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Crimes of honour

By: Naziha Syed Ali

For Bashir and his wife Nafisa*, an act as simple as setting foot on their native village spells certain death. They have not been back since they got married six years ago. Their crime: they fell in love. Not even the fact that they are now parents of three little boys will Nafisa’s family be saved from a swift and brutal retribution. In the latter’s eyes, only murder can avenge the “dishonour” brought upon them by her actions.

“We were attacked by her brothers when we went to the Sukkur sessions court in connection with the case of kidnapping they had filed against me but we managed to escape,” says Bashir.

Two months after their elopement, a jirga presided over by the local feudal decreed that the couple, whenever and wherever found, was to be killed. Moreover, Bashir’s family was to give Rs 200,000 as well as three girls to Nafisa’s tribe as compensation.

To this day, they live in hiding, moving from one place to another lest they are discovered. Back in his village in district Naushahro Feroze, Sindh, Bashir’s family remains under threat.

The couple is fortunate to be alive. According to an Aurat Foundation report, 557 women alone were killed on the pretext of honour in Pakistan in 2010. Honour killings, also known as karokari (meaning black) or siyahkari, occur more frequently in areas where feudal traditions are deeply entrenched for this is the milieu where women are considered the property of the family, to be bartered and traded according to the will of the men. And, sometimes, put to death on the pretext of having violated the tribal code of honour.

In a society where justice is a distant dream for most, it is even more elusive for victims of honour killing. The dice is loaded against them from the very beginning of the judicial process.

Many murders in the name of honour go entirely unreported. In other instances, the police will usually record the crime in the FIR as murder rather than an act of ‘honour killing’, even though the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2004 for the first time defines “honour crimes” in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). This omission compromises the entire process of obtaining justice.

“When a case of honour killing is reported, a different mode of investigation needs to be employed,” says advocate Maliha Zia Lari who recently authored a report on the subject for the Aurat Foundation. “This includes talking to family members and people in the locality to explore underlying issues. This is not a routine investigation but a lengthy one that requires the police to keep going back again and again.”

An ordinary murder is very different from an honour killing. In the latter, the complainant in the FIR, the nominated accused and the witnesses are usually related to one another. This makes it more likely that the complainant will hide or twist facts in the narrative of the FIR and that the witnesses will change their statements in the court, giving the benefit of the doubt to the accused.

Moreover, according to DIG Khalique Shaikh, “In such cases it is not only the principal accused who is involved; there are accessories to the crime. These include those involved in the planning, those who assisted by their presence at the crime scene, and those involved in aiding, abetting and concealing the crime. When the motive is shown as honour and the investigating officer is fully sensitised, he will look into the matter properly and take action against all these. If this motive remains hidden in the FIR the investigation is likely to ignore these aspects.”

The effects of a flawed investigation carry over into the courtroom where arguments are based on the FIR and police findings. Also, when an honour killing is recorded as murder, the accused can be released on bail by the court because murder is a bailable offence, whereas honour killing was made a non-bailable one under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2004.

Shirin Javed, a human rights activist in Peshawar, says that according to information gleaned from media reports and crisis centres, there were around 25 instances of honour killing in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in 2010. The police did not register even one of them as an honour killing.

It is not only the desire to take the easy way out that makes the police desist from recording an honour killing as such in the FIR. Many in the police force are not personally invested in probing cases of honour killing because they share the same mindset as that of the perpetrators. The Aurat Foundation’s report mentioned above cites the example of the DPO Nowshera, Nisar Tanoli who asked the researcher, “If you come to know that your wife is involved with someone, what will your reaction be? Won’t you kill her?”

Even when the police tries to do its duty in such cases, it is hampered by institutional weaknesses. These include paucity of training in forensic investigation, difficulty in locating genuine eye-witnesses, and lack of assistance from family members of victims.

The parallel quasi-judicial systems prevalent in many areas of Pakistan also play a pernicious role in perverting the course of justice. The institution of the jirga, an integral part of the feudal setup, is a source of income for many waderas, with major tribal disputes netting them at least five million rupees from each side. Mediating an issue as incendiary as honour is another opportunity for financial gain.

Advocate Shabbir Shar describes how investigations are deliberately skewed by the police at the behest of the local landlord, so that even if the case does go to court, there is no chance of a conviction. “They will deliberately engineer inconsistencies in the witness statements, between the evidence collected from the crime scene and the post-mortem report,” he says.

“For example, they may collect one empty from the place of the incident whereas the body has evidence of three bullet wounds. These inconsistencies go to the benefit of the accused at the time of trial.”

Other tactics are also routinely used to discourage families from going to court. In December 2011, a jirga held in Shikarpur was presided over by former minister Manzoor Panhwar. It levied a fine on the brothers of a woman murdered by her husband because they had filed a case of honour killing against their brother-in-law.

On an occasion when a case goes to trial, the general problems in the legal system come into play, such as interminable delays and fees collected under various heads by state prosecutors who are supposed to provide their services gratis.

For those seeking justice for their daughters murdered in the name of honour – and there is an increasing number at least in Sindh – there are added perils. “Because of the delay, they are exposed to danger from interested parties for that much longer,” says advocate Maliha Zia Lari. “They are also under psychological pressure from the community because there is shame associated with taking such cases to court. There is a perception that the girl did something wrong and, by pursuing the case, they are seen as condoning their daughter’s behaviour.” Such pressures compel many families to give up and settle out of court.

Moreover, those charged with honour crimes often have an edge in court not only courtesy flawed investigations but by virtue of loopholes in the law itself. Under the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance 1990, the offence is a compoundable one, which means that the victim’s legal heirs can forgive the accused or agree to blood money whereby he is spared the death penalty. Given that in cases of honour killing, the accused is often a member of the victim’s own family, this is tantamount to a perversion of justice.

While the Criminal (Amendment) Act 2004, also known as the Honour Killings Law, increases the penalty for honour killing to 25 years or death in the absence of a compromise, the punishment is not mandatory. With no option of minimum punishment available to them, many judges are reluctant to go the distance in the absence of an ironclad case, as a result of which the accused go scot-free.

Of late, it has also been seen that the plea of “grave and sudden provocation” which was often used successfully as a mitigating circumstance by the defence before the passage of the 2004 law, has once again started colouring judgments, particularly by the Lahore High Court.

There are lawyers who acknowledge that in comparison with the conservative and patriarchal mindset of the latter, the Sindh High Court has been more progressive. According to journalist Nisar Khokar, “For this reason, many couples from Punjab and Balochistan who want to have a civil marriage are choosing to appear before the Sindh courts.”

However, progress on the issue of honour killings remains slow. Unless the police and the court take a more proactive stand on the issue, women will continue to be murdered in the name of honour in this country and the crime, more often than not, will be buried with them.

Source: The News