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A question of judgment

13 5 17

The recent judgment issued by the Lahore High Court (LHC) in the case of Khadija Siddiqi, the young woman who was stabbed 23 times in May 2016 when she had gone to pick her younger sister up from school on Davis Road in Lahore, raises a number of questions about our society and the manner in which it operates.

Khadija, after surviving her injuries and waging a long struggle for justice, states that the assailant was her class fellow, Shah Hussain, son of a senior lawyer. Based on her and her younger sister’s testimony, Shah Hussain was initially jailed for seven years by a judicial magistrate for carrying out the murderous attack in broad daylight. The sentence was reduced to five years earlier this year by a Lahore district and sessions court. Now the LHC has declared that he should be set free, arguing that the prosecution had failed to provide sufficient evidence. The injuries inflicted on Khadija are apparently not enough. The chief justice of Pakistan immediately took a suo motu notice of the matter.

It is hoped that Khadija, who has already been waiting for over two years – even having to sit for exams in the same hall as Shah Hussain – will eventually get justice. After all, controlling crime depends upon setting precedents and, by doing so, sending out a message to people in society that they are protected by the law and the country’s system. But even if this happens there are some disturbing elements to the case. Khadija’s character has been questioned, essentially on the basis that she did not report the harassment she accused Shah Hussain of.

The fact is that millions of women and girls are harassed every day in our society. This happens through unwanted phone calls, social media messages, catcalls or other kinds of unsolicited attention. Very few victims report such cases, to avoid both embarrassment and a situation where their families become alarmed. They simply tolerate this harassment in silence. The comments about Khadija’s character in the LHC judgment have set a dangerous example.

We also know that attached to this case is the matter of influence. Being a son of a senior lawyer Shah Hussain has always claimed he would never be punished. Sadly, his prediction may yet prove to be accurate. The immunity that influential individuals enjoy from the force of law has been illustrated in other cases as well, including in the case of Shahzeb Khan, killed in December 2012. His murderers had almost escaped punishment. There are numerous other examples being reported from all our cities and many smaller towns and villages. True justice, it appears, exists only for some, and is completely unequal in its application.

The practice of judging the ‘character’ or motive of girls and women is also extremely well-entrenched in our patriarchal society. Only when over 70 girls taking their intermediate science exams complained about the molestation they experienced at the hands of the examiner during their practical exam, was some notice taken by the college they attended. Initially, the girls were asked by women staff members present in the room to remain silent in order to avoid losing marks. The university administration too simply remained silent even when the girls and their male peers who had witnessed the multiple incidents complained. It was through a social media post of a particularly brave student that the incident came out in the public sphere. Since then, other girls have also come forward saying the same examiner had also molested and harassed them during previous exams, in earlier years.

The Federal Board of........

© The News International