Pakistan: Honour Killings

Reckless Practice of the Culture

| by Rabab Fizah

( March 25, 2012, Islamabad, Sri Lanka Guardian) Honour killings locally known as karo-kari are completely against the concept of Islam. The root of honour killings is centuries old and it is a practice followed before the Islamic era called Jahiliyah, the time of ignorance before the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Although such kind of practices are strictly forbidden in Islam it has still grown and spread worldwide and unfortunately, Pakistan is one of the states where every year a large number of Karo Kari or honor killing cases are reported. Sadly, many such cases are not reported.
Karo-kari is the standard practice in all four provinces of Pakistan. Its rate of occurrence may be higher in the tribal areas of Sindh, but it is almost equally rampant in Balochistan, Punjab, and Khyber Pakhtunkwa province.
Karo kari is defined as an act of murder, in which a woman is killed for her actual or perceived immoral behavior. In Karo Kari if a woman is engaged in some kind of unlawful sexual relationship with a man or if she has refused to submit to an arrange marriage, she is branded as Kari or “black female” and in order to cleanse the honour of the man to whom she ‘belongs’ he received permission to kill her and prove that he has safeguarded his honour by doing so. Whereas the tribal law dictates that the man who is branded karo or “black male” should also be killed but usually that does not happen and the karo has the opportunity to flee, while his family members negotiates with the dishonored family to save his life.
In Jirgas decisions are made by the ‘Sardars’, the tribal council leaders; they are the ones who set up agreements between the victim of the dishonoured family and the perpetrators. Once the decision is made both the parties are bound to accept it. In many cases ‘honour’ is used as an excuse to perpetrate crimes that stem from inter family, land and personal disputes.
In Shikarpur, Ghotki, Jacobabad and in many others parts of Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa it is the common practice that a Kari is kept in the adjoining servant quarters where she remains as long as she is with the Sardar. If the Sardar’s son fancies the Kari he will not marry her of course, but will maintain illicit relations against her will.
The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 20041 against honor killings in the National Assembly (adopted October 2004) is a small step in this direction. It aims to eliminate procedural delays and increase the punishment in honor related crimes and killings committed in the name of honor. Karo-kari is now to be treated as premeditated murder according to the amended law. This is to encourage people especially women, to step forward and report acts committed against them which violate them physically and end in the grisly murders of wives and daughters.
The Government of Pakistan passed a bill in December 2004 making honor killing punishable under the same penal provisions as murder. But this bill did not alter the provisions whereby the accused could negotiate a pardon with the victim’s family under so-called Islamic provisions.
According to the women rights advocates the concept of women as an object or commodity is deeply rooted in the tribal culture as well as in the social, economic and political fabric of Pakistan that the government mostly ignores the regular occurrences of women being maimed and killed by their families.
Statistically, honour killings have a high level of support in Pakistan’s rural society. During the last six months more than 500 cases of violence against women have been registered in Sindh including abduction, murder, rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, forced marriages and imprisonment within the home. The highest number of cases reported in Sindh is of honour killings.
According to the latest report issued on honor killings by the Aurat Foundation (AF)2 the ratio of violent crimes against women in the rural areas are more than those in the urban areas. Around 299 cases were recorded in the rural whereas 197 cases were recorded in the urban areas. Some 251 cases were reported through First Information Reports (FIR), 175 were unreported, and there is hardly any information regarding 71 cases.
Even now in many rural areas of Pakistan the tribal custom of exchanging woman for ‘vulvur’ or bride price is followed upon marriages. Women are handed over to the groom in exchange of a monetary value which varies according to their status, beauty, health and age and at times this bride price also involves another woman. Men can exchange their daughters and unborn granddaughters to obtain new wives. Moreover women are forcefully married to their cousins and uncles within their families. This brutal system of honor killing provides opportunities for personal interest therefore most of the honor killing cases are fake and are planned for their own benefit.
Recently in March, 2012 several cases of honor killing were reported. On 6 March, 2012 a couple were killed over Karo Kari in the jurisdiction of Sanjar Bhatti police station of Shahdakot,Sindh where 20- year-old Asifa and her alleged paramour, 25-year-old Ghulam Hussain Laghari were killed by her husband’s brother Hubdal Ali . On 5 March, 2012 a man killed her 18-year-old sister Hurmat and a 29 year old relative Ali Hyder Jatoi in the Dorki sub divison of Larkana by clubbing them to death over allegations that they had illicit relations.
On 3 March 2012 in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa two young girls were shot dead over honor issues. Both the girls were brought to the hospital by their relatives who said that they committed suicide. According to the police both the girls were killed allegedly in separate honor related incidents.
Over the past few years a number of debates have been made calling this practice of Karo Kari a crime under law and to punish the culprits of honor killing as murderers but none of these initiatives have led to new legal procedures against honor killings.
Our statute books are full of progressive laws but the state has failed completely in its responsibilities of enforcing rule of law. Karo kari is specific to areas where the tribal and feudal influence is very strong and due to this the police, courts and the municipal authorities etc cannot function properly. A call for a meeting of constituency from the feudal or tribal lord forbids them from becoming witnesses to the cases of honor killing which changes the whole scenario.
Unfortunately the Government itself protects the Jirga system. Alternate institutions or dispute settlement authorities are in such disrepute that there is no other avenue but the Jirga. These Jirgas are mostly presided over by the ministers, bureaucrats and by the members of the Assembly and others. Government functionaries have lost faith in their own institutions. The jirga system and the karo kari have the blessings of the Government. The Jirga system is unconstitutional and contrary to the provisions of the constitution. It is not only unconstitutional in the countries where normal writ petition can be issued but also in tribal areas.
In Jirgas women are not allowed to participate and there are no women in the audience as well. The decisions are solely made by the male members of the Jirgas. If a woman does not appearing before the Jirga then how can a case related to karo kari or any other allegation against women be decided without hearing it from her. A Jirga not only justifies but sustains honour killing. Islam does not permit the Jirga system at all; it respects the decision made by the court of law.
Even if there are cases where a male or a female has engaged in extramarital sex, the family should refer the case to the court of law rather than carrying out their own punishment. Moreover the Quran says that at least four eye witnesses are required to prove the crime of Adultery. Both the adulterers and the adulteress cannot be punished unless they confess the crime or there is sufficient evidence against them. Islam does not give the right to any of the family member to carry out honour killing.
The people who are committing or allowing honour killings are tainting the name of Islam with unrelated cultures and social practices. It is better to say that they are not practicing Muslims. Where is it written in the Quran that if you see a wife, daughter or a sister with a man you can kill her? It does say that if you do not want to live with them tell her to leave the house or divorce your wife but does not say that you can kill them. This is simply the use of religion to clean your dirty linen. All the talk about cultural sanction of honour killing is nonsense.
In the last few years there has been a growing movement against Karo Kari by different sections of the civil society including the media and the human rights groups and the NGOs. There have been persistent demands by non-government organisations (NGOs) and organisations like the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) for the amendment of laws to punish the perpetrators of Karo-Kari severely.
The media and the NGOs have played a remarkable role in bringing into light this issue of Karo Kari. Today more people are aware of the issues of honour killing in different parts of Pakistan especially in Sindh. People believe that the NGOs have not yet out framed any permanent solutions to the problems of honour killing. There is not even a single shelter home in five districts of Sindh for the victims of Karo Kari.
The people of the civil society are very vocal about it and lots of changes have been made in the law as a result of work done by the civil society organizations but they cannot take over the whole work of the State as it is a huge task. In fact,, it is the responsibility of the State to provide protection to the women for which the State needs to develop a whole system.
The religious leaders should also play their positive role by preaching the people according to the Islamic point of view as to what are the rights of a woman in Islam rather than just considering them as a commodity.
Unless and until we provide security, education, economic empowerment and other means of livelihood to our women its is really hard for us to get rid of the evil practice of Karo Kari or honor killings. Representatives of the State needed to be educated to discourage such practices in Pakistan.
The police should make committees and the role of the committee should examine the incidents of Karo Kari and collect all the facts; follow up each and every case in detail and punish the real culprits. The police should be sensitized as they are also involved in this Jirga system. There is no doubt that we need to abolish the Jirga feudal system and hit the patriarchic system.
Since the problem of honor killing or Karo Kari is a social one and has nothing to do with the religion. So far no law has been passed by the Government to completely stop this evil practice. Even more alarming is the fact that the number of Karo Kari cases have been increasing since 2001 and many of such cases remain unrecorded or unreported.
It is no doubt the responsibility of the authorities to prevent these killings by investigating and punishing the perpetrators. But unfortunately both the police and judges display gender bias in favour of men who have killed women or girls for alleged breaches of honour.
References:-
1. http://www.mtholyoke.edu/~shusain/governmentaction.html
2. http://www.stophonourkillings.com/?q=node/8359

About the Author: The author is a student and can be reached at rababfizah@gmail.com

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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