When murder is committed within Pakistan, the victim’s family is usually offered blood-money by the perpetrator’s family as a way of pardoning the punishment of the crime itself. Diyat or ‘blood-money’ differs from Qisas which is the pardoning of the crime by the victim’s family without any monetary compensation being paid. These two concepts have courted controversy recently since they have been abused in practice by the wealthy to rid themselves of any culpability, as seen in the Shahzeb Khan and Zain Rauf cases.
The purpose of accepting financial compensation following murder is to espouse forgiveness and mercy in people’s hearts. But in Zain’s case, where the victim’s family is being threatened to accept the money, it then goes against the basic principle. When the family of the victim has requested the death penalty to be carried out and waives blood-money or forgiveness, the state must carry out the particular punishment. Putting pressure on families, who are already in a distressed state, to accept money for the death of their loved one is ridiculous and contradictory to the principles of Islam. It must be a genuine acceptance of the money, not one made under duress. Shahzeb’s family also succumbed to this pressure, undoubtedly to stop the harassment they faced from the murderer’s family.
It was of some relief that, this week, legal amendments to Diyat and Qisas laws have been tabled for parliamentary review. The new law proposes that murderers convicted of their crime can only be pardoned for their crime by the family of the victim without offering blood-money. So the remorse or forgiveness must be genuine and cannot be swayed by the temptation of tainted money. This is a welcome change to the law and will hopefully go some way in alleviating the difficulties that families of innocent victims face.
If the Shahzeb Khan and Zain Rauf murders had been committed post amendment, it would be interesting to note how different the outcomes would have been. Shahrukh Jatoi would most probably be languishing in some jail somewhere and Mustafa Kanju would have also suffered a similar fate, if not worse. Neither families of the victims wanted leniency to be shown to the perpetrators of the crime, and Zain Rauf’s mother was adamant about Mustafa Kanju being hanged or having the same punishment meted out to him. However, as is omnipresent amongst Pakistan’s justice system, there is no certainty about whether Shahrukh and Mustafa would have ever faced any kind of consequences for their actions. What has become abundantly clear is that the public will no longer allow VIP culture and feudal lords’ blindness to the law remain acceptable.
The real question is whether it will make any difference to the blasé ignorance of the law that the children of feudal lords live within?
Most probably not, going by previous custom.
The rich and wealthy will still keep their errant children shrouded in bubble wrap and will probably find ways to put pressure on the families of future victims through threats and harassment. Until and unless we have a clear example of feudal flouters facing the penal consequences of their actions, they will continue to find ways to bend the law to suit them. Let’s hope for Shahzeb’s and Zain’s sake that they cannot do so any longer.