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Death of compassion

EVEN in a country where violence against women is routine and `honour killings` remain an appalling reality, the crime that occurred in Lahore on Tuesday was particularly horrific. On one of the city`s busiest roads, a bustling area abutting the Lahore High Court and dominated by lawyers` offices, a young woman was beaten to death with bricks and stones in broad daylight, in full view of the public. Her transgression? She had married according to her own wishes, and she had filed a petition in court against the abduction case her family had had registered against her husband. At the time of the attack, she was on her way to record a statement in court in favour of her husband. Her killers? Her father and two brothers.

Those who shake their heads over the grotesque attacks on women in the name of some antediluvian notion of `honour`, tend to raise the point that these are dark crimes usually committed behind closed doors that the victims are quietly erasedfrom the public memory and the perpetrators, mostly close relatives, remain unprosecuted and unpunished. The most shocking aspect of this killing, however, is that all the people witnessing the crime, even the law enforcers, were silent spectators as a woman was bludgeoned to her death. They turned their backs as she screamed for help. How are we to understand this? Was it because the victim was a woman, and the attack concerned `honour`, and the spectators were overwhelmingly male and saw the murder as some internal `family matter` where no intervention was due? Did they shut out her cries and think this was what she deserved? Had it been a man, would people have intervened? Or has society become so brutalised that all human compassion has vanished? Whatever the case, all indications are that a twisted psyche dominates, and that society is no longer willing or able to look at itself in the mirror because what it would see there would be nothing short of frightening.