No honour in killing

Linked with Beena Sarwar – Pakistan.

Published on The News, by Beena Sarwar, September 21, 2008 /Ramazan 20, 1429 A.H.

Given the multiple issues facing Pakistanis, the last thing we surely need is for a legislator to defend a heinous crime in the name of tradition or custom. We don’t need the heinous crime either, in this case the murder of women who were apparently defying their families by trying to marry of their own choice.

The resistance of conservative families to expressions of autonomy by their daughters is an ongoing problem in patriarchal, conservative societies like ours. Some parents accept their children’s wishes. Others submit to the inevitable, cutting off inheritance or refusing to meet them. In Pakistan, some misuse the legal system to gain submission, filing cases of zina (adultery) against daughters who elope, preferring to see them tried for a crime punishable by death rather than married to someone ‘unsuitable’. Others resort to physical violence, locking up the erring child without food, cutting off all communication in an effort to gain submission. In the most extreme cases, some family member uses a gun, a knife or an axe to end the defiance once and for all — termed a ‘crime of passion’ in much of the world. Here, it is called ‘honour killing’.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan recorded over 600 cases of ‘honour’ killings or karo kari last year – just the reported incidents, compiled from reports appearing daily in the media. The actual number may be higher, as not all cases are reported. Is the violence actually rising or is it just that the media is reporting such cases with greater frequency? The media boom is certainly instrumental in bringing more such stories to light. However, such cases may also be on the rise because of emerging conflicts within a rapidly modernising conservative, patriarchal society where women are traditionally seen as family property and the repositories of honour …

… Flash forward to another democratic era barely a decade later. Another horrific murder, another voice raised in the Senate (this time by a woman), and another Senator’s justification in the name of tradition.

Whether the women were buried alive or whether they were already dead when buried is beside the point. First of all, no one has the right to take another life. Second, the women’s ‘crime’ (to want to marry of their own choice) was no crime under any law or religion. Third, even if murdering women who disgrace their families is accepted in some areas, not every aggrieved family resorts to such action. And fourth but not least, slavery too was once a widely accepted custom. So was the burying alive of baby girls. Neither practice is condoned now, in any way, anywhere in the world.

Interestingly, both these Senate debates for and against the murder of women for ‘honour’ took place after particularly gruesome crimes committed under a democratic dispensation. This is certainly not because there was less gender violence when the military was at the helm of affairs. Violence against women has risen over the last decade. It was at its peak under Gen Ziaul Haq and his discriminatory ‘religious’ laws that strengthened reactionary forces and reinforced negative stereotypes about women. But democracy, with elected representatives answerable to their constituencies, opens up spaces to discuss and debate such issues rather than sweeping them under the carpet, going beyond knee-jerk responses like incident-specific legislation such as that enacted after the public denuding and humiliation of women in the infamous Nawabpur case of 1984.

Some would prefer not to discuss such issues because this ‘brings a bad name to the country’ (or province). They need to ask themselves who is responsible: those who perpetuate the violence, or those who are its victims? What would make us a better, stronger nation: dealing with the issue, or burying it in the sand? (full text).

Comments are closed.