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Who Will Cast the First Stone

Shohini Ghosh

By Shahnaz Khan
Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2006, pp. 152, Pak Rs. 250.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 10 October 2007

Your fear Of my being free, being alive, and able to think might lead you, who knows, into what travails. Kishwar Neheed (Feminist Poet from Paksitan)   The imposition of the Zina Ordinances and the subsequent resistance to it by the Pakistan Women’s movement has been a significant moment in the history of Feminisms in South Asia. The Zina ordinances were promulgated during the military regime of General Zia-ul-Haque who had seized power from Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in a military coup in July 1977. Within two years of Zia seizing power, Bhutto would be hanged, elections cancelled and all political activity banned. Attributing Pakistan’s problems to an ‘un-Islamic way of life’, Zia launched Nizam-e-Mustafa (Governance inspired by the prophet) that took the form of a purification drive seeking to eliminate impure and undesirable elements through imprisonment or execution.   Broadly, the attempt was to impose a theocratic state and gain control by using Islam and the army. The process of Islamization in Pakistan had already begun during the Bhutto regime with the prohibition of alcohol, declaration of Friday as a holiday and the shutting down of western style discotheques. This was ironic because Bhutto himself was very westernized and enjoyed his drink. When General Zia came to power, Islamic groups were quick to take advantage of the situation. They demanded that all laws be scrutinized to ensure they did not contravene Shariat (Muslim) laws. The nationwide media campaign of Chadar aur Chardiwari (The Veil and Four Walls), demanding the seclusion of women, was also launched. The government issued directives that women in employment and public places would have to cover their heads. These diktats, along with an ‘anti-pornography’ campaign resulted in diminishing the numbers of women on TV and entertainment programmes. Clearly, women were to pay the highest price for the revival of oppressive laws in Pakistan.   It was against this backdrop that the Hudood Ordinances were passed on February 10, 1979. These ordinances (deriving from the word hadd literally meaning ‘limit’ or ‘extreme’) deal with the offences of prohibition (consumption of drugs and alcohol), zina (rape, adultery and sexual intercourse), theft and perjury. Although most women taken into custody for zina crimes were retried and acquitted, the Hudood ordinances resulted in thousands of women being jailed and incarcerated for years on end. In 1982, a couple, Fahmida and Allah Bux, were awarded the hadd punishment of death-by-stoning for zina (adultery).   This ...

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