#JusticeForKhadija will lead to Justice for all women in the courts
A lot of men in conservative societies often say feminist social-media movements are not suitable. They say societies such as Pakistan cannot participate in these online campaigns because they promote foreign notions of gender equality. That these #metoo-style efforts are for women who are unhinged; and here, thankfully women are not so out of control. They also say that if women have grievances against men, they should take them to court.
It baffles me how Pakistan’s justice system can be cited as a go-to solution for women — this is the same system that acquitted four out of five of Mukhtara Mai’s rapists in 2011. The case shook not only the country but also the world. In its callous disregard for women’s rights, it was up there with dehumanization during wars. Mai was gang raped in 2002 then paraded naked through the village on the orders of a local justice system called a jirga, to avenge her brother’s misdemeanor.
What can one do to call out an outdated village Jirga (justice system) that is ruled according to a 1,500-year-old ethos? Nothing really. One can however, expect a different standard from the court of law in the country.
Shah Husain, the alleged culprit in the 2016 attempted murder of 21-year-old law student Khadija Siddiqi, put it very succinctly after the Lahore high court ruled that he was innocent this month and acquitted him after he appealed against his earlier conviction. He said the case against him was based on one premise on the part of the victim: I am dead, I am destroyed and I am mugged, so find me any perpetrator. In other words, he said that women such as Khadija have no proof to offer in court except their fragile sense of victimhood.
In this case there was insufficient evidence from the hundreds of people who were at the scene of the assault on Khadija; from those who saw the alleged attacker flee the scene on a bike after stabbing her 23 times; from the millions who saw video footage of it online; from Khadija’s sister who gave witness testimony; from her driver, who fought off her would-be killer, who took off his helmet to reveal his identity; and of course from Khadija herself, who lived to give evidence in court.
Insufficient evidence or insufficient power? It is hard to tell.
The courts that acquitted Husain, the son of a powerful Lahore lawyer, did not fail to clarify why it was indeed so hard for them to tell. These courts said that Khadija had several male friends and therefore any one of them could have committed a crime of passion against her, and that she had written a letter to Husain asking him to marry her, therefore he had no motive to attack her. They said when the initial police report was lodged, his name was not mentioned, that the number of stab wounds inflicted remains disputed and, most importantly, they ruled that in the face of a lack of independent corroboration, the benefit of doubt must go to the defendant.
Thankfully Khadija went to the one place the men involved in her case did not want her to go. Online platforms are certainly fairer than village jirgas and, sadly, swifter than the formal courts. #JusticeforKhadija trended for days on Twitter in Pakistan.
So it did.
Justice must be done in Khadija’s case, regardless of whether Husain is behind bars or free to stand tall outside a court schooling women on justice and fairness. His punishment doesn’t matter as much as the need for a just resolution of the case. The person who attacked Khadija must be held to account. The DNA evidence on the helmet in the police report pointed to him being the perpetrator, but still, if the law feels the evidence is insufficient, so be it — bring the real perpetrator to justice, instead. Let Khadija’s case be among that rare cases that finds justice.
Thankfully Khadija went to the one place the men involved in her case did not want her to go. Online platforms are certainly fairer than village jirgas and, sadly, swifter than the formal courts. #JusticeforKhadija trended for days on Twitter in Pakistan. Messages came not only from men and women supporting her, but also from those who understand that the powerless need to find a voice before they can be believed. The internet gives power to the old adage: “Until the lion tells the story, the hunter will always be the hero.”
Armed with the battle scars of 60 stitches on her neck, arms and back, Khadija said this about the online support she had received: “Society will no longer let a criminal roam free.” It is this support and belief that led her to file an appeal in the Supreme Court before the honorable Justice Asif Saeed Khosa. Good news on all counts.
Provided the legal counsel available to her is competent and knows how to present the ways in which the law failed a victim, this should by any measure turn out to be a landmark case in women’s rights. It will give thousands of other women the courage to seek justice, both from the supportive voices on the internet and from the formal courts.