Debating the Hudood Laws
May 30 2006: The controversial and much-reviled Hudood laws are one of Gen Ziaul Haque’s darkest legacies. Lastyear, President Pervez Musharraf told a conference in Islamabad that honour killing amounted to murder and that there needed to be at least a debate on the Hudood ordinances, not much had been heard on the matter since. Now, a private TV channel has managed to bring these discriminatory and misogynistic laws into the public spotlight. That in turn has generated some much-needed debate on the matter and different views are being expressed regarding their validity, relevance and justification.
There was the occasional report that the government was planning an amendment to bring about a procedural change so that the misuse of the law could be checked. Ever since the ordinances were enacted in 1979, hundreds of women have been sent to jail for merely reporting to the police that they had been raped.
The ordinances are flawed in several ways. For one, they provide little protection to the victim since they put the responsibility of proof on the woman, requiring her to have “at least four Muslim adult male witnesses, about whom a court is satisfied that they are truthful persons and abstain from major sins” and who should have seen “the act of penetration necessary to the offence”. Then, the punishments prescribed by the ordinances, such as stoning to death or whipping in public, are barbaric and do not have any place in this day and age. Perhaps, the most important argument against the Hudood ordinances, and something that makes a strong case for their repeal, is that they are highly loaded against women and are frequently misused by those who claim a monopoly over religion.
Enacted in a patriarchal and conservative society like ours, these laws have been used to harass, intimidate and browbeat many of those who have tried to show some degree of independence in personal decisions. The laws have also been used by angry fathers/brothers to seek arrest of their daughters/sisters if the latter marry of their own free will, a right granted to an adult woman in Islam. In many cases, regrettably, the police and the lower courts have facilitated this harassment by acting on such complaints.
The fact is that such discriminatory laws should have no place, in civil and progressive society because they are blatantly misused and their only intention seems to be to subjugate women – especially those who try to assert themselves and show some independence — and keep them ‘in their place’, so to speak. That the laws are at least being openly debated now is a very good thing, especially since the views of various religious scholars are corning to light (many have implied that the Hudood laws can at least be reviewed and modified because they are not divine law as their proponents make it out to be). May be, parliament will have the courage and the foresight to one day do what is necessary.
Source: The News