Noor Mukadam Killing galvanizes the online movement


The murder of a 27-year-old woman in Islamabad in July sparked unprecedented fury in Pakistan which has not ceased. Noor Mukadam was the daughter of a former diplomat and the man suspected of killing her, Zahir Jaffer, is the son of a business tycoon. Jaffer and his parents, who are accused of being involved in the cover-up of the crime, are in jail awaiting trial. The murder has sparked continued outrage on social media, where women – and many men too – have found an outlet for their frustration with systemic gender-based violence in Pakistan.

This month, Mukadam’s case was transferred to a special court for a quick trial. New evidence against Jaffer and his family surface almost daily, including a police report pointing out that his parents knew about the murder. Some of Mukadam’s friends staged a protest outside Islamabad’s High Court last week to demand justice as the court considered whether to grant Jaffer’s parents bail. Their petition was ultimately rejected.

Meanwhile, Jaffer and his family are already facing a social media lawsuit, and online activists have made it clear that an unfair legal outcome will not be tolerated. Mukadam’s murder sparked a massive reaction from Pakistani civil society that could have ripple effects on women’s rights. In 2018, the #MeToo movement catalyzed some changes in Pakistan, but libel lawsuits against victims held back its progress. Mukadam’s case galvanized a similar feminist movement, with a broader call for social justice.

The murder of a 27-year-old woman in Islamabad in July sparked unprecedented fury in Pakistan which has not ceased. Noor Mukadam was the daughter of a former diplomat and the man suspected of killing her, Zahir Jaffer, is the son of a business tycoon. Jaffer and his parents, who are accused of being involved in the cover-up of the crime, are in jail awaiting trial. The murder has sparked continued outrage on social media, where women – and many men too – have found an outlet for their frustration with systemic gender-based violence in Pakistan.

This month, Mukadam’s case was transferred to a special court for a quick trial. New evidence against Jaffer and his family surface almost daily, including a police report pointing out that his parents knew about the murder. Some of Mukadam’s friends staged a protest outside Islamabad’s High Court last week to demand justice as the court considered whether to grant Jaffer’s parents bail. Their petition was ultimately rejected.

Meanwhile, Jaffer and his family are already facing a social media lawsuit, and online activists have made it clear that an unfair legal outcome will not be tolerated. Mukadam’s murder sparked a massive reaction from Pakistani civil society that could have ripple effects on women’s rights. In 2018, the #MeToo movement catalyzed some changes in Pakistan, but libel lawsuits against victims held back its progress. Mukadam’s case galvanized a similar feminist movement, with a broader call for social justice.

Mukadam’s murder has brought visibility to other incidents of gender-based violence in Pakistan. Following the news of the July 20 murder, #justicefornoor quickly gained ground. A week-long Instagram campaign hosted by Zahra Haider, a feminist activist and friend of Mukadam’s family, provided a platform for women to speak out about the abuse they have faced at the hands of powerful men. Official Accounts managed by Mukadam’s family and their legal team now provide constant updates on the case.

For those who have joined on social media, Mukadam’s murder seems to indicate that women are not safe anywhere in Pakistan. The case stands out from the many incidents of violence against Pakistani women in that it took place in an upscale part of the capital, with both the aggressor and the victim drawn from the elite. It was also particularly brutal: Mukadam was beheaded, and an autopsy confirmed that she had been raped and tortured before she died. Experts say these two factors likely increased the momentum of the justice movement.

Mukadam’s wealth and connections seem to have increased attention to his case. “It’s not a rich man who kills a poor woman. He is a rich, educated man who kills the daughter of a former diplomat, ”said Nighat Dad, founder of Pakistan’s Digital Rights Foundation. “Mukadam’s death sparked conversations in civil society and society at large.” Although law and order may prevail for an upper-class woman in Pakistan, women from other segments of society would rarely receive the same response, especially in rural areas. It’s telling that it took such a high-profile case to spark a larger conversation about the class and how it shapes women’s perceptions of safety.

Violence against women is endemic in Pakistan. In the World Economic Forum’s latest report on the gender gap, the country ranks 153rd out of 156 countries, and a recent Human Rights Watch report found that incidents of domestic violence rose 200% last year. , worsening after the coronavirus shutdowns began in March. But many cases of sexual harassment and gender-based violence go unreported.

In July, the Pakistani Senate passed a domestic violence bill for application in Islamabad, defining domestic violence to include emotional, verbal and psychological abuse. The bill would be a big step forward, but it is currently stuck in legal limbo. The legislation was overturned when Babar Awan, adviser to the prime minister on parliamentary affairs, sent it to the Council for Islamic Ideology for review. Some critics have argued that the bill is a “conspiracy to destroy the institution of the family in Pakistan”.

One of the main factors behind the lack of reporting of abuse in Pakistan is the stigma associated with it. Many women who have experienced domestic violence are afraid to report it. Families sometimes reinforce this silence, and victim blame is common. It can be exacerbated by social class: Pakistani elite class men consider themselves above the law, said Haider, a friend of Mukadam’s family. Power, status and money can enable people to avoid the consequences of alleged crimes.

Obtaining justice in Pakistan remains a pipe dream for most survivors of gender-based violence. The non-governmental organization War Against Rape estimates that less than 3% of sexual assault and rape cases result in a conviction. For those who do, it doesn’t always add up. In 2016, Khadija Siddiqi, then a law student, was stabbed by the son of an influential lawyer. Her attacker was convicted and released from prison before serving his five-year sentence. “Responsibility does not exist in Pakistan, especially if the perpetrator is from the privileged class,” Siddiqi said.

Weeks after Mukadam’s murder, people are still posting declarations of solidarity, promising to continue the fight for justice and to “oppose the voices that want to silence us”. For survivors like Siddiqi, such online support is empowering. Even when she exhausted her legal avenues against her attacker, she said seeing other people defending her online made her feel seen and heard. When Siddiqi’s assailant was released, public anger erupted online before she even made a public statement. Likewise, Haider said the masses had “humanized and internalized” what had happened to Mukadam, rallying around her.

Mukadam’s murder sparked an online revolution, and Pakistani political leaders are paying attention, as the recent case of TikTok influencer Ayesha Akram shows. In August, Akram was sexually harassed by a crowd of hundreds of men while filming in a public park in Lahore, Pakistan. The assault was filmed and people reacted quickly on social media. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned what happened to Akram, saying he was “ashamed and sorry”.

However, even as digital platforms draw attention to cases of gender-based violence, progress may seem fleeting. The lack of political will is evident, with senior Pakistani officials more concerned with global public relations than with tackling violent crimes against women. Although authorities made 104 arrests in Akram’s case, 98 suspects were released for lack of evidence. Dad, the digital rights activist, said officials now know how to handle the pressure online and crack down on the public. “They file the first information report, silencing the public, but the laws are still not implemented at the structural level. There is a lot of performative political behavior, ”she said.

The internet’s outrage over Mukadam’s murder ultimately reveals the shortcomings of Pakistan’s justice system and systemic patterns of oppression against women: an ineffective police force, limited laws against domestic violence, and a lack of action by lawmakers. the share of senior officials. In addition, justice can prevail for Mukadam and his family. But some activists are skeptical about whether this will affect broader change for women across Pakistan. Not everyone has the means or the support network to successfully build a case. “Many of these cases result in a compromise, which does not act as a deterrent in society,” Siddiqi said.

The response to the crime nonetheless fostered a sense of community among women that did not previously exist, setting the tone for a battle against the deeply rooted problem of sexual violence in Pakistan. It clearly caught the attention of government officials. Transformative changes can follow if they translate this momentum into policy.



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