Pakistani woman burned to death after refusing marriage offer


By Sarah Petz

A Pakistani woman who was set on fire for refusing a marriage proposal has died of her injuries.

Maria Sadaqat, a young schoolteacher, was attacked in her home by a group of men on Sunday and died in hospital in Islamabad on Wednesday.

Her family say she had turned down a marriage proposal from the son of the owner of a school where she had taught.

Campaigners say attacks on women who refuse marriage proposals are common in Pakistan.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif launched an immediate investigation into the killing, which will report in two days.

Maria’s father has said the school owner was one of the men who attacked his daughter. Police told the men beat her and doused her in petrol before setting her alight near the hill resort of Murree, not far from the capital.

She suffered serious burns on nearly all of her body. Local media report that she had 85% burns.

Ms Sadaqat’s maternal aunt, Aasia, said that the trouble started when the school’s owner asked for her niece to marry his son.

She said: “She was teaching at their school. They sent in the proposal six months ago but the guy was already married and had a daughter. They wanted her to run the school after marrying the son of the owner of the school.

“Her father refused the proposal and they took the revenge by doing this.”

“They have taken away my universe, why was she brutally murdered? How can they not feel any compassion?” Maria’s mother told me, while waiting for her daughter’s body.

We were outside a local hospital in Murree. It is a resort town with a 69% literacy rate which, even though high for a rural area, can still not combat the menace of violence against women.

Life here is strictly dictated by religious norms.

After this incident, the sleepy hill town is engulfed with panic and anger. The elders are trying to influence the victim’s father to stay quiet as this is a matter of his honour.

One of the elders whispered in his ear “your daughter is gone and they are going to malign her and your family’s honour the more you highlight it in the media.”

The family is being pressurised by fellow villagers to settle the case out of court.

‘Honor killings’

Nearly 1,100 women were killed in Pakistan last year in so-called honor killings, the country’s independent Human Rights Commission says.

Most are by relatives, but a small number carried out by people outside the family are also related to perceived loss of honor, correspondents say.

Police said earlier this year that village elders had ordered the murder of a teenage girl because she helped a friend to elope.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in April: “The predominant causes of these killings in 2015 were domestic disputes, alleged illicit relations and exercising the right of choice in marriage.”

Campaigners say most “honor killings” are not reported.

Local reporter in Islamabad says that in many cases, including those reported to the police, relatives hoping to keep the family name out of the news prefer to make out-of-court settlements and therefore there are no convictions.

Under Islamic laws introduced in the 1980s the victim’s family can pardon the perpetrator in return for money or other considerations.

In February, Punjab province, where the attack on Miss Sadaqat happened, passed a landmark law criminalizing all forms of violence against women.

However, more than 30 religious groups, including all the mainstream Islamic political parties, threatened to launch protests if the law was not repealed.

The Council of Islamic Ideology proposed making it legal for husbands to “lightly beat” their wives. It came under fire as a result.

Religious groups have equated women’s rights campaigns with promotion of obscenity. They say the new Punjab law will increase the divorce rate and destroy the country’s traditional family system.

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