When Zainab Bibi’s husband threatened to rape her daughter, she took things into her own hands… and oven. Although her husband had never acted on his twisted desires, he had made suggestive comments when drunk. As Bibi states, “I killed my husband before he dared to touch my daughter.”
She never planned to eat him, apparently. The husband-korma was merely a way to dispose of the corpse. Bibi said she was going to dispose of the “mystery meat,” telling people it was spoiled. Her plan ultimately backfired when neighbors complained of the stench, leading police to investigate. It has also been suggested that Ahmed Abbas was planning to take a second wife, which complicates the narrative.
How to respond to Bibi’s actions, particularly after the Penn State scandal in which adults utterly failed to report the abuse that was going on under their noses (to say nothing of the Catholic Church’s decades-long indifference to sexually abused children)? Why didn’t Bibi report her husband to the police? Her husband, whose side of the story we will never hear, did not rape his stepdaughter. And, no matter how degrading polygamy is to a woman—if that was indeed a motive behind the killing—does it warrant a death sentence?
But let’s give Bibi the benefit of the doubt and assume she acted out of a desire to save her daughter Sonia from sexual assault. Could Bibi really have turned to the police for protection? Or, what if she’d ignored her husband’s comments and her daughter was raped? What kind of justice would Sonia have received under the Pakistani legal system?
Not much, according to blogger Sana Saleem, who recently published an excellent article called “Your Rape Culture is not My Religion.” The 1996 abolishment of the Hudood Laws (which required the presence of four witnesses to prove a rape occurred) has faced continued opposition by the political party Jamaat-i-Islami. Theoretically, the “women protection” legislation introduced the same year encourages victims to come forward and prosecute their rapists provided there is medical and forensic evidence. Yet, prominent Jamaat-i-Islami member Munawar Hasan argued on TV that a victim “should keep quiet if she has no witnesses.” This guy makes John Boehner look like Gloria Steinem.
As Saleem argues, it is unthinkable that those who witness a rape would not come forward, if not stopping the assault from happening in the first place. Therefore, the four witnesses requirement is “irrational and absurd.” She adds, “the callously flaunted idea that women use rape as a tool for popularity, fame, and money or simply to attack Islamic principles is devoid of logic. For all we know, taking a rapist to court in Pakistan can put you behind bars, after dealing with the severe moral policing, of course.” It is likely Bibi knew all this when she committed the crime.
Although Bibi’s actions were extreme and vigilantism is not to be applauded, they make a kind of grim sense, given Pakistani women’s lack of social and legal equality. As Mark Twain wrote, “I’ve never wished a man dead, but I’ve read many an obituary with pleasure.”