And justice for all By Asif Saeed Memon - Thursday 24th March 2011

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THE legal drama of the ‘Raymond Davis killings’ was brought to an end under the Sharia mechanism of Diyat. Funds, from unknown sources, were allegedly transferred to the heirs of the two victims, as remuneration in exchange for discontinuing their noble quest for justice. Or was the money transferred to them as justice? Not sure on that.
(This is completely beside the point that I am trying to make, but is money from unknown sources permitted under the Diyat? What if the money came from a child trafficker, a terrorist or … gasp … the Israelis? Does the Federal Bureau of Revenue get to check the source of funds? If the source is Pakistani, have they paid their taxes? Can blood money be taxed? If not, is this not a convenient way for criminal types to launder money?)
Despite the fact that this manner of resolving murder cases is permitted under Islamic law, many of our brothers and sisters are unhappy. They have decided to protest against this slap in the face of our national honour. Their bloodlust, no, demand for justice was left unfulfilled.
While the nation bristled at foreigners being made to brazenly follow our laws, my attention was drawn by a friend to a different aspect of this issue. It is a pervasive injustice that has become apparent during the intense media attention on this case. This injustice affects two different groups of Pakistanis. These are citizens who are being treated unequally; an underclass, created by the current legal system.
Let us examine who these two groups are and how this injustice is perpetrated. The first group is that of low-income murderers. A member of this group is likely to be from a low-income family; a male; his parents are likely to have low levels of education; he is most likely engaged in unskilled labour or is unemployed; and he has killed someone. The only factor distinguishing this person from another murderer, who is able to receive punishment by paying his victim’s family and then going free, is their wealth.
Not only is the former less likely to be able to afford a decent lawyer (making a conviction more likely), he is incapable — through no fault of his own — of getting the same quality of sentencing as the latter. Thus, we live in a society where our life outcomes are determined by our wealth. By the coincidence of which part of society we are born into. This is, surely, unbecoming of a just society.
The second group that is gravely wronged by our current system of justice comprises the families of the victims of low-income murders (murders committed by low-income individuals). Through no fault of their own, these families are denied the remuneration that is due them simply because a low-income individual chose to kill their loved ones instead of a wealthy individual. Once again the system offers them no reparations for this gross injustice.
In some ways this is an even more obvious problem. Imagine two adult women who are sisters and grew up together. Let us call them Akbari and Asghari. They are married, with children and live middle-class lives. Asghari is killed one day by a petty druggie looking for money to buy drugs. Akbari is also killed, but her killer is a wealthy businessman who runs her over with his SUV. Both the addict and the entrepreneur are caught and convicted. Asghari’s husband and children receive no reparation as the addict has no money, while Akbari’s family accepts reparations from the businessman. What was the fault of Asghari’s loved ones? Did Asghari choose to be killed by a lowly drug addict instead of a respectable businessman? This truly is an unjust outcome, and directly caused by our adherence to a laissez-faire market mechanism when it comes to death.
Now before we decide we need to find whose fault this is and hang them, let’s take a deep breath. This is nobody’s fault. In public policy circles this is referred to as an unintended consequence: the unexpected result of a well-meaning policy. What we need to do is tweak the policy, such that the poverty gap in murder is reduced. A redistribution of wealth from high-income murders to low-income murders is required.
It is obvious that the only possible solution is a state-run one. This could take the form of a state-run corporation that calculates the average worth of an individual life in Pakistan. This number could be linked with inflation. Now that would be a deterrent! The blood-money collection and distribution agency would collect money from killers based on their relative wealth, while guaranteeing each murder victim’s survivors an equal remuneration. Under such a mechanism the businessman and the druggie would be required to pay different amounts of money by the state, which would be deposited into a national blood-money fund. On the other side of the murder ledger, Asghari’s and Akbari’s families would receive equal amounts.
This may not be a perfect solution. Some, like Akbari’s survivors will be considerably worse off in this scenario as opposed to the status quo. Also, some families are much larger than others. Other observers may have different solutions in mind. What cannot be denied is that Pakistan is an unequal society. Some murders are more equal than others. Some are wealthy murders and others are poor ones. We must not rest until all murders are treated equally.
The writer is a graduate student at the George Washington University. He has taught public policy and macroeconomics at SZABIST in Karachi.

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