On Tuesday I posted the sad story of Farzana Parveen, a 25-year old pregnant Pakistani woman who, contrary to her family’s wishes, married the man she loved, Mohammad Iqbal. For that crime, she was stoned to death by her relatives in front of the High Court building of Lahore.
This so-called “honour killing” involved the arrest of the father, and a still fruitless search for the other killers, but underscored the lack of autonomy of women that leads, in Pakistan and other countries, to marriages that are arranged—often involving much older men.
I now have the sad duty to supplement that story with some horrible news that just emerged. It turns out that, according to the Guardian, this is not a black-and-white tale of star-crossed lovers thwarted by a retrograde culture. For Iqbal himself has now admitted that he was already married when he met Parveen, and, to get her as his bride, he strangled his first wife to death:
Muhummad Iqbal, the 45-year-old husband of Farzana Parveen, who was beaten to death by 20 male relatives on Tuesday, said he strangled his first wife in order to marry Parveen. He avoided a prison sentence after his family used Islamic provisions of Pakistan’s legal system to forgive him, precisely those he has insisted should not be available to his wife’s killers. “I was in love with Farzana and killed my first wife because of this love,” he told Agence France-Presse. Police confirmed that the killing had happened six years ago and that he was released after a “compromise” with his family.
I have been excoriated by some readers for even mentioning Islam in connection with the stoning, but can you still excuse that religion now? Iqbal himself is a woman-killer, but didn’t serve a day in jail because of “Islamic provisions of Pakistan’s legal system.”
The story gets even worse:
Iqbal has also claimed that Parveen’s family killed another one of their daughters some years ago. Speaking to a researcher from the Aurat Foundation, a women’s rights organisation, he claimed that Parveen’s father, Muhammad Azeem, had poisoned the other woman after falling out with her husband-in-law.
This claim has not been substantiated. Finally, as if this weren’t sickening enough, the media and some educated people in Pakistan are excusing the stoning of Parveen. (I haven’t heard calls for prosecution of Iqbal: after all, he was exculpated). As I feared, but predicted, Pakistanis haven’t been rising up en masse to protest at this mistreatment of women (according to Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission, over 900 Pakistani women were murdered in “honour killings” in 2013).
Until Thursday there had been little comment on the case domestically, with newspapers and television stations focussing on other stories. One journalist, an editor of an Urdu national paper who did not want to be named, said the country’s media reflected its audience. “Although we have some educated people, most are still living in semi-tribal societies in far-flung rural areas,” he said. “In a country where people are being killed every day by miscreants and militants it is not so important when one woman is killed by one husband.” Some members of the public in Lahore clearly share the media’s ambivalence. Muhammad Yaqub, a student at a private university in the city, said he understood the loss of honour for the family but disliked the brutal way the woman had been killed. “He did some right and some wrong,” he said.
I wonder what the “right” is! And really, it is “not so important when one woman is killed by one husband”? What kind of brutish and callous mentality produces such stupidity? Can we consider 930 such killings “important”? Ask anyone whose friends, relatives, or loved ones have been slaughtered in this way if that one murder was “unimportant.”