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A matter of honour

A matter of honour

The so-called ‘honour killings’ have brought our nation dishonor in the eyes of entire civilised world.
According to varied official and unofficial estimates at least one woman is killed in the name of honour every single day.
Thousands more are beaten and intimidated for choosing free life guaranteed by both religion and law of the land.
State, its laws and institutions have so far failed to prevent this menace.
The reaction ranges from denial to condemnation but has not been translated into prevention and deterrence.
In Punjab, the biggest province, the conviction rate in honour killing cases has been just 5 % in last five years when normally the conviction rate in normal homicides has been quite higher.

A new piece of legislation has been passed by the Parliament to prevent use of ‘compounding’, under the Qisas and Diyat provisions in cases of honour killings.
The new legislation is an extension and simplification of earlier Women Protection Act 2005 provisions through which Honour Killings have been brought under the scope of fasad-fil-arz or social unrest.
Through new amendments in Pakistan Penal and Procedural Code, the Courts have been empowered to award penalty even if the victims’ heirs end up exonerating the crime.
The new legislation exudes optimism and hope but only addresses part of the bigger issue surrounding honour killing prevention.

The bigger issue is the prevalent justice seeking mechanism and evidence procedure, which overwhelmingly relies on oral testimony of complainant and witnesses.
In almost all personal homicides, any one of the victim’s heirs becomes complaint and other available appear as witnesses.
Normally this works because the family members as witnesses are not very vulnerable to inducements or threats.
In Honour Killings when one or more family members are the perpetrators, it is highly unlikely that one family member for example the deceased girl’s mother will sustain pressure of testifying against her son or husband.
The State through prosecution and the police can become a complainant and provide evidence but normally that is not given much credence when the killing takes place in the confides of a house by the family.

Another possibility of defeating the spirit of legislation is by presenting an honour killing case as an ordinary homicide before the Court without evidence of the exact motive.
The likelihood is extremely high given the misogynistic world view of police investigators and lack of oversight especially in rural areas.
The expected lack of interest from Police and connivance of family results in jeopardising apparent ‘open and shut’ cases.
Recently only those honour killing cases have resulted in punishments in which the husband of deceased woman has withstood pressure and pursued the trial like husband of deceased Farzana who was killed by her family outside Lahore High Court premises in 2014.

More important than post-death prosecution is safety during life.
After death there is only retribution, before death there has to be protection.
Even before death, Farzana and many others deceased were dragged in courts all over for making decision to marry on her own will.
Thousands of consenting couples are harassed and intimidated on daily using crude force and even difference legal forums.
Honour killings are just one corollary of deep struggle and resistance by women of this country to express themselves as free citizens.
The freedom to choose a life is at the heart of whole matter and is scantily addressed.
Women Protection Act and backlash against it by the clergy and medieval elements signifies the magnitude of challenge.
The resistance will not subside and deterrence will not happen by circumventing the issue through amendments.

Any effective legislation is accompanied with an implementation arrangement.
Without enforcement on ground, legislation is just an exhortation.
The people on ground are the police, prosecution, courts, prisons, and forensics.
Our present state of affairs hardly offers any promise that the legislation will be enforced in letter and spirit and an honour killing case will be professionally and passionately pursued.
Skill building and attitudinal change of the criminal justice stakeholders in women related matters is a long arduous process, which has not even begun yet.

The new law is necessary addition to ongoing struggle to prevent the shameful and ignominious killings of women by the men who are supposed to protect and support in life decisions.
The legislation however is hardly sufficient to achieve its objectives.
State’s intervention has been little in front of a malaise, which arises out of family, makes use of religious laws and a dysfunctional justice system and has refused to fade away.
Unless holistic and comprehensive steps are not taken, the future does not look that bright for vulnerable women.
Prevention will only be possible if the whole nation and its representatives will regard it as real matter of honour.

The Nation

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