Child labour, domestic violence, child marriages, terrorism and poverty are never-ending issues in Pakistan. I can go on to state many more but in this article I will be shedding light on the chronic rise of honour killings in Pakistan. In plain words, honour killing is the homicide of the member of a family or social group by another family member who believes that the victim has bought shame or dishonour upon the family or community. The reasons for this homicide may be that the victim has refused to enter an arranged marriage with the consent of her elders, sex outside marriage, being in a relationship that is disapproved of by relatives, wearing clothes that are deemed unfit in society or engaging in homosexual relations. Usually, honour killings are targeted against women and homosexuals. The murderers are generally men, whether father, son or brother. This practice is very common in underdeveloped countries and condemned by international human rights groups.
Human Rights Watch defines honour killings as follows: “Honour killings are acts of vengeance, usually death, committed by male family members against female family members who are held to have brought dishonour upon the family. A woman can be targeted by (individuals within) her family for a variety of reasons, including: refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce — even from an abusive husband — or (allegedly) committing adultery. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that ‘dishonours’ her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life.”
The term ‘honour killing’ was introduced by a Dutch scholar of Turkish background in 1978 to separate such killings from other types of murders in families or communities by another family member. I personally believe that the word ‘honour’ is very loose and cannot be defined in a direct and precise way. International human rights groups and scholars have the clear conviction that honour killings used to happen before the existence of major religions. The followers of almost all major faiths have used a religious pretext to commit honour killings. It has been observed that honour killing has no connection whatsoever with religion.
According to a human rights activist based in Lahore, 5,000 women have been killed in the name of honour in recent years. The incident outside the main gate of the Lahore High Court (LHC) is the most recent high-profile case in Pakistan. The practice of honour killing is very common in the rural areas of Pakistan and even in India and Bangladesh. Homicide in the name of honour was also prevalent in western countries some 100 years ago but now, due to urbanisation and modernisation, this practice is hard to find in the western world. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are the main countries where this kind of homicide is prevalent. Human rights groups think that honour killings go on in the garb of various other names in different parts of the world. It comes with the name of karo kari in Pakistan, dowry deaths or bride burning in India, loss of ird in the Bedouin communities and as crimes of passion in Latin America.
The real number of honour killings in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh are difficult to estimate. International human rights group Amnesty International claims that the incidence of honour killing is increasing each year. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), about 1,957 incidents of honour killings were recorded over the past four years and most of them occurred in response to alleged extramarital relations. Through statistics provided by the Marvi Rural Development Organisation (MRDO), working in Sindh, about 270 cases were registered in the previous year. Sindh and Balochistan are the only places in the country where the lives of men are also taken in honour killings. It is fair to mention that women are considered the property of males in their families irrespective of their class, ethnic or religious group. To put it differently, the woman is seen as a commodity, which is saleable and purchasable, and men have the right to decide her fate. In a male dominated society like Pakistan, women are considered inferior to males. Statistics say that all around the globe, only half of all murders are committed using firearms, the rest being by throttling or stabbing with knives. The majority of women are between the ages of 16 and 30 years. Wherever it is done (east or west), whoever commits it (a brother or a husband), or whatever the motive (honour or jealousy), the end result remains the same: a woman, in 99.9 percent of cases, becomes prey to the misogynist mindset of a close male relative.
In light of the discussion above, it is submitted that advocates of human rights in Pakistan and civil society as a whole should work together in order to combat the mindset that allows honour killings. Those who endorse honour killings should be brought to justice before the courts for serious punishment. Secondly, I am of the view that fair access to a democratic legal system and the law and order sector must consistently hold violators accountable. There must be equality between men and women, and countries must invest equally in both genders. There must be women’s organisations and shelters established for women to seek refuge, security and social services but, sadly, the courts usually give verdicts in favour of the killers by invoking the provision of “grave and sudden provocation”. An honour killing is a tragedy, a horror and a crime against humanity. The government should also set up programmes on Islamic values and education, and participants should be taught how to say ‘no’ to honour killings.
The writer is an advocate of the High Court. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org