This headline reads: Man murders wife, kills himself

Maliha Aqueel argues for pro-victim intimate partner violence coverage

This headline reads: Man murders wife, kills himself
When news broke last week of the deaths under suspicious circumstances of Sindh MPA Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani and his wife, former MPA Fariha Razzaq Haroon, the name Bijarani kept ringing a bell. I couldn’t quite place why I knew that name and where I remembered it from. But I would remember soon enough.

Within the span of a day, the police released details of the investigation. It was a murder-suicide, they said. He killed her first, then turned the gun on himself. He put three bullets in her: two to the abdomen and one to the head. Ms Haroon was found dead, in a pool of blood.

Behind locked doors, they were said to have been quarrelling for days. The guards were said to have not been allowed to enter or intervene. And so, according to one interpretation of this situation, one could argue they were thus not there for her protection; they existed only for his. There was no one to protect her from her husband. And although it is perfectly normal to feel sad about someone committing suicide, just because he took his own life too doesn’t make her murder acceptable or any less violent an act.
In 2007, the SC ordered the arrest of Mr Bijarani, who had presided over a jirga that ordered the forced "marriages" of five girls (2-5yrs) in vani or a blood feud settlement

This is domestic violence that ended in the crime of homicide, in the deliberate taking of a human life. Yet you wouldn’t immediately think that if you had read the headlines, obituaries and tributes that were written—for him. A public holiday was announced, not for her, but for him. Hundreds of people gathered for his funeral. Dignitaries attended his funeral prayers. When senior figures in major political parties sent condolences, they praised him, and some only mentioned her.

One would think that as news of the murder-suicide spread, some of these obituaries and tributes would be redacted, or at least edited. But perhaps that is hoping for too much in a country where an estimated 5,000 women are killed in domestic or intimate partner violence each year. We have yet to pass a half decent domestic violence prevention bill at the federal level.

It was when I read the particularly disturbing obituary for Mr Bijarani published by Dawn that I remembered where I had heard his name before. The Feb. 2, 2018, obituary was headlined, “A humble tribal chief”. It turns out, he was the same tribal chief who, in 2006, had presided over a jirga that had ordered the forced “marriages” of five babies, all girls, aged between two and five years old, in vani or a blood feud settlement according to which women and girls are traded as payment for men’s violence against each other.

In 2007, then Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had ordered the arrest of the Pakistan Peoples Party’s Mr Bijarani for presiding over a jirga to end a decade-old feud that began in 1997. A Miandad Banglani was murdered in a shoot-out between Hafiz Qamaruddin and Ali Yar Banglani groups over karo-kari in village Kamal Magsi, District Kashmore, as reported by The News on August 16, 2007. The arrest never took place. Ten years later, the Dawn headline for Mr Bijarani’s obituary did not read: “A humble tribal chief turned murderer.”

Outrageously, Dawn’s obituary further describes Mr Bijarani as a “composed man” who was “unlike those who demonstrated tribal arrogance among people”. Clearly, it is not deemed to be arrogance if you see it fit to decide the fate of the lives of five little girls to be traded in blood money. What of the murder of one’s own wife? By publishing such an obituary for a violent man, one could argue that Dawn breached its own code of conduct which states that a journalist, “Shall not glorify the perpetrators of any illegitimate acts of violence committed under any garb or cause, including honour and religion.” An obituary that glorifies a violent man who killed his wife qualifies as breach.

When, in 2008, Mr Bijarani was appointed to then President Asif Zardari’s cabinet with Israrullah Zehri, the Women’s Action Forum wrote an open letter, asking the president to remove these two men for their anti-women views and actions. Mr Zehri is none other than the man who proclaimed the burying alive of five Baloch women in the name of honour as a “centuries-old tradition” that he would “continue to defend.” Both men remained on the cabinet.

With Pakistan’s largest English daily publishing such accounts, it is small wonder then that many other media outlets took a similar tone. The Nation proclaimed that investigators had “ruled out the possibility of criminal element” perhaps because it did not see it fit to add that homicide is a crime. The Express Tribune saw it appropriate to refer to Ms Haroon as “the slain minister’s wife”.

It was a broadcast by Abb Tak TV that truly laid bare the underlying attitudes towards domestic violence in which there is a complete erasure of the actual victim from the story, painting the perpetrator instead as a victim of circumstances. The clip is cringe-worthy, as the anchor and reporter both repeatedly insist that Mr Bijarani had been under “extreme stress”. The reporter says, without presenting any proof whatsoever, that Ms Haroon first tried to open fire at Mr Bijarani which forced him to “take matters into his own hands” and fire at her. He then continues to lay the blame for her murder on her, saying she was an “emotional woman” implying that she was the reason behind Mr Bijarani’s stress and eventual violence.

This is the completely unacceptable reality of media reporting on violence against women in Pakistan. It shouldn’t matter who the perpetrator is. We cannot glorify violent men on the one hand and then lament the endemic violence against women and children in our country on the other. Media organisations, and especially the established and respected ones, are well aware that they set the tone of debate on issues such as domestic violence in our society. It’s time they own up to this responsibility.

The writer is doing her PhD and tweets @AQmaliha