Pakistan Reader

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Pakistan Reader
No honour in honour killing

  Apoorva Sudhakar

The recent spate in honour attacks in Pakistan shows there is no end in sight to the problem.

On 8 October, Dawn reported on two separate incidents wherein two women were killed by their husbands in Swat in the name of honour. The news report quoted women’s rights activists who said Swat had witnessed 21 such incidents so far in 2021. In another development, on 4 October, a woman and her friend were axed to death, by the former’s husband in the name of honour, in a village in Balochistan’s Nasirabad district. The police, classifying the incident as an honour killing, registered a case against the accused. A day prior to this, in another incident on 3 October, a man threw acid on a woman, again in the name of honour, with whom he had previously contracted a second marriage, in Punjab’s Mujahid Colony within the jurisdiction of the Burewala City police. The accused suspected his wife had an affair; the victim survived, but suffered severe injuries on her face and body.

Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Rights cites a UNICEF definition of honour killing: “An ancient practice in which men kill female relatives in the name of family ‘honour’ for forced or suspected sexual activity outside marriage, even when they are the victims of rape.” However, people other than women have also been victims to the crime; Section 299 of the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860 defines the same as an “offence committed in the name or on the pretext of honour means an offence committed in the name or on the pretext of karo kari, siyah kari or similar other customs or practices.” Karo kari is a commonly referred term which means black man or woman, implying “dishonour.”

Honour crimes: A statistical overview
As of July, 81 women had been killed in the name of honour in Punjab alone in 2021; the Honour Based Violence Awareness Network estimated that Pakistan accounts for one-fifth of the total number of honour killings per year globally. Sahar Bandial and Nighat Dad, both lawyers, write in Dawn that according to the Human Rights Watch, nearly 1,000 women are victims of honour killings in Pakistan each year. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in its “State of Human Rights in Pakistan 2020” report recorded 430 cases of honour killings in the year across the country. The HRCP, in its “State of Human Rights in Pakistan 2018” report recorded that Punjab witnessed 199 people fall victim to honour killings in the year, of which 153 were females; Sindh accounted for 118 honour crimes; Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 72; and Balochistan 30.

Reasons behind honour crimes
The triggers for honour killings include relationships outside marriage, breaking gendered norms, dressing, and acts generally deemed as “immoral” by society. A survey by Pew in May 2013 revealed that 40 per cent of respondents from Pakistan believed it was "often" or "sometimes" acceptable to end a woman’s life if she “engages in premarital sex or adultery.” The reasons behind this include the following:
First, the deep patriarchal system. Honour killings and honour crimes have often been attributed to a need to control a woman’s choices, including the ones she makes regarding her body, thereby breaking down her individuality. The murder of Qandeel Baloch by her own brother demonstrates this wherein the choices she made were seen as “crossing all boundaries”  and a threat to a Pakistani male’s narrative of how “women should be.”

Second, the role of social systems. Due to various reasons, including placing the onus of “honour” on to the women, cases related to extramarital affairs or women marrying someone of their choice, are often taken to jirgas or tribal courts, wherein the jirga leaders deem it permissible to carry out honour killings. As late as 2020, the jirga leaders had ordered the killing of a woman, who had married a man of her choice.

What has the state done so far?
In 2004, the Parliament approved the Honour Killings Law; this defined an honour crime, which included honour killings and paved the way to criminalise the offence, with a minimum prison sentence of seven years.

In October 2016 in light of the uproar after the murder of Qandeel Baloch, the government approved another anti-honour killing bill through which stricter punishment for the convicts were introduced making it tougher than the ordinary murder cases. Under the legislation relatives of the victim would be allowed to pardon the killer only if he is sentenced to capital punishment. However, the perpetrators would still face a mandatory life sentence of twelve-and-a-half years. Although the legislation was a great start to addressing the issue of honour killings, it did not provide any permanent solutions given that the practice still continues rampantly. Additionally, loopholes in the legislation such as allowing for judges discretion whether a murder was “honour-based” or committed with another motive and whether to charge the perpetrator with the death penalty or life in prison. The perpetrators can also justify their killing on another motive than honour in which case judges can give lower sentences. Thus, there is a grey area prevalent in the 2016 legislation.

In an attempt to raise concern over the issue, the Supreme Court in September 2020 observed that the killing of women in the name of honour has never been an honourable practice, stating that such murders should not be categorized as honour killings. Given that crimes against women have mostly remained to be a private matter in Pakistan as well as other parts of South Asia, judgements and observations such as these could help pave the way to curb this practice which is an extreme expression of patriarchal violence.
Ali Jan Mangi, “Woman, man axed to death for honour,” Dawn, 5 October 2021
Woman comes under acid attack on ‘honour’ issue,” Dawn, 4 October 2021
Mubasher Bukhari, “Brother found guilty of 'honor killing' of Pakistan social media star,” Reuters, 27 September 2019
Human rights situation remains alarming in Pakistan says report,” ANI, 30 June 2021
State of Human Rights in Pakistan 2018,” Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, March 2019
Two women shot dead for honour in Swat,” Dawn, 8 October 2021
Samira Khan, “Qandeel Baloch’s honour killing: it’s about control, not Islam,” Daily Times, 31 July 2021
No honour in sight,” Dawn, 22 May 2021
Jirga members held for ordering woman’s honour killing,” Dawn, 16 November 2020
"Pakistan Is One Step Closer To Passing An Anti-Honor Killing Law," Global Citizen, 23 July 2016
Daniele Selby and Leah Rodriguez, "How Activists Helped Change Pakistan’s Honor-Killing Law," Global Citizen, 9 April 2019
Mahum Naza, "The analysis of honor killings in Pakistan and how it is related to the notion of “what will other people say?,"  Binghamton University, 3 December 2020

*Note: The note was first published in

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