Pakistan: Seminar on Hudood Laws and other Discriminatory Laws Against Women & Minorities in Pakistan

Twenty-five years back, in the process of Islamization of the society, Hudood Laws were promulgated in Pakistan by the military ruler Gen. Zia ul Haq and Islamic Shariah was imposed by enforcing Islamic punishments in the form of "Hadd."
"Hadd" is a punishment as ordained by Islamic Injunctions. The punishments provided stoning to death, whipping and amputation of hands and feet of the convict. According to state declarations, those steps were taken to make Pakistan an Islamic State in which people lead their lives according to the injunctions of Islam and to deliver justice to the people especially women.
During these twenty-five years of Islamization not only minorities but women were also subjected to state oppression because of retrogressive and sectarian legislation. Whereas the country's progressive circles, minorities and women organizations have been raising their voice against this retrogressive and oppressive legislation in the name of religion during all this period. The federal government has constituted three Comissions so far on the subject, headed by Ms. Zari Sarfraz, Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid and Justice Majida Razvi.

The National Commission on Status of Women under the bold leadership of Justice Majida Razvi constituted a 14-member Special Committee to thoroughly examine Hudood Ordinances of 1979. The Special Committee came to the conclusion that the four Hudood Ordinances patently suffered from conceptual inaccuracies, textual errors, discrimination on gender and religious lines and flawed application of these laws that have caused gross injustice to the people. The Committee therefore recommended immediate repeal of Hudood Laws. The National Commission adopted the recommendations, which were forwarded to the federal government and the President for implementation. In consequence thereof, the President has made a few public declarations that Hudood Laws needed review and more consideration.

Realizing the need to lobby for the recommendations for the repeal of Hudood Ordinances and for opening public debate and for opinion making, the IDARA Lahore, organized a seminar in Lahore on June 24, 2004 on " Hudood Ordinances and Other Discriminatory Laws against Women and Minorities".

The seminar was well attended by cross section of the society. The seminar was presided over by the renowned lawyer, progressive intellectual and President of the National Workers Party. Whereas the Chief Guest was Justice Majida Razvi, Chairperson of National Commission on Status of Women. The other speakers were, Syed Afzal Haider, former President of High Court Bar Association Lahore and former Law Minister Punjab, Ch. Naeem Shakir, a known lawyer and Chairman, IDARA Lahore, Prof. Neelam Hussain, a progressive activist, heading a women organization 'SIMORGH' and Ms Uzma Saeed Advocate, serving in a women organization namely Aurat Foundation.

The seminar commenced with poems of Jocelyn Ortt Saeed about human rights and oppression against women out of her new book 'Distant Horizons'. Her daughter Maryam Ortt Saeed made the rendition.

Mr Abid Hassan Minto. While criticizing and giving details of the Hudood Ordinances and the situation in which those were promulgated, said that derogatory norms, practices, customs and traditions of the patriarchal society are of course part of the system i.e., the feudal socio-economic order. The feudal system is not only oppressive but is the cause retrogression that retards the process of social development. Therefore, he said, not only Hudood Laws but also the feudal system should be abolished. He said that terrorism and religious extremism is in fact the natural out come of the unholy alliance of the military rulers and the religious clerics in Pakistan and that situation has not only subjected minorities to repression but the whole nation is the victim of that oppression.

Justice Majida Razvi said that it was a matter of fact and the record of country's jail would bear out that 80% women prisoners are convicts under Hudood Ordinance. The incidents of violence against women increased beyond proportions after promulgation of these laws. While detailing the arduous exercise entrusted to the Special Committee (mentioning that three of its members incidentally were present in the seminar namely Syed Afzal Haider, Ch.Naeem Shakir and her) she said that it was observed that the Ordinances suffered conceptual and textual errors. And more particularly its flawed application had subjected women to oppression. She remarked that removing flaws and errors in these laws was not possible as it was like an old cloth that further tears if mended at one place. She said that no debate took place before the promulgation of this legislation. She said that National Commission had recommended for the repeal the Hudood laws and the matter was now with the President and the federal government.

Syed Afzal Haider dwelt on the subject from different angles of Islamic jurisprudence. He said that Holy Quran did not prescribe punishment of Rajam i.e., stoning to death. And the remote reference found in the Sunnah i.e., life of holy prophet Muhammad has not been interpreted in its historical perspective. He said that Islam laid much emphasis on forgiveness rather than punishment. The religious clerics have made Islam merely a religion of sever punishments. He said that those should be repealed.

Ch. Naeem Shakir said that a large number of our Muslim compatriots are swayed away with religious sentiment and stand up against us when we say that Hudood laws failed to deliver justice to people and therefore demand for the repeal of Hudood Ordinances. They think as if we were disturbing divine laws.

They forget that draftsmen of the Ministry of Law under the advisor-ship of one Daulbi a Saudi religious scholar especially engaged by Gen. Zia ul Haq framed these laws which were never put before any forum of assembly for debate or consideration. Therefore, treating these laws as divine is not only a misconception but creates a lot of problems. Our women and minorities remain subjected to the rigors of Hodood Ordinances, as their testimony under these laws has been rendered inadmissible for the offences laid therein especially rape or adultery. According to the standard of evidence required, as a proof for the commission of the offence of adultery or rape is four adult male Muslim eye- witnesses of the commission of the offence. This standard of testimony throws women and minorities out of the category of a witness. And thus they stand discriminated and marginalized. And only that the witnesses are supposed to be leading life according to the ordained injunctions of Islam.

The victims of rape are unable to produce such kind of evidence to punish the perpetrators of offence and thus are roped in on their own statement as the same is treated is confession. This is the reason that women victims are in the jails and the perpetrators are free to find more victims. Mr. Naeem Shakir said that the military ruler Gen. Zia in the religious fervor to Islamise the society brought Non-Muslim citizens under application of Islamic Shariah. This is state oppression against the minorities.

Prof. Neelam Hussain and Ms. Uzma Saeed, while demanding for the repeal of these laws said that promulgation for such laws by the military regime and prescribing punishments of medieval era was in fact meant to create general scare in order and to find legitimacy for an undemocratic government. And with the promulgation of these laws the women of Pakistan were further subjected to oppression and marginalization. Younis Khushi, Amber Mall and Anila Gill also addressed the seminar.

The resolutions unanimously passed at the seminar were as under;

1. We demand for the repeal of Hudood Ordinances and strongly support the recommendations of the National Commission on Status of Women. We urge the President and the federal government to bring an end to the state oppression and stop the policy of appeasement, which is the main hindrance in doing away with discriminatory legislation.

2. We urge the government to stop applying Islamic Shariah on Non-Muslim citizens and bring an immediate end to discrimination against them by repealing all sectarian legislation.

3. The syllabi of educational institutions that generates the sentiment of hate and socio-religious intolerance religious extremism and violence in the name of religious jihad be substituted with such literature that fosters love, brotherhood and socio-religious tolerance.

4. We urge the government to take immediate steps to demilitarize the state and the society. We further urge to disarm and ban different religious out-fits operating in the country under different names.

5. We strongly urge the government to take immediate steps to stop killing of people especially women in the name of honor by abolishing all those norms, practices, customs and traditions in the name of Karo-Kari or in any other name.

6. We strongly feel that many of our economic and social ills are due feudal values and system that retards the process of social development and therefore demand immediate abolition of feudal system in the country.

On the decisions of jirga (council of local elders) women are subjected to physical and sexual violence as a punishment for disobeying and going against oppressive and discriminatory traditions and customs. And for the last many years there has been a growing trend towards such killings. We urge the government to take immediate measures to stop these inhuman acts.

We urge the government to award exemplary punishment to the killers of Javed Anjum and Samuel Masih who lost their lives under blasphemy law and hate sentiment against Christians.

Held on June 24, 2004 at Lahore, Pakistan.

Contact: Idara e Amn o Insaf (Committee for Justice and Peace) Lahore
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