Honour killings may be designated as acts of vengeance, usually resulting in death, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonour upon the family. A woman can be easily targeted by folks within her family for an array of reasons without any say in the matter at hand. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that debases her family is bountiful evidence sufficient to generate a brutal attack on her life.
In Pakistan though, honour killings are better known locally as Karo-Kari. This scandalous compound word has the literal meaning of “black male” (Karo) and “black female” (Kari). Originally, Karo and Kari were metaphoric terms for adulterer and adulteress, but it has come to be used by a multiplicity of perceived immoral behavior. Once a woman is labeled as a Kari, family members consider themselves to be authorized to kill her and the co-accused Karo in order to restore family honour.
Doctrine Behind Dishonour Unveiled:
The perceived ideology of “dishonor” is normally the result of one of the following behaviors, or the sheer suspicion of such behaviors: dressing in a manner unacceptable to the family or community, wanting to terminate or prevent an arranged marriage or desiring to marry by own choice, especially if to a member of a social group deemed inappropriate, flaunting immodesty, engaging in heterosexual acts outside marriage (illicit relations) and engaging in homosexual acts.
The list is endless. I’ve perused a countless number of newspaper articles claiming the heinous crime taking place due to some reason or the other. One article screamed out about a mother in Azad Kashmir who had accompanied her husband in killing their 15-year-old daughter by dousing her with acid after seeing her talking to a young man. That was her only crime for which she received the death penalty. Her elder sister, less moved by a false sense of honour and more concerned about the crime her parents had committed, had demanded police investigation into the murder which could have been ignored because it was caused by the sense of ‘honour’, unofficially recognised in Pakistan as an element of mitigation. God knows what the outcome of the family saga was and if the elder sister had successfully attained justice by the incarceration of her parents. What has the state of the world come to?
The state of Pakistan, too, pursues satisfaction of honour in foreign policy, demanding apologies where pragmatism would have benefited the people. Society has become violent under the unconsciously accepted behaviour norm of the Taliban. Out of all the citizens killed in the country for honour, over half are women, proving that use of violence to satisfy ‘honour’ is directed at women.
The concept of ‘honour’ is vital for comprehending why men in certain primitive societies address any real or perceived breach in their honour in such extreme fashion. A study observes: “The conception of honour used to rationalise killings is founded on the notion that a person’s honour depends on the behaviour of others.” In order to shield men’s shame and honour, women are expected to behave modestly. This is borne out in many incidents of killing in Pakistan where sometimes the acts are perpetrated on the slimmest suspicion of shameful conduct on the part of the woman. Significantly, manliness and shame are complementary qualities in relation to honour.
When a female member is seen to violate an honour norm, the whole family experiences ignominy. Killing a wayward woman is seen as an act of purification for the family and sometimes, even not doing it quickly enough is perceived to be damaging to the family honour. Women are constantly under threat because any act on their part can bring shame and dishonour to the male members of a family.
Pakistan’s tribal belts in K-P, Balochistan, Sindh and south Punjab have always given evidence of ‘honour killing’ focused on women of the household. In Sindh, karo-kari was the lowest point reached in this savagery: knowing that the man involved in the incident could not be killed, the man of the household usually killed his wife to re-establish himself in the esteem of his neighbours. But this primitive ritual is now spreading into the rest of civilised Pakistan. It can be called the re-tribalisation of Pakistan under a mistaken sense of Islamisation force-fed into our psyche by the growing strength of the Taliban in our cities.
The ‘reinterpretation’ of the Malala incident in some circles is Pakistan’s return to the primitive stages of humanity. Malala Yousufzai became a symbol of the rise of feminine consciousness that contributes to civilisation. Primitive honour demands that our female children be kept away from higher consciousness so that we produce only mothers with pre-conceived mindset like the one who helped in the killing of her daughter in Azad Kashmir. In their eyes, that mother is worthy of a medal by ending the life of her ‘reprehensible’ daughter.
A Crime of Passion?
Allies try to associate it with “crime of passion” but such felonies are abrupt, unmediated, and impulsive acts of violence committed by persons who, in their own lights, have come face to face with an incident wholly repulsive and unacceptable and who technically and for the duration of the act, are insane and incapable of self-control.
Stories of enraged, out of control, husbands, fathers, and brothers abound. Murder of a “guilty” female is reported about once a month in Pakistani newspapers.
The usual honor killings in the tribe and clan ridden Pakistan, on the other hand are in most cases deliberate, well planned and premeditated acts when a relative of a female kills her spresumably to uphold his honor, though it is well established that in most cases overriding motive is monetary/property loss entailed in giving away a female out of tribe, biraderi etc.
The practice is a relic of the times when law and order was a matter of tribal code.
Who said females are the only targeted victims? Honour killings are generally viewed by all and sundry to besiege the women folk; those who are considered by men the repository of honour. That isn’t the case at all. Men are also sufferers, killed or maimed by other men for reasons relating to upholding family honour.
The reasons stemming to the cruel death penalty vary from settling an ongoing vendetta between enemies (mostly clans), impregnating a girl, committing adultery, marrying a girl “unworthy” apparently or against the wishes of the family, engaging in homosexual acts to even not being “manly” enough. Yes, the last point is evidently and factually true.
The most recent case consists of a slain soldier taking place in the month of March, 2013. As posted in The Express Tribune:
“The incident took place in the tribal northwest town of Parachinar and the victim was a 25-year-old army soldier charged by a jirga for having an affair with a local girl. He was sentenced to death by stoning, while there is some confusion on the girl’s fate — reports claim that she, too, may have been ordered to be executed, though she has denied the affair, but it is not clear whether the order has been carried out. Lest anyone be foolish enough to think that the young woman will not be killed, think again.”
Indeed, the fate of the young girl seems destined to be doomed. One can only pray that the girl’s life is spared and the soldier’s heartrending death wasn’t in vain.
On a global scale, 5,000 women have lost their lives as victims of honour killings although the real statistics are probably higher. Although there are no official countrywide statistics for Pakistan’s honour killings, it is estimated that the country has lost 1,000 women, or perhaps more, to honour killings. This number seems unlikely given the number of article headings proclaiming the barbaric act having taken place. This is because many law offenders think they can get away with it, which is highly likely.
I’ve read about the astonishing figure to be about 10,000 reported deaths per year even.
Since there are no official statistics available, the non-governmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) collects information on honour killings in two of Pakistan’s four provinces. Their research is based on surveys, revolving around cases reported by the media or registered with the police. Because some cases are not registered with the police due to evident bribing whilst filing an FIR report and some go unnoticed by the press, the real figures of honour killings can be much higher than the current rate.
Furthermore, there are plenty of ‘fake honour killings’ in order to cover up other crimes (including homicide) which distort the real number of honour killings happening each year.
Despite the rising number of reported killings, activists have praised parliament for passing laws aimed at strengthening women’s protection against abuses. Rights groups declare the government should do more to ensure that women subjected to violence, harassment and discrimination have effective access to justice.
Sketchy Legal Reform:
In September 2010, the Punjab law minister announced that violent crimes against women, including honour killings, would be tried under the country’s Anti-Terrorism Act. On December 8, 2004, under international and domestic pressure, Pakistan enacted a law that made honour killings punishable by a prison term of seven years or by the death penalty in the most extreme cases.
I would like them to define “extreme cases”. A life (or lives) is (are) lost, isn’t that classified as extreme?
Bereft of authenticity if you ask me.
Women and human rights organizations were, however, skeptical of the law’s impact, as it stops short of outlawing the practice of allowing killers to buy their freedom by paying compensation to the victim’s relatives. This is problematic because most honour killings are committed by a close relative. In many cases, the family of the victim and the family of the accused are indistinguishable, so negotiating a pardon with the victim’s family under the Islamic provisions becomes ineffective.
Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch, was quoted saying, “The state’s inability to enforce rule of law, leaving matters in the hands of tribesmen and local elders, was a major factor.”
“We have a system in Pakistan where the state and judicial recourse are absent and the vacuum is filled by local elders,” he said.
“A combination of legal reforms, exercise of administrative authority and social awareness can greatly help check the honour killings,” he added.
Lets on a positive note hope such a turn of events actually do prevail in the near future.
Marked Out to Die?
Around two years ago, a Belgian court sentenced four members of a Pakistani family to prison for the murder of their daughter, who defied them by living with a Belgian man and refused an arranged marriage.
A professor of women’s issues in Pakistan, Tahira Shaid Khan noted that there is nothing whatsoever that supports the tradition of honour killings. She says the first and most basic right that every Muslim is supposed to follow is the right to life:
“That if anyone slays a human being – unless it be (in punishment) for murder or for spreading corruption on earth – it shall be as though he had slain all mankind; whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind” Holy Quran (5:32).
A total structural change in society is direly required. It would be tantamount to a revolution. Revolutions are historically indigenous and cannot be imported or imposed from outside. Can we ascend from the deep, dark drench of an abyss we have lost ourselves in?
Paulo Coelho’s words invade my thoughts as I reflect over the existence of such vile evil in our society and the world at large – There is a saying that states that ‘You cannot argue with force’; but there is another saying: ‘Where there’s life, there’s hope.’