Killing girls in the name of honour has emerged as a rising phenomenon and a daunting challenge for the Pakistani society especially in recent months. Although it has also been done in the past, the rising number of such macabre incidents is heart-wrenching, to say the least. It is also a fact that due to conservative outlook of the Pakistani society, there is all likelihood that many of such inhuman acts are not reported to the police or media.
Honour killings in Pakistan have climbed to an acme in recent years. Although it is an international phenomenon, the frequency with which these acts are being committed has put Pakistan in an embarrassing position. It is extremely shocking to see that one-fifth of the total honour killings in the world occur in Pakistan. According to United Nations Population Fund (UNDP), among 5000 women who lose their lives annually in the name of honour all around the world, nearly a 1000 are killed in Pakistan only. Moreover, a report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) reveals that in 2015 alone, nearly 1,100 women were killed in the country by their relatives for ‘dishonouring’ families and allegedly violating cultural values on love and marriage. Although religious scholars opine that honour killing is a big sin and an un-Islamic act because Islam gives adult women right to love marriage, the killings haven’t stopped yet.
A brief look at the history and dynamics of honour crimes reveals that it is a multifaceted issue and keeps on changing according to time, place and culture, and in the ways they are executed and articulated. It is due to this complex and elastic nature that they are widely misunderstood and it is still hard to define as to what honour killing actually is.
Sociologists and human and women’s rights workers have defined honour crimes in different ways. According to one definition, “Honour crimes are patterns of conduct cutting across communities, cultures, religions and nations and manifested in a range of forms of violence directed, in the majority of cases, against women, including murder (honour killings) and forced marriage.” Another definition explains that “Crimes of honour are actions that remove a collective stain and dishonour, both gendered and locally defined, through the use of emotional, social and physical coercion over a person whose actual or imputed actions have brought that dishonour.” However, Human Rights Watch (HRW) 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.”
From these definitions, it becomes abundantly clear that honour crimes are actually rampant in patriarchal societies because in a majority of the cases, they are executed in a premeditated manner either by a male juvenile so that state punishment can be minimised or some other close male relative. However, it is important to note that although honour crimes more often target women, they are in no way gender-restricted; men can also be victimised by the members of the woman’s family.
According to human rights experts, the followers of almost all faiths, including Islam, Hinduism, 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.
It is unfortunate that most honour-related crimes occur in Muslim countries and it is due to this reason that the West has wrongly construed it as an Islamic phenomenon as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women for the years 2002 and 2003 confirmed that honour killing is neither limited to Muslim communities nor any particular class, caste, region or religion. It is as clear as crystal that Islam does not sanction honour crimes; neither the Quran nor the sayings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) permit killing someone in the name of honour or encourage doing so. So, the blame of killing innocent women must be laid on violent customary practices that are still in vogue in Pakistan.
In a patriarchal society, like Pakistan, majority of women are reliant on men financially and in terms of protection. This dependency results in the unconditional acceptance by women of discriminatory practices and inferior roles. They are believed to abide by the customs and traditions and follow the standards of chastity and honour as set by men. And, if a woman dares to challenge these traditional norms, she is seen as dishonouring family the punishment for which is only death. Moreover, a patriarchal mindset supported by tribal and feudal traditions provides a basis for crimes in the name of honour, while loopholes in the law permit perpetrators to escape punishment. In all, it is pertinent to say that the interplay of cultural practices and inadequate judicial administration protects the abettor.
Besides many other daunting challenges, Pakistan is also grappling with honour killings. Although there are different laws for the protection of women’s rights like the Anti-Honour Killing Laws Amendment) Bill 2014 and Anti-Rape Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill 2014 passed by the Senate of Pakistan in March this year, in force in the country, yet they cannot do much until there is a positive change in society’s attitude toward women. The complex nature and causes of honour killing make it harder to be addressed, however steps have to be taken from where it is socially acceptable. Reshaping what the society perceives as ‘honour’ is something critically required in this battle against honour killing.
There is an urgent need to strengthen the existing laws against honour killings, and to make them really strong so that the perpetrators of such a heinous crime are awarded punishments befitting to the gravity of the crime they had committed.