Ramification of Pakistan Blasphemy Laws: Women of The Minorities. By Stephen Gill


A woman who accuses a man of rape may wind up convicted of adultery. Amnesty International supports the view when it considers "the possibility of a rape victim ending up being accused of zina (adultery) is not a mere twist in the law or of academic interest. It frequently happens to women in

Pakistan. The knowledge of this perverse reality has emboldened men, particularly police officers familiar with the law, to rape women in their custody and effectively stopped women from seeking redress." (Amnesty International)

 Soon after the formation of Pakistan in August 1947, women began to take an active part in drafting the laws of the country. The constitution of 1973 gives women equal rights with men. Women can vote and participate in general elections. A woman can be a candidate for the post of the prime minister and the president of Pakistan.

According to the 1988 census, women voters were 46.3 percent of the total; in 1993, this number was reduced to 45.5 percent. In March 1985, there were 13 women who contested elections-- no one was successful. In May 1985, only one woman contested and was elected in the federal election. In 1989, 4.9 percent of women were employed with the government and in the same year no woman there were no women was ambassadors; in 1993 there were two.

"Every few months there are reports of the public humiliation of women. They are paraded naked through the streets by locally influential people while the police look on.1 M. Naz Rehman observes in Jafakash that in some areas of Pakistan, including Sindh province, some girls are married at the age of nine, and often to older men. In 1998, 17 females were killed every week--20% of them were teen-age girls. In the same year, one third of the women killed were due to alleged illicit relations. In 85%  of cases, the police could not or did not act against the culprits.

In 1998, 195 minor girls were gang raped. In 1998, 828 females were kidnapped-- 424 were not legally adults.  Only 49 females were found. In 1998, 77 females were stripped publicly to disgrace them and their families.

M. Naz Rehman observes further that in Pakistan, girls are never consulted in family matters. With one excuse or another, they are not sent to school. The parents say they will go to another home after their wedding and therefore why to waste time and money on their education. It is also said that if educated, the will write love letters.                                                On jobs in the fields, they are paid less than males, though women work with more responsibility. The feudal lords say that women work to buy their make-up and clothes and talk a lot and work less.

Moreover, any husband can blame his wife for having illicit relations with another man and has the right to kill her to save the honour of the family. A Human Rights Report says that every year around three hundred women are killed under the cover of this Excuse. Normally, the main grounds are property and enmities.2                                                                        On the stage of this background, Zia-ul-Haq enacted the melodrama of his repressive laws concerning adultery and marriage which has hit the women of the minority groups and particularly Christians very hard. It may help to add something about Hadith  because the laws of some Muslim nations, especially of Pakistan, are largely based on this book. "Islam has enshrined Mohammad's life with a mass of legends and traditions, contained in the Hadith"3

One of the laws that is hostile particularly to the women of the minority groups, is the Law of Evidence (Qanoon-e-Shahdat). This law forbids a non-Muslim advocate from appearing in the Shariat Court, although a non-Muslim can be subjected to a decision of this court. Under the Hudood Law, it is required that there be 4 male Muslim witnesses, or two male and four female Muslims, in a Hudd case (Islamic punishment). The testimony of a non-Muslim is not admissible, either to maintain innocence or to condemn. This law discriminates on the point of evidence of women and non-Muslims. In certain cases, women and non-Muslims are not admissible as witness under the hudood ordinances. In other cases, women are defined as half witness. Here is an example to show how this law is hostile particularly to non-Muslim women:

"For instance, if mischief makers raped a non-Muslim in a house in the presence of other non-Muslim household members, the perpetrators could go unpunished because all the witnesses were non-Muslim. The same applies for robbery or murder. The Evidence Law allows a Muslim to go into an all-Christian or All-Hindu locality and commit any kind of atrocity, rob homes and kill whoever they want. The perpetrators will not be convicted if there are no Muslim witnesses."4

The law about witness violates all the norm of human rights. It builds up a fearful situation for non-Muslims in Pakistan where right from a constable down to higher police authorities, judges and lawyers are Muslims. To expect them all to be fair and non-discriminatory in a society which is dominated by religious considerations is a dream. If even one of these persons is discriminatory, it will have a strong impact on the case as well as on the victim. In such cases, where punishment is only death, the procedures for the investigation and decision should be made strictly in an atmosphere in which religion cannot penetrate.

The law relating to marriage is very discriminatory. According to this law, if a Christian convert to Islam, the earlier Christian marriage stand dissolved, and the subsequent marriage to a Muslim is valid. This ruling goes against the Shariat Act itself which claims it would not interfere with the personal and family laws of the religious minorities. It has the effect of desecrating Christian marriages and making Islam a religion of convenience. Any unwanted marital responsibilities can be eliminated by converting to Islam.5

I.I.S.I.C. Bulletin states:

"According to Pakistani law, if either spouse of a non-Muslim marriage converts to Islam, then the marriage is automatically dissolved. There have been a number of cases in recent years of Muslim men abducting Christian women and forcing them (sometimes at gunpoint) to recite the Muslim creed, which all that is needed to become a Muslim. After that their abductor promptly marries them, on the basis that their former marriage is now dissolved."6

The unjust aspect of the Personal Law for Muslims is ruining the life of the children of the minorities in Pakistan. "The marriages solemnized under Family Laws of non-Muslims stands dissolved with immediate effect, according to a decision by the Federal Shariat Court (PLD 1988, SC 78, Sardar Masih vs. Haider Masih). The decision further said that the marriage of a non-Muslim woman stands dissolved after Iddat (three menstrual cycles) if during this period her husband does not embrace Islam."7.

These laws have created social and marital problems of a very serious nature, because many men and women become Muslims to get rid of their spouses as well as their obligations towards their children.  Any person with a certain amount of understanding will disapprove of a law that allows a spouse to have another marriage without dissolving the first one, and without deciding the fate of the children from the first marriage. It seems this law is there in Pakistan to increase the number of Muslims.

Human Rights Monitor 97 quotes a case of Naziran alias Khalida Parveen vs. the State, PLD 1988:

"If a Non-Muslim married woman, marries a Muslim man after embracing Islam and after completing a period of Iddat (three months), she will not be liable to adultery and the previous marriage need not be dissolved. The subordinate courts since then have been deciding cases of abduction of minority women in light of the above-mentioned decision."8 

Another frightening law is about adultery (Zina). Adultery (zina) has been defined as "A man and woman are said to commit zina if they wilfully have sexual intercourse without being validly married to each other".

Advocate Naeem Shakir says that "among punishments for this offence, stoning to death at a public place and whipping upto one hundred stripes have been provided under Section 6 of this Ordinance. In order to prove adultery (zina), or zina-bil-jabr (rape) liable to Hadd, at least four Muslim adult male witnesses (about whom the Court is satisfied that they are truthful persons who abstain from major sins) are required as eye witnesses for the

act of penetration. This is how it has been laid in Section 8 of this Ordinance."9

Below are a few comments by knowledgeable persons to show how the Muslim laws of Pakistan concerning adultery and marriage hurt non-Muslim women. Mr. Abid Hassan Minto says:

 "Hudood laws are all saved by the notorious 8th Amendment of General Zia. This amendment is the most crude statement in support of fundamentalism and in derogation of women and minorities. Women, besides having fallen victim to the unfairness of the so-called Islamic laws also face the threat of almost complete non-representation in the parliament since the lapse of the constitutional provision entitling them to reserved seats in the Parliament. This means, given the backward social and economic status which women are forced to retain in the country, that half of the country's population has virtually no representation in the national assembly and no influence or contribution to the making of laws which govern them just as much as the other half of the population"10

Amnesty International adds: 

"The Zina Ordinance prescribes punishments which are cruel, inhuman and degrading and thus prohibited under international human rights standards. The hadd punishment for zina and rape are either stoning to death in a public place or 100 lashes administered in public. The ta'zir punishment for rape is imprisonment for between four and 25 years, 30 lashes and fine; for zina it is imprisonment of up to 10 years, 30 lashes and a fine."11

Intercede in February 1994 quotes from World Pulse :

"Through Islamic laws introduced by the late Zia-ul-Haq, a woman who accuses a man of rape may wind up convicted of adultery."12 Amnesty International supports the view when it considers "the possibility of a rape victim ending up being accused of zina (adultery) is not a mere twist in the law or of academic interest. It frequently happens to women in Pakistan. The knowledge of this perverse reality has emboldened men, particularly police officers familiar with the law, to rape women in their custody and effectively stopped women from seeking redress."13

The demon that Intercede, Amnesty International and several advocates and organizations talk about has already victimized Christian girls. One of those victims is Asyia Parveen, who was 13 years old when she was raped by a Muslim:

"There were 12 witnesses who saw Javad Iqbal follow her into the fields on October 12, 1996. This year the case against him was dropped, his family filed for some $300,000 damages, and Asyia has been charged with having sex outside marriage by a judge pressured into using the Islamic Hadood (fornication) laws.

"From a clay house marooned in a sugarcane field, where the family now lives in hiding, the teenager says: why am I being punished for a crime when I was a victim? I am ruined forever. I can never go back to my village or marry. She pulls her veil over her face, ashamed to let anyone look into her eyes. If found guilty, Asiya will be flogged 80 times with a bamboo cane."14 The laws of adultery, rape and evidence hurt the minorities more than they hurt others, because of the prevailing religious discrimination. Here is another case of two young teens who were abducted, raped and forced to accept Islam.

"14-year old Nasreen Daniel Neno claims she was abducted and raped many times. After a month she was forced to marry her abductor, and the following day was made to publicly embrace Islam at a ceremony in a mosque.

"Nasreen was allegedly kidnapped by the sons of an influential Muslim feudal lords. When her parents made an official complaint, the men were initially allowed to go free without bail whilst a charge was brought against the girl of having sex outside marriage.  She has been released on bail but awaits a court hearing of her adultery. The police refused to listen to Nasreen's father. Only when the case was brought before the Justice and Peace Commission, headed by Catholic Bishop John Joseph of Faisalabad, would the police register a formal complaint.

Three months later, the kidnappers petitioned to keep Nasreen in their custody. The judge turned them down, but also refused to let Nasreen return to her family. Instead, she was placed under the supervision of the local jail superintendent. During this time, she was allegedly raped repeatedly by a police officer. A further ten weeks passed before she was released on bail.

There was pressure on the family to withdraw their accusations. Mr. Neno sold his family home to bear the expenses. He had to move to a secret location to save his life. He lived under constant fear, but stood firm in pressing the charge of abduction and rape against the abductors. He filed a separate charge against the police officer, and also for the annulment of his daughter's marriage to her abductor...

The dilemma that he faced was if Nasreen had returned to Christianity, she was likely to be killed by religious extremists. Under Islamic law it is a capital offence for a Muslim to convert to another religion. According to the family lawyer, Nasreen's father could face a counter-claim of blasphemy against the Koran and Mohammed. If found guilty, he would face a life sentence or execution.15

Another case is of Razia Iqbal. She has had to survive the shock of abduction, enforced conversion to Islam and the criminal charge in Islamic Law of sex outside marriage. Below are a few additional cases to show how the laws about rape, adultery and conversion to Islam affect Christian girls:

"Two sisters (Veronica and Salonica) of Shiekhupura were allegedly abducted while on their way back home from college in 1996. The abductors were police constables of the local police station. The girls were produced before the High Court after six months of the alleged abduction and after great efforts by the human rights activists.

"The girls stated before the Court that they had embraced Islam and married the said policemen, therefore they would not want to go with their parents. In March 1997, one of the girls returned to her parents. The other was reportedly pregnant. The outcome of this case amply explains what must have been the reality."

Another case is of fourteen-year-old Shahida Mughal, a Christian from Faisalabad, who was a grade nine student in 1990. She had to abandon her school because the principal of the school, a Muslim, wanted her custody on the ground that she had become a Muslim and had married him, though the girl denied it.                                                    

"Mohammed Yousaf, the Principal of New Millat Foundation School, reportedly got Shahida to sign a blank stamped paper when she filled out admission forms for the matriculation exams. This is how he managed to forge some documents. On 11 April 1996, the civil judge of Faisalabad decided the case in favour of the applicant, Mohammed Yousaf.16                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The parents of Shahida Mughal appealed in the Sessions Court against the judgement. Shahida had denied the marriage repeatedly and lived with her parents. The outcome is not known.

Another worth-mentioning case is that of Sumera James, a girl of fourteen years, who was raped in March of 1997 in Kamoke in Gujranwala district by five boys who belonged to an influential family of feudal lords. There is every reason to believe that the parents of the girl were forced to come to a compromise. 

Another case is that of Samina Bibi, a 15 year old girl, who was abducted by Bashir Ahmed Dheenga of Chak 15/4L. Bashir was a dangerous abductor of over 50 years of age. After keeping the abducted girls for a while, he was known to sell them to brothel owners. Her father, Inyat of Chak 15, 4.L of Bir, was poor and helpless. The abductor was a feudal lord with close religious and political ties with higher authorities. The local member of parliament did nothing and neither did the police. Christians did their best to get the girl back, but they were against a politically and religiously strong wall of fundamentalists.

A human rights organization can fight the case only if the victim is strong and wiling to go ahead. But in most cases, it is not possible because the victims, Christians, are poor. For their livelihood, they depend on Muslims in an environment which is predominantly Muslim and in which laws support Muslims. Moreover, the Hudood Ordinance poses problems to prove rape particularly for non-Muslims.

 A few cases are reported above from Human Rights Monitor 97 to show how the laws work in favour of Muslims. There have been several cases when conversion to Islam was used to cover-up crime and the use of force.

Non-Muslim women living in remote areas suffer more because of the non-availability of help. For example, "two Christian women abducted in Noshran Virkan, Distt. Gujranwala, were too far for any human rights organization to contact. The case was spoiled before an intervention by the human rights bodies."17

Mr. David Paul reports several cases of the unfair treatment meted out particularly to Christian women. He says:

"The sufferings of the Christian women are very troublesome. They go through a different kind of brutality. Under the Islamic Laws, the rights of women folk have been eroded. Women are not equal to the men folk. In Pakistan, two women are equal to one man. Under the Islamic Evidence Act, whenever any woman is raped, and she wants a criminal case registered against the rapist, she has to produce four Muslim men as witnesses. If any Christian woman is raped in a Christian house or school hostel, then from where can a woman produce four adult Muslim men? The evidence of the Christian, be that a man or woman, has no validity against any Muslim rapist."18

The Hadd punishments of Pakistan do not differentiate between an adult and a girl of 12 years who has reached puberty. Legally, she is an adult and therefore can be stoned to death. In the majority of cases, judges take the age of the defendant into consideration and pass lenient sentences. However, lenient punishment for children is not a matter of right.

One platform of Bishop John Joseph was to stop the abduction of non-Muslim girls by Muslims.  The Maulvis (Muslim clergy) boiled with rage for the Bishop's strong stand against this tyranny. He "declared publicly that from now on, we will not tolerate this ugly practice, which is becoming more and more recurrent : A Christian woman is abducted, converted to Islam, and married to the Muslim abductor, even when she is already legally and validly married, has one or two children and a husband-- all this abduction, conversion and re-marriage in the span of a day or two! From now on we shall put up a court case against the Maulvi too, who performs this sacrilegious marriage."19

David Paul, president of Pakistan Christian Community Council of Lahore reports:

"Hundreds out of thousands of Christian women are going from house to house to clean their lawns, toilets, cattle stables, and carry the garbage and human waste in the basket on their heads. These women are treated inhumanly as members of the lowest class community. Their situation there is just like slaves to the Muslim masters. These women and girls are often kidnapped, raped and made Muslim. Then they are married to Muslim men. Whenever the parents or husbands of these women approach them to take their women back, the Muslim kidnappers and police authorities scold and rebuke the Christians and tell them to go away. Now this Christian woman has embraced Islam and is not Muslim according to the Islamic Law. The Muslim women should not reside into the Christian house. In this way, the Christian families are going through the worst type of breakage, obstruction of a Christian family."20

"In the Zia's drive for Islamization, the minorities, the Ahmadiya community and women were special targets"21. Zia's Muslim laws have encouraged unprecedented growth in the sexual abuse of the non-Muslim women. "According to non-governmental sources, Christian and Hindu girls and women are the victim of rape (especially those working as servants or nurses) and kidnapping to convert them by force to the Muslim religion"22.     

Mr. Onkar Nath Saxena has the same view to share when he says: "Religious fanaticism is often mixed with sexual abuse of Christian women. In a village of Sangla Hill, local feudals have made it a pastime to abduct Christian girls and wives, rape them during unlawful custody and then drop them back in the village. There is indirect sanction of this crime in a Lahore High Court judgement that the previous marriage of a Christian girl is automatically annulled if she embraces Islam. In case of trouble the feudals declare them having embraced Islam and yet get away with the crime."23

The impact of Muslim laws is everywhere. Below is an example how they have coloured even the TV industry:

"One of the country's best-known actresses turned down the leading role in a new television series because the government now requires all women to wear dupattas, or veils, over their heads on soap operas, newscasts and other programs on the state-run television network. The actress complained that wearing the dupatta would have been out of character for the part she was asked to play.                                                                         

"In another television show, directors wrestled with a scene in which a woman’s head had to be covered with a scarf while her hair was being shampooned. During this summer's Olympic Games, the government refused to allow women's swimming events to be shown on televisions because the swimsuit was considered too immodest for Islamic sensibilities. Television censors have banned to use female models in commercials for men's products and radio censors have ordered 100 songs dropped from their selections."24

Obviously, the legal machinery works for the imposition of the Koranic laws which go against the beliefs of Christian and other minorities. The machinery has created a religious atmosphere that is more prejudicial towards non-Muslim women because they have fewer legal rights.  



*1PAKISTAN : time to take human rights seriously. Amnesty International, June 1, 1997

*2Jafakash. March 1999 (Urdu monthly), Karachi, Pakistan, pages 4-10

*3Columbia Encyclopedia, The. 3rd Ed. New York, London, 1968

*4Islamic Watch. January 1993

*5Islamic Watch. January 1993-- Dec. 1992

*6International Institute for the Study of Islam & Christianity. UK.  January 1994- December 1994

*7Human Rights Monitor 97 : a report on the religious minorities in Pakistan. National Human Rights Office, Lahore, Pakistan, 1997, p.24

*8Human Rights Monitor 97 : a report on the religious minorities in Pakistan. National Human Rights Office, Lahore, Pakistan, 1997, pages 24-25

*9Emerging Trends in Human Rights Situation in Pakistan And Global Concerns. (A Report). Idara-E-Amn-O-Insaf. Lahore, Pakistan. 1994, pages 64-65

*10----------------------------------------. page 48

*11PAKISTAN: time to take human rights seriously. Amnesty International, June 1, 1997, p. 29 *12Intercede. Feb. 1994

*13PAKISTAN: time to take human rights seriously. Amnesty International, June 1, 1997, p. 29

*14Reader's Digest. January, 2000, page 154

*15Asian Focus (England), "Pakistan: Christian girls raped and forced to convert to Islam." 1998, Easter Issue, p. 5.

*16Human Rights Monitor 97 : a report on the religious minorities in Pakistan. National Human Rights Office, Lahore, Pakistan, 1997, p.24

*17Jang. Lahore, November 13, 1997

*18Miseries of Christians in Pakistan by David Paul. Pakistan Christian Community Council, Lahore, 1998.                                                                                                                           *19Peaceful Struggle, A. Ed. Fr. Khalid Rashid Asi. National Commission for Justice and Peace, Faisalabad, Pakistan, 1999, page, 53

*20Miseries of Christians in Pakistan by David Paul. Pakistan Christian Community Council,

Lahore, 1998.                                                                                                                    *21Hindu, The. May 17, 1998.

*22Mirror, The. April, 1999

*23Hindustan Time, The. May 24, 1998

*24Washington Post. The. Oct. 21, 1992, p. A33


Multiple- award winning Indo/Canadian poet, fiction writer and essayist, Stephen Gill has authored more than thirty books, including novels, literary criticism, and collections of poems. Thirteen books of critical studies have been released by book publishers on his works. The focus of his writing is love and peace, based on his ideology of live and let live. He has also authored book reviews and research papers on writers and peace. He was born in Sialkot, now in Pakistan, and grew in India. It is the bitterness of the water of the early life that runs in the arteries of Stephen Gill’s writings.

Literary agents are encouraged to write to Stephen Gill: stephengill@cogeco.net

(This article Stephen Gill wrote a decade ago is still timely)


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