Monday, 1 May 2017

QK archives: Samia Sarwar murder most foul

Murdered in April 1999 this is the story of a brutal honour killing that shocked Pakistan.

MURDER MOST FOUL!





We live in terrible times, in a society that is fast being brutalized beyond the pale of humanity. There is no safe haven here, no safety, especially if you are a woman. When a mother leads a hired assassin to her daughter, whom can we believe in?

Every other injustice in these unjust times, in this unjust country, pales before the terrible tragedy that took place at 'Dastak', (an NGO in Lahore that provides shelter and legal aid for destitute women, run by the two lawyer sisters, Hina Jilani and Asma Jehangir who heads the Human Rights Commission in Pakistan). The terrifying part is that the jungle law of the 'Tribal Territories' is creeping into the fabric of 'educated' society. All in the name of 'honour' and traditional 'values'!

Yes, Pathans do have a strict code of conduct. Many women are murdered, either because they do not toe the line and 'dishonour' their fathers and brothers, or are perceived to do so. Without condoning their behaviour, it must be seen that these Pathans live by a clearly understood, strict code of conduct. They do not have double standards.

Samia's parents were introduced by a common friend, in the swinging '60s. They fell in love and were married. That was then, this is now. Now the conduct that is being judged by them, is that of their daughter, and different rules apply. Mohtarama, Samia's mother, is a doctor. Ghulam Sarwar Mohammand, Samia's father, had risen to be a medical sales representative by the time he met Mohtarama. After marriage he settled in as the 'son of the house' and eventually took over her father's small chemist shop in Peshawar City.

Overnight Ghulam Sarwar Mohammand made a lot of money. There is a lot of gossip (but little proof) of how this came about. Building a palatial house in the prestigious neighbourhood of Shami Road, he proceeded to entertaining the rich and powerful. Alchohol flowed freely, and dice and dancing girls are reported to be a regular feature of his parties. His contacts seem to have paid off. Today he is the Chairman of the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and a respected Industrialist. Now Mohtarama and her husband have become the epitome of 'Pathan values', and rub shoulders with the other 'nouveau riche' Peshawari 'elite'.

In 1989, 17 year old Samia was married to Dr. Imran, her mother's nephew. It was not a happy marriage. Finally, in 1994, while Samia was expecting her second baby, her father brought her home. Dr. Imran was reviled and abused and not allowed to meet his children when he visited. A friend of the family reports that he was devastated when his wife left, and is now a broken man. After her baby was born Samia joined the university and studied law. All the while she wanted a divorce, but her parents dissuaded her. They feared for their 'honour'.

Barrister Badshah, a friend and lawyer of Samia's parents is quoted to have claimed that a divorce (khulla), had finally been agreed on before Samia's parents left to perform Hajj. Another friend of the family informed me that the 'khulla' came through a few days before Samia's death. This is not understandable in the light of what followed, although there is some gossip that Samia wished to marry someone of whom her parents did not approve.

After her parents departure, Samia went to 'Dastak', to knock on Asma Jehangir's doors for help, escorted by the man she wished to marry. Samia's brother phoned his parents, telling them of her escape and they returned poste haste. On the 2nd. of April they returned from Hajj, on the 5th. their daughter was dead.

Since Samia refused to meet with her father and brother, fearing for her life, Mr. Aitzaz Ahsan was approached to intercede. Finally Samia agreed to meet with her mother only. After laying their plans, Samia's parents and Younas Mohammand (her paternal uncle) left for Lahore.

Before leaving for Lahore, the assassin is said to have asked his family to pray for his safe return, since he was embarking on a dangerous 'job'. A friend quotes Samia's sister as having said that her parents were going to kill Samia, if she refused to return home. She did not bother to warn her sister. Her brother is also quoted to have been very firm in his views, 'death for disobedience'. In any case, from what we read in the papers no one bothered to carry out a dialogue with Samia, she was given no option. Few women in Pakistan today are given an option; few are allowed a personal choice.

The rest of the sordid story is well known, how Hina Jillani sat in on the meeting, barely escaping with her life; how Mohtarama entered on the arm of her part-time chauffeur; how Samia prepared to run when she saw him; how he shot her in the head; how her mother and uncle (who waited downstairs) took a hostage while escaping; how the uncle congratulated the father on the success of the 'mission'. So much for 'Pathan' values. Pathans are known to honour their word over their lives.

I was told there might be a move to constitute a 'jirga' to reach a rapprochment. A 'jirga' is a Pathan institution in which village elders (who comprise the body of the 'jirga'), pass judgement and settle quarrels. In a murder case 'blood money' is decided on by the 'jirga', if the victim 's family forgives the murder. 'Blood money' for a woman is, ofcourse, half that of a man! What I cannot understand is, since the victim's family are the accused, who will decide on whether the murder is to be forgiven? Who will pay 'blood money', and to whom?

Saima's murder has led to deep controversy in Peshawar. Most are heartsick, but some have other views. Some claim she was 'immoral', and that justifies her sad end. One couple, 'friends' of Samia, both doctors, who married of their own choice, believe that the parents did the right thing in view of the Pathan code of ethics! I shudder for their daughters!

The bearded brigade of Peshawar is politicising the issue and held a procession demanding that Asma Jehangir be charged for 'murdering' Samia and destroying traditional 'values'.

Members of the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce are making loud noises in support of their Chairman, Ghulam Sarwar Mohammand. I wonder, do they approve of what he has done? Would they do the same to their daughters?

Many refuse to believe that Mohtarama was aware of the plan to murder her daughter. She is said to have contacted a friend recently and claimed she had not known of the plan. Yes, it is difficult to believe that a mother would be party to her daughter's murder.

Yet, it would be possible to give her the benefit of the doubt if she had entered 'Dastak' on the arm of a woman for the support she claimed she needed, wives of honourable men do not lean on a strange man. It would be possible to give her the benefit of the doubt if she had shown the slightest sorrow when Samia fell to the ground with her head half shot off. It would be possible to give her the benefit of the doubt if she had attacked the assassin for murdering her child. It would be possible to give her the benefit of the doubt if she had not run to save her hide.

But she did not do all this.

She ran as though the devil was on her heels, and he might have been, she had just sold her soul to the devil.





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