, raped by her landlord and his sons and was sentenced stoning to death because she was not able to provide male witnesses.

It is mind boggling that a society which is so keen to punish females accused of adultery even when there is no substantive evidence or required testimony, conveniently turns a blind eye towards male adulterers who openly commit adultery in our "Muslim" society. There is hardly any city in Pakistan where brothels or red light areas do not exist. The customers of these places are invariably men and commit adultery under the very nose of police authorities and local administration. This is the worst form of hypocrisy and double standards that we have as a nation which is evident in the differential treatment towards male and female citizens who are accused of committing the same "crime" of adultery.

Politically, because of post-September 11 scenario, it has become the most opportune time for the government to take a bold initiative and repeal Hudood and all other discriminatory laws while the religious fundamentalist forces are on retreat, and the government is forced to withdraw the patronage, these religious/fundamentalists groups had been enjoying for a long time. The present regime of General Pervez Musharraf has introduced several amendments to the Constitution to implement its reform agenda. In order to implement its gender reform, it is imperative that gender biases in the legal framework of the country is removed. In the presence of discriminatory legislation, the government's commitment to gender equality cannot be realised. Therefore, it is demanded that President Musharraf should take immediate steps to repeal Hudood and other discriminatory laws to ensure gender equality and social justice. It must be remembered that Pakistan being signatory of CEDAW is obligated to bring its domestic law in line with the international covenant. It is high time that we must put a stop to the humiliation and suffering, women are facing due to Hudood and other discriminatory legislations.

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