Last week, former prime minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) founder Imran Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi were handed a seven-year sentence each by a trial court in the iddat or ‘un-Islamic nikah’ case. Senior civil judge Qudratullah pronounced the verdict during proceedings at Adiala jail, on a petition filed by Bushra Bibi’s former husband Khawar Maneka, against the couple’s marriage. The verdict has been termed shameful and an assault on women’s rights by legal experts and civil society.
From The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Women’s Action Forum (WAF) to Aurat March and legal experts, many have condemned the verdict vociferously. WAF Lahore in its statement said that the verdict “is an assault on women’s autonomy over their bodies, dignity and privacy, setting dangerous precedent for state’s intrusion into the private lives of citizens”. HRCP said that the verdict “could also set a precedent for Section 496 to be weaponised for political purposes”.
Lawyer Reema Omer made a pertinent point that by making a woman’s menstrual cycle the subject of criminal inquiry, “this case has cast a blow to women’s freedom to make decisions about divorce and marriage without fear of being dragged in court”. Aurat March Islamabad will hold a protest tomorrow against this unjust verdict, which has made a mockery of the legal system in Pakistan. This is not the first time that frivolous cases have been made against politicians but it is the first time that a disgusting and vindictive accusation by an ex-husband of a former first lady was levelled and the courts actually gave a verdict in favour of the shameless man while humiliating a woman in the process by taking away her agency.
It was good to see that Chairman Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari took a firm stand against the verdict and said that we should not stoop to this level in politics.
He also highlighted how this verdict can impact the efforts made in the past to safeguard women’s rights. Mr. Bhutto is not wrong in his assertion. The low level to which the state has stooped in order to humiliate a politician who has fallen out of favour is a blot on the justice system as well as score-settling. The verdict has set a precedent that judges and courts can now monitor women’s menstrual cycles, with some saying that the country might as well let all gynaecologists go and let the judges and courts give their expertise in this department.
From Fatima Jinnah to Benazir Bhutto to Bushra Bibi, we have seen how men hold the power to slander women for their personal gains and get away with it. No Pakistani citizen should remain silent on this shameful verdict and we all must register our protest at how this has taken our entire struggle and progress years back. It is not the state’s business to declare a marriage null and void in this shameless manner. At the end of the day, this verdict can impact each and every woman with a vindictive ex-husband. We hope that this sham of a verdict will be overturned as soon as possible in a high court. No woman will forgive the trial court that gave this verdict and no woman should ever trust the justice system again if this is not overturned and an apology issued not just to Bushra Bibi but all women of Pakistan.