Saturday, August 30, 2008
A Tale of Tribal Terror
Baba Kot, a village 50 miles from Usta Mohammad town of Jafferabad district in Baluchistan, is where this recent tale of tribal terror began.
The media reports and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) indicate that it was here that Mr. Abdul Sattar Umrani, a brother of Mr. Sadiq Umrani, a Baluchi tribal leader and a serving PPP provincial minister, came with more than six men and abducted five women at gun point. They were transported in a government vehicle to another remote area, Nau Abadi, near Baba Kot. Upon reaching Nau Abadi, Abdul Sattar Umrani and his men took the three younger women out of the jeep and beat them before opening fire with their guns. The girls were seriously injured but were still alive after the shooting. Sattar Umrani and his men pushed them into a wide ditch and covered them up with dirt and stones. When the two older women protested and tried to stop the burial, the attackers also pushed them into the ditch and buried them alive. After completing the burial, they fired several shots into to the air so that no one would come close and left the scene.
According to media reports, the five female victims were Fatima, wife of Umeed Ali Umrani, Jannat Bibi, wife of Qaiser Khan, Fauzia, daughter of Ata Mohammad Umrani, and two other girls, aged between 16 to 18 years, whose names have not been published. At the moment they were abducted, the women were preparing to leave for a civil court at Usta Mohammad, district Jafarabad, so that three of the girls could marry the men of their choice. Their decision to go to to court for a civil marriage was contrary to the wishes of the elders of the tribe.
The live female burials took place a month ago but the police have neither registered a crime report nor taken any action. There have been no arrests yet. Minister and tribal chief Sadiq Umrani confirmed the incident took place but insisted that only three women had been killed by unknown people.
Unfortunately,the headlines of horrific honor killings are not rare for Pakistanis. But this latest brutality in Baluchistan is an extraordinary tale of tribal terror. It is particularly shocking for three reasons:
1. Because it involves a medieval style live burial of five females by their fellow members of the tribe.
2. There was an attempted cover-up by a government minister whose brother used a government vehicle in committing the crime.
3. At least two Pakistani senators from Baluchistan, including the current acting chairman of the Senate, spoke on the Senate floor in support of this "Baluchi custom".
According to the Nation newspaper in Pakistan, Baluchistan's Senator Israr Ullah Zehri (also a tribal chief) defended the terrible atrocity in Baba Kot. While aggressively interrupting Senator Bibi Yasmin Shah, who condemned the brutal act of burying alive five women in Baluchistan on charges of 'love marriage', said it was part of their traditions, which, he said, should not be negatively highlighted.
Talking about tribal justice in Baluchistan, I am reminded of a book titled 'The Tigers of Balochistan', written by Sylvia Matheson (published 1967), that epitomizes the Baluchi chieftains' approach to life. Late Nawab Akbar Bugti (killed by Pakistani military in 2006), who was twenty-one when Matheson spoke to him in the 1960s. She was questioning him on his casual statement to her, reminding her that he had killed his first man at the age of twelve. "About this man you killed — er, why?" "Oh that!" he responded as he sipped his tea, "Well, the man annoyed me. I've forgotten what it was about now, but I shot him dead. I've rather a hasty temper you know, but under tribal law of course it wasn't a capital offense, and, in any case, as the eldest son of the Chieftain I was perfectly entitled to do as I pleased in our own territory. We enjoy absolute sovereignty over our people and they accept this as part of their tradition."
The scourge of honor killings, however, is not limited to Baluchistan alone. Such barbaric and brutal murders are not uncommon in many parts of Pakistan, India (The Sikhs engage in it too) and the Arab and the Muslim world. The problem seems to stem from a distorted sense of honor and shame and deep-rooted misogyny found in all parts of the world. Some Hindus, too, routinely commit female infanticide by either aborting female fetuses or killing live born girls. The Chinese are reported to engage in the terrible practice of female fetus abortion and infanticide because of the government's one-child policy. As a result, there is a growing imbalance between male and female populations in India and China, an unhealthy trend for society. In almost all instances, such killings are sanctioned not by law or religion but by local customs and legitimized by courts which routinely acquit the perpetrators. This problem has much deeper roots than just the ordinary crimes or the problems of feudal or tribal excesses.
It is a particularly huge concern in Pakistan where the "democratic, civilian" governments are dominated by feudal and tribal leaders who accept honor killings as routine and legitimate. Having been raised in a system of arbitrary rule, these leaders in power do not have any understanding of the fundamental human rights of life and liberty or the concepts of rule-of-law or of due process. Fighting this terrible tradition of unjust killings will require a much bigger campaign than the one that toppled President Musharraf. Such a campaign will have to challenge not just an individual dictator, but defeat the power of feudal-tribal system and end evil social customs that continue to deny basic human dignity, political and economic justice, and genuine freedom to the vast majority of rural and urban Pakistanis.
I encourage my readers to visit AHRC website and urge Pakistani leadership to fully investigate honor killings and bring perpetrators to justice. The petition campaign may or not be effective, but we should all try, nonetheless. When submitting the AHRC online appeal to the government leaders in Pakistan, please change the subject slightly to avoid the risk of being blocked as unsolicited bulk mail.