The Horror of Honor: A Case of Honor Killings in Pakistan
by Eyza Irene Hamdani Hussein
Honor killings in Pakistan are not uncommon. If anything, they have become an accepted reality of the society we live in. Pakistan has the highest number of documented honor killings per capita in the world, which account for one-fifth of the total number of honor killings performed worldwide. It is estimated that there are about 1000 honor killings in Pakistan every year. These statistics, however, are merely estimates, and the actual numbers are thought to be higher as very few of these cases ever reach legal courts or the newspapers. This is because the practice is mostly restricted to the rural areas. Rural areas have weaker, or nonexistent legal systems as the smaller communities settled there tend to solve their problems amongst themselves. They do this through male dominated jirga courts, which are small local or tribal courts. As the issue is kept within a small community usually remote from larger cities, it goes unnoticed by the larger media or legal system.
In Pakistan, honor killings are locally known as “karo kari”. “Karo” means a black man, and “Kari” a black woman, where the word black is used to imply moral weakness or corruption. Although the term includes both man and woman in its definition, the reality is that women are more often the victim of this system than men. For instance, in 2017, out of 460 cases of honor killings listed by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, there were 194 male victims compared to376 female victims. The practice of honor killing in Pakistan is deeply tied to certain moral and religious expectations that people must uphold and display in order to maintain the “honor” of the family. As family units in rural areas of Pakistan are usually large and tight-knit, within a small community or village, everyone tends to know one another. Thus, the concept of “honor” is amplified in virtue of the amount of eyes that are looking at what you and your family are doing. The prevailing ideas in such societies, particularly in regards to the roles and interactions of men and women, are conventional and old fashioned, untouched by liberal and modern ideas of the world we presently live in. These norms form the basis for why honor killings take place in Pakistan.
One might ask what possible reason a father or mother might have for killing their daughter, or a brother killing his sister. What reason might motivate such a vile, unsympathetic, and cruel action? These reasons have long been suffused into the society’s consciousness, and are too far ingrained in order to be taken out or removed easily. Some of the reasons are either a refusal by the woman to enter into an arranged marriage, if she was the victim of a sexual assault or rape, or if she had sexual relations outside marriage. However, the truth of these accusations is not as important; rather, an accusation alone is enough to tarnish the honor of a family and hence, a reason to carry out an honor killing.
In some cases, both the male and female are killed if they are suspected of being in a relationship, or if they plan to elope. For instance, a 10-year-old girl in Sindh was stoned to death by her family members after a local council decided that she had been planning to elope. Reason or logic has no place in such a practice as demonstrated by this case of Gul Sama, but only brutality and outright senselessness. In Lahore, Punjab, Farzana Iqbal was beaten to death with bricks by her relatives (which included her father) for marrying the man she loved. The case of Qandeel Baloch is widely known. She was a model and social media star, known for her controversial online content, particularly her humorous videos. However, despite reaching nation wide popularity, Baloch could not escape the close minded ideals of her household in a small village in Punjab, and she was strangled by her brother in her sleep. His reasoning was that she had dishonored and shamed the family by posting indecent pictures of herself on social media. Baloch’s death reverberated throughout the country in 2016. It shocked the nation how someone so full of life and energy could be posting videos one day, and be dead the next. Baloch’s death sparked a crucial conversation in Pakistan in regards to the practice of honor killing. However, this conversation seems to have been reserved for those living in the cities, as the practice has continued amongst the lower strata of the society settled in rural areas.
The reasons for carrying out honor killings are absurd, and yet, this is an issue that has haunted and continues to haunt the country, particularly its women. As the practice is restricted to rural areas, one might begin to address the issue through education in these areas. It makes no sense how a woman marrying a man of her choice is more immoral than killing someone. These norms that exist in rural societies are hardly based on religion or morality, but rather, they are based on crude ideas of masculinity and power, of control and of dominance. If there is a pattern to be broken, it cannot be broken by spreading awareness alone. The jirga, or local courts, in such communities must be instructed to follow the legal system the rest of the country abides by. Education must become more widespread if such practices are to be abandoned, and modernity must reach these villages if there is to be any hope for change in the future.