Rising at disturbing rate

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Despite law, the crime of honour killing is on the rise and with the passage of time, it is taking new shape. Not only women but men are also being killed in the name of ‘honour’ and number keeps rising at a disturbing rate in this country.

Two teenage sisters are the latest victims of honour killings. The two siblings Naheed Bibi, 17, and Basra, 16, were strangled in the name of ‘honour’ allegedly by their cousins in Jamal Din Wali district Rahim Yar Khan.

According to the father of the victim girls, someone had kidnapped his daughters and ‘raped’ them. However, both the sisters managed to reach their house where they were strangled by their cousins.

The crime was done in a bid to restore the ‘honour’ of their tribe.

According to local police, the deceased sisters were first abducted and raped by a group of men and later fell victim to their own relatives’ wrath when they returned home.

In September, three brutal cases of ‘honour’ crime were reported. A father confessed to killing his daughter, her children and husband in Hafizabad in Punjab because she had married a man of her own choice four years ago. A woman and her teenage neighbour were strangled by the woman’s husband and father in Karachi on the suspicion of an extra-marital affair. In another account, the KP police in Mansehra and Battagram districts have yet to investigate the murder of a married woman and a man – the alleged perpetrators identified by a witness as the woman’s father and grandfather. And these are not isolated incidents.

While HRCP documented 737 ‘honour’ crimes between June 2017 and August 2018, the figures do not reflect the full picture. This is because most cases go unreported as families – and even survivors – fear they will never get justice. Even after arrests, convictions rates remain abysmally low because the real challenge is the legal loophole allowing perpetrators – often fathers, husbands, sons, brothers and uncles – to go free as victims’ families can pardon them.

For women oppressed by patriarchal dictates, the law does not prevent killers from roaming free while society sanctions this behaviour by first policing women, then blaming them and silently accepting their cold-blooded murder. It is condemnable, then, that the state has yet to remove the ‘forgiveness’ loophole from the anti-honour killing law.

That such report makes neither headline nor front-page news in this country is an indication of just how routine such murder cases are. The end result being that the fourth estate has become somewhat numb on this front. Indeed, it is only roused from its deep slumber in the event of such crimes happening across so-called hostile borders.

This must change. Ditto when it comes to state complacency. The onus in the government of the day to list women’s security among its top priorities. Of course, this will have to go beyond notions of physical safety to include challenging deeply entrenched mind-sets that cast women in the unasked-for roles of guardians of societal and familial honour; naturally reinforcing the idea of being the property of men.

All of which is another way of calling for the patriarchy to be chipped away at until it eventually smashes and comes tumbling down. The #MeToo movement is slowly gaining traction around the world. And it must be noted that the plight of the privileged women of Hollywood has helped others come forward to name and shame the powerful men who abused their trusted positions.

But it also needs to be acknowledged that the majority of women – especially in this part of the world – risk being murdered at the hands of men who deny them their right to self-determination. And this has to be tackled head-on without giving in to presumptions of cultural apology.

As a first step, all political parties should actively speak out against honour killings during their numerous rallies. Not only will this message reach certain areas of the rural poor and urban centres alike – it will also help dispel prevailing assumptions that this is a matter better suited to the non-governmental sector.

In short, the political apparatus needs to take the lead in terms of ensuring the safety of half the citizenry. Similarly, the latter would do well to introduce amendments to national curricula to broach the subject of girls’ right to self-determination.

And lastly, the state must persuade clerics to take up this issue at Friday prayers; while offering guidelines towards this end.

The irony is that the law exists but the recent changes to the law whereby the concept of pardoning such crimes has been prohibited are clearly not enough. And the women are being killed with impunity for honour.

Meanwhile, instead of presenting misogyny as tradition, the government is duty-bound to strengthen police investigations and court procedures so that justice is served and the killers of women are made to face the music.