By HANEEN RAFI
KARACHI: “No longer restricted to the rural and tribal areas of Pakistan, but sadly increasing in urban communities as well is a very serious human rights issue that Pakistan faces — violence in the name of honour,” said Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari at the launch of Nafisa Shah’s book Honour Unmasked: Gender Violence, Law, and Power in Pakistan at the Arts Council on Wednesday.
With regard to 2016 alone, he reminded the audience of a few such heinous incidents of young women being murdered in the name of ‘honour’. From a jirga in Abbottabad ordering the killing of a teenager, a mother torching to death her own teenage daughter, and even the honour killing of social media activist Qandeel Baloch, Bilawal lamented the reality of how women in the country are falling prey to crimes of ‘honour’ perpetrated by those near and dear to them.
In the midst of his speech, Bilawal went off script and decided to engage the audience in a more honest appraisal of the political standing of laws and consequent amendments to prosecute those guilty of honour killings. It was then that the contradictions the country faces came right to the fore.
“It is rightly said that it is up to my generation to find a solution, but the problem is that we cannot do it alone. We know how controversial, how dangerous this topic gets. We, as the PPP, have lost Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and despite having a UN commission investigate her assassination, we have not got justice. Then how am I expected to get justice for every woman and child in Pakistan who suffers at the hands of the violence of men?” he questioned.
“The challenge before us is to create a system of justice that will punish the [perpetrators of] violence and not seek out cultural, religious or moral rationales.”
The author of Honour Unmasked, Nafisa Shah, also spoke about how the book is primarily academic while incorporating anthropological theories of honour and law. “I have explored connections between practices of violence and ideologies of peace, between victims and perpetrators, between custom and law, between state and society,” she explained.
The heinous incidents of honour killings have been a subject of study for Shah in several capacities, be it as a journalist, writer, academic, or politician. She has dedicated almost 16 years to understanding the nuances of the crime.
Her time as nazim of Khairpur formed the basis of field work for her PhD thesis. “During that time I lived and experienced all the issues I had studied. I faced tribal feuds, violent deaths, and runaway brides, and dealt first hand with people’s day-to-day conflicts.”
Eminent Sindhi writer Noorul Huda Shah’s passionate refusal to allow the issue of karo kari to become politicised was touted by many in the audience as the highlight of the evening. “This book is not merely a piece of research, but in fact a testimony on the karo kari case,” she said.
The reality is, she lamented, that whether Shah’s book is read, or the statistics of women murdered in the name of honour known, this gruesome act still prevails.
“The plots do not change, the characters do,” she quoted Nafisa Shah from the preface of the book.
“In the history of all of the previous governments of the PPP, complete or incomplete tenures, the tradition of karo kari in Sindh has not changed and has [been] maintained. But this is not only Sindh’s shame. In every province, brothers are killing their sisters and we are just watching this unfold.”
One of the prevalent criticisms of the event was regarding the presence of several politicians, which left many from the public unable to access the venue. There were several instances when attendees from different parts of the province were rudely turned away due to ‘security concerns’ despite possessing invitation cards.
Other speakers at the book launch included Zohra Yusuf, Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Speaker of the Sindh Assembly Agha Siraj Durrani, and former chief minister, Sindh, Syed Qaim Ali Shah.