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Justice for Noor

She was raped, beaten, and beheaded like thousands every year – so why is Noor’s case important for the future of women’s rights in Pakistan?

Noor Mukadam’s family and loved ones had all the connections, finances, lawyers, and expertise to face the Jaffars of this country, and they continue to fight the good fight. The case stands at a critical moment where if Noor cannot get justice, with all the privilege and support and despite being killed in the most brutal, hair-raising way, how will any other woman even fathom being on the receiving end of justice? What can we as individuals do to change the narrative on Pakistan for our fellow Pakistanis?

Pakistan is ranked 130 out of 139 countries in adherence to rule of law according to the 2021 World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index. Our aristocratic, elitist system, laced with regressive values and outdated loyalties, which once worked in favour of the elites only, is now rotten to the core – so rotten that even the elites are struggling to get justice.

But for one second, think about the girl in your office who was harassed, the student on the bus who was groped, and the waitress who was abused; what about her pursuit of justice? Would she ever get the attention her case deserves? Would the fight for her justice gain traction even after seven months? Would celebrities raise their voices for her on social media? Most likely, no.

So why is Noor’s cause critical not only for Noor but for all future Noors? If justice is not served, we lose sight and derail the conversations to focus on the mere perception of a woman’s character and not the hard evidence in a cold-blooded murder case of a citizen. It will lead to the ultimate loss of hope in our society, neighbours, judges, and police officers who make up the system surrounding us. The thousands of cases brushed under the carpet will stay hidden because our societies would have failed to change their ways by not renegotiating their outdated values and loyalties. Instead of societies having tough meaningful conversations with each other to tackle these issues head on, a newer, shinier, bigger and more sensational carpet will be thrown on top to disguise and cover up the flaws of our society. It begs a simple question: how many carpets are left until we realise we need a new floor?

Injustices against women continue to proliferate because we are obsessed with the magician, masked as a leader, who would deliver a ‘one-size-fits-all’ quick solution – this can no longer be a strategy. There is no one solution but instead a multitude of solutions that need to be tried and tested, but most importantly, need to be led by the people while accepting that this takes time.

From the politician to the police officer to the doctor to the neighbours to the ordinary citizen – mere bystanders are no longer required. Enthusiasm and attention alone on Twitter will never solve everyday lived realities. The failure lies with society, which displaces its responsibility on one another, ensuring its own peace of mind while weakening its ability to influence change. We all need to be an active part of the solution. We always look for a good samaritan, but what’s stopping each one of us from playing that role?

JusticeforNoor is not just a hashtag but a goal that if achieved may reignite faith in our society. It can serve as an inflection point against the pervasive injustices against women. Next time when a Noor is in trouble, she will not be afraid of being judged by her society, but trust that a fellow Pakistani will pick up the phone and call for help, unlike in Noor Mukadam’s case where from Zahir’s gardener to guard to friends, all put their interests and meaningless loyalties above her life. Next time when a Noor jumps for help, she’ll know that there will be a helping hand and that bystanders will no longer be bystanders, that sufficient evidence will lead to quicker court decisions, and that the power for change lies with the people.

As Noor’s case is fast approaching the end, we should all mark our calendars for the upcoming hearings. We the people constitute our society and thus should care about the outcome of this case, because if Noor Mukadam cannot get justice, we will lose this chance to change –to course correct for women in Pakistan. Noor has gone but she has given us the opportunity to step up and rebuild a Pakistan we can be proud of and Pakistanis we can count on. Let’s stop asking ‘why was she there?’ and start asking ‘where and why did we go wrong?’. Let’s depart from the loyalties that failed us, vouch to question our archaic thinking that continues to repress our women, and build capacity to exercise leadership in our societies.

Hamza Haroon & Yumna Rathore, "Justice for Noor," The News. 2022-01-20.
Keywords: Social sciences , Civil society , Social media , Women’s rights , Leadership , Lawyers , Politician , Noor Mukadam , Pakistan