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“Honor” – A free social license for killing women!

Publishing Date: May 28th 2014

By Bushra Khaliq

In yet another gory incident, a young woman was stoned to death in broad day light by her own family members in the premises close to Lahore High Court on 27 May 14. She kept on crying, imploring the crowd of onlookers to save her, but passersby and police preferred to remain silent spectators and let her die in the middle of the road. It was a horrific cold-blooded murder committed in most barbaric fashion by none other but family members of the girl. Her only crime was to marry of her own free will, a right that the law recognizes for all adult citizens.

25-year old young Farzana paid ultimate price of exercising her right to love and marry in a society predominantly ruled by deep-rooted anti-women customs. The 3-month pregnant Farzana belonged to Jaranwala; about 100 km from Lahore. On the day of incident, Farzana was waiting for the court to open when over a dozen of her male family members; including her father, two brothers, cousins and former fiancé approached and attacked her with bricks and sticks in the presence of police and people. None of the onlookers dared to intervene. As a result Farzana suffered severe head injuries and died on the spot.

The unstoppable terrible incidents of honor killing are taking alarming dimension of free social license for the parents/relative/family members to kill girls/daughters/women, dare to marry sans parents/family consent. Poor implementation of pro-women laws, lack of political will and unspoken societal approval of such cruel practices give free hand to the parents and family members to murder their girls/women and feel no shame. Rather openly confess the crime, presenting the heinous act as retrieval of their so-called honor.

Despite confession it is rare that culprits in ‘honor’ killing are convicted. Never ever a father or brother is convicted in any honor killing case. Even those who are convicted, walk free at the end of the day. The law allows a victim’s family to forgive their killer. But in honor killings, most of the time the women’s killers are her family members. Since law allows them to nominate someone, then forgive him so what happens is that father kills and son forgives or brother kills and father forgives, no punishment. This is a huge flaw in the existing law.

It may be mentioned here that for quite sometime, the Lahore High Court premises are fast turning into a ground for tug of war between contesting parties/families for the custody of the girls in question. In cases where parents of the girl challenge the choice/love marriage, the girl is required by the court to appear in person before the court to record her statement. This is a day always important for the couple and parents. Generally things remain normal inside the courtroom, however the moment parities come out of the courtroom, the chance of serious encounter always there. But poor precautionary measures by the courts and police give frequent way to serious clashes between the girl’s family and the couple.

The higher judiciary must take cognizance of such incidents. Court and Police must provide full protection to the couple in such cases. Is not it half justice that honorable judges after giving the girls right to marry forget to ensure security and safety of life to those girls? Serious quarrels among the family of the girl and couple often lead to physical fight very much inside the court premises, which is sheer mockery of justice.

Catering to newsmongers, local electronic media rarely miss such incidents and many a times they telecast such tussles live from the Court premises. It is fast becoming a routine feature that the moment couple comes out of the court; the family members of the girl usually attack the couple and try to snatch the custody of the girl. Sometimes they are successful to ‘abduct’ the girl from husband’s custody in connivance with police. Since there is least follow up so little is known about the fate of those girls. It is not wrong to assume that they might be killed and silently buried somewhere.

The incidents of so-called honor killing in Pakistan are not going to decrease even after pro-women progressive legislation in recent years. Around 1,000 women are killed every year by their parents/relatives/families in the name of so-called honor. The true figure is probably many times higher since many incidents are not reported in the newspapers. Few cases come to court, which take years to be heard. No one tracks how many cases are successfully prosecuted.

These women were killed because the state did not confront this feudal practice supported by religiosity and bigotry. We must call upon the government to make sure that Farzana’s killers do not escape justice by glorifying their dastardly act in the name of honor. The government must ensure the killers get no premium for invoking misplaced notions of honor, HRCP has demanded in its statement.

Women like Farazana suffered at the hands of a patriarchal system, `which has tied its honor to a woman`s body; where she cannot live a life of her choice and if she claims her right to freedom she is severely punished`. The government must consider honor crimes as a crime against the state to end impunity currently enjoyed by their perpetrators and enact legislation against honor killings and take necessary legal actions to stop incidences of gender-based crimes. We must demand the killers be brought to justice and the police officers who were silent bystanders be punished for aiding and abetting the crime through their inaction.

The strict implementation of anti women practices Act is need of the hour. Forced marriage is a crime. Lets start making police reports on parents who force their daughters to get married and reuse to give her right to marry of her own choice. It is a crime by law.

It is time to redefine the misguiding term “honor-killing”, being used to legitimize women murders. This should be considered as a crime against the state and not a person. No forgiveness and no blood money for murder. A crime should be punished.