By Salman Ali
Whenever the topic of honour killings comes up, the first thing that crops up in most minds is Pakistan. This is not surprising since news items of honour killings and honour attacks off and on appear in the media. Honour killing is a cultural reality in Pakistan. According to the UN, more than 1,000 women are killed in Pakistan each year in the name of honour. These are the cases that are reported, but thousands go unregistered and unnoticed. Women are killed in the name of a crime that is not stated by any religion, tradition or law but is a way to let male-domination exist in society.
The term ‘honour killing’ was introduced by a Dutch scholar from a Turkish background in 1978 to separate such killings from other kinds of killing in families and communities. Human Rights Watch states, “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.”
We all know that honour killings are one of the most psychologically complex, sociologically complicated, morally distressing and legally challenging violent crimes against humanity. Such crimes have been happening throughout history all over the world in many communities, countries and cultures. In honour killings, the victims are mostly women and the murderers are mostly men, whether fathers, brothers, husbands or sons.
According to human rights experts, the followers of almost all faiths, including Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity, have used a religious pretext to commit honour killings. The experts explain that honour killings do not have “any definite connection with religion at all”. Honour killings have been practiced before any major religion came into existence.
The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that as many as 5,000 girls and women have been killed in the name of honour by their family members in recent times. This is unfortunately just hard statistics. The real number could be anybody’s guess and much more than this. Amnesty International claims that the incidence of honour killings is increasing each year. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), about 1,957 incidents of honour killings had been recorded over the past four years and most of them had occurred in response to alleged extramarital relations. Through statistics provided by the Marvi Rural Development Organisation (MRDO), working in Sindh, about 270 cases have been 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.
The details of murders of the women beheaded, burned to death, stoned to death, stabbed, electrocuted, strangled and buried alive for the honour of their families are as barbaric as they are shameful. Many women’s groups in the Middle East and Southwest Asia suspect the victims are at least four times the United Nations’ latest figure of around 5,000 deaths a year. Most of the victims are young — many are teenagers, slaughtered under a vile tradition that goes back hundreds of years but now spans half the globe. However, in my opinion, men are also killed at times in the name of honour. It makes one even sad to know that this barbaric practice transcends beyond faith, sect and even gender.
Through research I became of the view that Iraqis, Kurds, Palestinians in Jordan, Pakistan and Turkey appear the worst offenders but media freedoms in these countries may over-compensate for the secrecy that surrounds ‘honour’ killings in Egypt, which untruly claims there are none, and other Middle Eastern nations in the Gulf and the Levant. Honour crimes long ago spread to the UK, Belgium, Russia, Canada and many other nations.
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 (Middle East) communities and as crimes of passion in Latin America.
Through discussion with different experts I came to know that the methods of carrying out honour killings vary across different countries. In the southern province of Sindh, where it is often referred to as karo kari, the victim is hacked to death, often with the complicity of the community. Among tribal Pashtun communities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where the practice is known as tur, and Balochistan in the southwest, the victim can be hacked, stabbed, burned or shot. In both cases, the practice’s name means ‘black’ in the local languages, in reference to the perceived culturally unacceptable behaviour of the victims. In populous Punjab, the killings — usually by shooting — are more often based on individual decisions and carried out in private.
Statistics say that all around the globe, only half the killings are by firearms, the rest being by throttling or stabbing with a knife. The majority of women are between the ages of 16 and 30 years of age. Wherever it is done (east or west), whoever commits it (a brother or a husband), or whatever the motive is (honour or jealousy), the end result remains the same: a woman, in 99.9 percent cases, becomes prey to the misogynist mindset of a close male relative.
An article in National Geographic on honour killings said, “Women are considered the property of males in their family irrespective of their class, ethnic or religious group. The owner of the property has the right to decide its fate. The concept of ownership has turned women into a commodity, which can be exchanged, bought and sold.”
There are so many things to highlight regarding honour killing but, sadly, the government’s attitude towards stopping this menace and eradicating it from society is not evident. In my opinion, this is all because of the weak law and order situation and no fear of being punished. Pakistan should recognise domestic violence as a crime and enforce strict punishments for the perpetrators. Police officers and politicians need to take these crimes seriously and punish the culprits. Women should be educated and encouraged to fight for their rights. Honour crimes are mostly committed by illiterate Muslim men who believe that Islam requires them to kill their female relatives for family honour. They should be educated about Islamic teachings.
I request NGOs, civil rights advocates, the international media, bloggers and tweeters to help and write about this serious cause. 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 in place 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.