Honour killings on the rise in Pakistan

Honour killings are on the rise in Pakistan as “police forces and the judiciary make light of the practice, tribal codes demand it and the State remains indifferent,” media has reported in Islamabad. They cite the case of the 29-year-old Samia Sarwar who was shot dead in the office of her lawyer in Lahore last year. “Her mother accompanied the gunman and was an obvious party to the crime. The young woman had paid with her life for wanting to divorce an abusive husband.”

“Honour killings are essentially about the control of women in all spheres of life: economic, social and sexual,” the media reported, quoting from a report in Earth Times News Service. Following Sarwar’s murder, the Senate refused to allow a debate on the issue, let alone pass a resolution condemning it and the perpetrators were never apprehended.

The report said tribal codes of honour and shame lie behind the practice of honour killings in the tribal areas of the Frontier province and in Baluchistan.

“A woman is considered the jagir or property of men, and marriages are often contracted in order to keep property within the family or to enlarge an estate. This motivation applies to Haq Baksh Wal, where women are ‘married to the Quran’ rather than marry outside the family and split up an estate,” it said. The honour of a family and of its men resides in the behaviour of its women, who are subjected to extreme violence and even death when stifling tribal norms are perceived to have been flouted. Where a man’s honour is actively sought, often by ridding the family of an errant woman, a woman’s honour is passively guarded. If women are the repositories of tradition and therefore of honour, men may act on the slightest suspicion of their izzat (honour) being compromised. “The only way to restore their ghairat (male honour) is the murder of a woman who may want to marry a man of her own choosing or refuse to marry a man chosen for her.

“She may wish to divorce an abusive husband or escape domestic violence. She may have been kidnapped, or even raped, and still considered to have caused shame to her family. A woman is seen as defiled if her chastity is questioned, whether by her own will or against it,” the report said. Like the bound feet of a Chinese woman in past centuries, the concepts of honour and shame are essentially about the control of women in all spheres of life: economic, social and sexual.

“Woman are traded as property and treated as property; they are servile and obedient; they are chaste. This chastity is not to be confused with virginity, because it may be compromised by a hint of independence, the suspicion of strong opinions, a laugh or a look, or even whim of a man.”

The report stated that the pressure of men to carry out these heinous crimes “is enormous and deeply ingrained, if they are to redeem themselves and their ghairat.”

Honour killings and other crimes against women may stem from tribal traditions, “but one of the most reprehensible aspects is the indifference, and even complicity of the state.”

“Human rights activists and women’s groups have long cried foul at the discriminatory legislation and practices so institutionalised in Pakistani society. Laws put the blood money for compensation for a female life at half that of a man’s.” The law of evidence envisions two female witnesses to offset the testimony of one man in a court of law. Under the Hudood ordinance, a woman raped must produce four male witnesses of good repute to witness the crime or no conviction is possible. Failing this, she may be convicted of having sexual ties outside of marriage, a crime against the state, with a maximum punishment of stoning to death.

The report said these laws help contribute to an atmosphere of massive intimidation of women and promote a culture where crimes against women are among the easiest to get away with.

“Further, the police seldom take these offences seriously, often siding with the man even in cases of honour killings. On the rare occasion where police have prosecuted, the judiciary has returned light sentences, for judges too are caught up in upholding the concept of the control of women,” the report said.

Pakistan ratified the UN Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women in 1996. So the failure of the Senate to condemn, or even discuss, the cold-blooded murder of Sarwar “is a case of blatant political hypocrisy”.

The New Indian Express, 13/2/00


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