Marco Werman: On this program, we sometimes report on some pretty difficult, and yes, at times depressing stories. But I guess the hope is that by covering the difficult issues, we're helping to start a conversation about what needs changing out there in the world. Right now, we're going to try and do that by discussing some horrific attacks against women in India and Pakistan. Those are two very important countries for the US, strategically and economically, and in both the extreme violence against women keeps happening. We heard a lot last year, after that shocking rape and murder in Delhi, about the grim reality many women face in India. But the debate there and the violence continue, as we'll hear in a few minutes. First, let me direct you to Pakistan and writer Bina Shah. She's dealing with another awful story. It involves a woman in Lahore who was beaten to death by her own family after she apparently married the man she loved.
Bina Shah: Well, that is what seemed to have happened when the story first broke. We heard that a woman was going to the court in Lahore to testify that she had married her husband out of her own free will. She hadn't been kidnapped, as her family alleged. As they were going to the court and they were supposedly protected by police, a group of her own male family members set upon the two, beat him and bludgeoned her to death with bricks. It's just horrific. We just can't understand how or why this happened.
Werman: Not only that but the police were standing by, people were standing by and nobody intervened.
Shah: The police dispute that they were standing there. They say that they weren't on the scene, arrived quickly and that she was already dead by the time they got there. Farzana Parveen's husband, Muhammad Iqbal, says "no, they were there. They were standing, they did nothing. She was begging bystanders, they did nothing." We're talking about a courthouse where there are lawyers and litigants and educated people there and yet nobody helped her.
Werman: To complicate matters, I gather the husband who was beaten, Muhammad Iqbal, has admitted that 6 years ago he murdered his first wife in order to marry Ms. Parveen, who was beaten to death. How could he get away with murder?
Shah: This is where it all starts to get complicated. He was forgiven by the family members of his first wife. There is a loophole in Pakistani laws, which while it does state that these kinds of killings, euphemistically called "honor killings" are against the law, there is a law in Islamic law which allows the families of a murder victim to forgive the killer and then the murderer goes unpunished.
Werman: Are there politicians in the government in Pakistan who recognize this tension between clerics and the state? Who is doing anything about that to make sure that it's the state that has the upperhand in Pakistan?
Shah: It's very difficult to make these kinds of distinctions. I would say the people who are raising their voices the most are women's rights activists and sympathetic women lawmakers and politicians. You see a divide across gender lines. We do have some male allies. For example, Tahir Ashrafi, who is the head the Pakistan Ulema Council, the group of religious leaders that advises the state on religious matters, he is issues a fatwa today, an Islamic edict against honor killings, and said that this was completely illegal and completely un-Islamic.
Werman: I just don't understand how events like these can happen. In the country that elected a woman, Benazir Bhutto, prime minister, the first woman to ever lead a Muslim state.
Shah: Well, look what they did to her.
Werman: Do you think that was an honor killing?
Shah: No, what I'm saying is that women's lives are not held in great value. So even if Benazir Bhutto was elected the prime minister, that doesn't mean that ordinary women, the women at lower socioeconomic classes, the women who are in the village, the edge of our cities, that doesn't mean that they're going to break out of their chains.
Werman: Pakistan seems so critical in global affairs. It's a nuclear state. What do you think is at stake for a nation where this kind of hatred of women just seems to be - not accepted but at least hard to roll back?
Shah: I think the entire region of south Asia displays this hatred of women. Patriarchy goes very much hand-in-hand with the culture of south Asia and I think that you risk an entire region becoming unstable when you have what is pretty much an undeclared war against half of its population. I think that in order to bring back stability into the region, we have to look at these ongoing episodes of violence, they're a real assault on half of the population. We have to really put our heads together. This, in a way for me, is much more important than the issue of nuclear safety and stability or the fight against terrorism. This is the overarching issue, for me.
Werman: Writer Bina Shah speaking with me from Karachi in Pakistan.