Revolution #119, February 10, 2008

Comments From Our Readers

Pakistan’s Hudood Ordinance

Editors’ note: This letter was selected from reader comments and correspondence to Revolution. We’re printing it (and will continue to print more correspondence) to give readers a sense of the letters sent to Revolution, and to spark more interactivity between this paper and readers, and among readers. Selecting and printing letters does not imply that we agree, or disagree, with them.

Hi, I read the article “In the Wake of the Bhutto Assassination, Pakistan: A Dangerous Cauldron Heats Up.” It was very interesting and made me think about a lot of different things. Here is one aspect of life in Pakistan that I thought you and your readers may find interesting.

In February 1979, Zia ul-Haq put into effect the Hudood Ordinance, a particularly heinous Islamic Shari’a law. This law relates to “zina” which is unlawful sex, or extra-marital sex. Under this ordinance, all extra-marital sex is unlawful and punishable. Rape and any sex outside of marriage fall under the category of unlawful sex. The only way a woman can prove that she has been raped is if she has four male Muslim witnesses to the actual act of rape. If she can’t prove the rape by this method, and she has filed a report with the police, then by her own admission she has committed the crime of “zina,” of unlawful sex, which is punishable either with lashes, jail and/or stoning to death. Therefore, any woman who reports a rape, since it is virtually impossible to prove, has effectively “confessed” to adultery and will be punished for the crime. Many women are reported on by family members for being disobedient, marrying according to their own wishes, for a host of other reasons.

Jehan Mina, a 15-year-old girl, became pregnant after being raped by her uncle and cousin. Her family filed a complaint of rape but since there were no witnesses, her pregnancy and the report were proof of extra-marital sex and she was first sentenced to 100 lashes in public; this sentence was later changed to 3 years in jail and 10 lashes. According to one report, “Saman, an 18-year-old of the Northern village of Parachinar, told us that she had married a man against her parents’ wishes. Her parents had her husband arrested on ‘zina’ charges, and she was arrested a few days later. Her parents then produced a fake nikahnama (marriage certificate) and claimed that she had been married before. Therefore, her ‘new’ marriage was allegedly invalid and a crime against the state.” (“The Hudood Laws of Pakistan: Voices from Prison and a Call for Repeal,” New Politics, Ashfaq40.htm)

According to one article, in 1979 there were 70 women in prisons in Pakistan; by 1988 the number was 6,000. Some reports say that the number of women imprisoned for “zina” went up by 3,000% between 1979 and 1988. One lawyer quoted in the BBC said that in 2005 about 60% of the women in jails had been imprisoned as a result of Hudood laws.

When Bhutto first came to power she was the hope to many women that it was a sorely needed new day for women in Pakistan—the first woman head of state of an Islamic nation—many women expected her to lead the overturning of the horrendous Hudood Ordinance. During her campaign she specifically promised to turn back these laws. Since the laws were first instituted, women’s groups and organizations had sprung up around the country aiming to repeal the Hudood laws and when Bhutto came to power many women thought she would fight as promised for this.

In both terms that Bhutto did actually rule in Pakistan, she failed to throw out the Hudood ordinances. Why? According to the PPP blog because that is how democracy works—“A democratic system obliges the executive to work together with all other organs of the state while making and implementing decisions.” ( labels/member.html) This is during the same time period that the Bhutto government actually supported the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Coming from the interests of a section of the ruling class in Pakistan, it must have been too “difficult” to take an uncompromising stand against these brutal laws against women when Bhutto felt the higher priority was to align herself with Islamic forces within Pakistan and the Taliban. Another report says, “However, democratic or military, liberal or moderate—no regime has been able to repeal these discriminatory laws, primarily due to pressure from right-wing religious parties.” What kind of a society is needed for these atrocities to actually end?

To me, this is one of those profound injustices that does scream out D-O-P. As Avakian says in the second part of “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity,” “...the thing that comes to mind, if you’re approaching this as a communist, is D-O-P: this is what we need to deal with this, to get rid of profound injustices like this, and everything they represent. With the dictatorship of the proletariat, with a revolution leading to rule by the proletariat and aiming for communism, it will become possible to deal with these things in a way that they can never be dealt with by the present system and its ruling class of capitalists. This system and its ruling class can never deal with all this—except in ways that are harmful to the masses.”

Today, although there is much misinterpretation of this in the media, President Musharraf has not overturned the Hudood Ordinance. In November 2006 he passed the Women’s Protection Bill which “amends” the Hudood Ordinance. Essentially the new bill separates the crime of rape from adultery and now rape can be tried under the civil law penal code as well as under Shari’a law. Since Hudood has not been overturned, women continue to be charged with “unlawful sex” with only slightly raised evidentiary requirements, although soon after the new bill was passed thousands of women were released from jail for lack of evidence in their cases. Very importantly, the underlying way of thinking behind the “zina” laws, that women have absolutely no control over their bodies and sexuality, has not been fundamentally challenged or done away with.

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