March 2012


Doctrine divides, Action unites

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Honor Killing in Pakistan: A Reckless Practice of Culture

Rabab Fizah

Honor killings, known as karo-kari in Pakistan, are completely against the concept of Islam. The root of honor 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 practices are strictly forbidden in Islam, they have still grown and spread worldwide, and unfortunately, Pakistan is one of the countries where every year a large number of karo-kari, or honor killing, cases are reported. Sadly, many cases are not reported.

Karo-kari is a standard practice in all four provinces of Pakistan. Its rate of occurrence may be higher in the tribal areas of Sindh Province, but it is almost equally rampant in the other provinces of Balochistan, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Karo-kari is defined as an act of murder in which a woman is killed for her actual or perceived immoral behavior. Through the concept of 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 arranged marriage, she is branded as kari, or a “black female”; and in order to cleanse the honor of the man to whom she “belongs,” he receives permission to kill her and prove that he has safeguarded his honor by doing so. Whereas tribal law dictates that the man who is branded karo, or a “black male,” should also be killed, usually that does not happen, and the karo has the opportunity to flee while his family members negotiate with the dishonored family to save his life.

In jirgas [a council of tribal elders], decisions are made by the sardars, the tribal council leaders. They are the people who set up agreements between the victim of the dishonored family and the perpetrators. Once the decision is made, both parties are bound to accept it. In many cases, “honor” is used as an excuse to perpetrate crimes that stem from interfamily, land and personal disputes.

So-called honor killings in Pakistan often are more related to
disputes over land or between families than they are about honor.

In Shikarpur, Ghotki, Jacobabad and many others parts of Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provinces, it is a 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 2004 against honor killings in the National Assembly, adopted in October 2004, is a small step in the right direction to abolish or minimize this violent practice. 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 legal step 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.

In addition, the government of Pakistan passed a bill in December 2004 making honor killings 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 women’s rights advocates, the concept of women as an object or commodity is deeply rooted in tribal culture as well as in the social, economic and political fabric of Pakistan, so much so that the government mostly ignores the regular occurrences of women being maimed and killed by their families.

Statistically, honor 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 Province alone, including abductions, murders, rapes, sexual assaults, domestic violence, forced marriages and imprisonment within the home. The highest number of cases reported in Sindh though is of honor killings.

According to the latest report issued on honor killings by the Aurat Foundation (AF), the ratio of violent crimes against women in rural areas is more than those in urban areas. About 299 cases were recorded in rural areas whereas 197 cases were recorded in urban areas. Approximately 250 cases were reported through first information reports (FIRs), and 175 cases were unreported with hardly any information available on 71 cases.

Even now in many rural areas of Pakistan the tribal custom of exchanging women for vulvur, or a 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 even exchange their daughters and unborn granddaughters to obtain new wives. Moreover, women are forcefully married to their cousins and uncles within their families. The brutal system of honor killing provides opportunities for one’s own personal interest. Therefore, most of the honor killing cases are fake and are planned for a person’s own benefit.

In March 2012, several cases of honor killing were reported. On March 3 in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, two young girls were shot dead over honor issues. Both girls were brought to the hospital by their relatives who said that they committed suicide. According to the police, both girls were killed allegedly in separate honor-related incidents. Several days later a man killed his 18-year-old sister Hurmat and a 29-year-old relative, Ali Hyder Jatoi, on March 5 in the Dorki Subdivision of Larkana in Sindh Province by clubbing them to death over allegations that they had illicit relations. The next day, March 6, a couple were killed over karo-kari in the jurisdiction of the Sanjar Bhatti police station of Shahdakot—also in Sindh Province—where 20-year-old Asifa and her alleged paramour, 25-year-old Ghulam Hussain Laghari, were killed by her husband’s brother Hubdal Ali.

Over the past few years, a number of debates have ensued, calling this practice of karo-kari a crime and for punishment for the culprits of honor killing as murderers, but none of these initiatives has led to new legal procedures against honor killings.

Pakistan’s statute books are full of progressive laws, but the State has failed completely in its responsibilities of enforcing the rule of law. Karo-kari is specific to areas where the tribal and feudal influence is very strong, and, due to this pressure, the police, courts and municipal authorities, etc., cannot function properly. A call for a meeting of the 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. Alternative 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 ministers, bureaucrats and members of the assembly and others. Government functionaries have lost faith in their own institutions. The jirga system and karo-kari, in fact, have the blessing of the government even though the jirga system is contrary to the provisions of the Constitution. It is not only unconstitutional in parts of the country where a 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 appear 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 honor killing. Islam does not permit the jirga system at all; rather, it respects decisions made by a court of law.

Even if there are cases where a male or female has engaged in extramarital sex, the family should refer the case to the court rather than carrying out their own punishment. Moreover, the Qur’an states that at least four eyewitnesses are required to prove the crime of adultery. Both the adulterers and adulteress cannot be punished unless they confess to the crime or there is sufficient evidence against them. Islam does not give the right to any family member to carry out honor killing.

People who are committing or allowing honor killings are tainting the name of Islam through unrelated cultures and social practices. It is better to say that they are not practicing Muslims. Where is it written in the Qur’an, for instance, that if one sees a wife, daughter or sister with a man they can kill her? It does state that if a man does not want to live with them he can tell her to leave the house or divorce his wife, but it does not say that he can kill them. This view is simply the use of religion to clean one’s dirty linen. All remarks about the religious sanction of honor killing is nonsense.

In the last few years, there has been a growing movement against karo-kari by different sections of civil society, including the media and human rights groups and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs). There have been persistent demands by NGOs and other organizations, such as the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), for the amendment of laws to punish the perpetrators of karo-kari severely.

The media and NGOs have played a remarkable role in bringing to light this issue of karo-kari. Today more people are aware of the issue of honor killing in different parts of Pakistan, especially in Sindh Province. People believe though that NGOs have not yet outlined any permanent solutions to the problems of honor killings. There is not even a single shelter in five districts of Sindh for the victims of karo-kari.

Members of civil society are very vocal about the problem, and many legal changes have been made as a result of work done by 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 women for which the State needs to develop a comprehensive system.

Religious leaders should also play their positive role by preaching to 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.

Protestors succinctly describe the phenomenon of
honor killings in Pakistan.

Unless and until security, education, economic empowerment and other means of livelihood to women is provided in Pakistan, it is very difficult for the nation to rid itself of the evil practice of karo-kari, or honor killings. Representatives of the State need to be educated to discourage such practices in Pakistan.

Furthermore, the police should form committees whose role is to examine the incidents of karo-kari and collect all of the facts, follow up each case in detail and punish the culprits. The police should also be sensitized to the damage that the violence associated with karo-kari causes to people’s lives as the police are also involved in the jirga system. There is no doubt that Pakistan, in fact, needs to abolish the jirga feudal system and dismantle this patriarchal system.

The problem of honor killing, or karo-kari, is a social issue and has nothing to do with religion. Thus 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 has been increasing since 2001, and many of these cases remain unrecorded or unreported.

There is no doubt that the authorities are responsible for preventing these killings by investigating and punishing the perpetrators. Unfortunately, however, both the police and judges instead display gender bias in favor of men who have killed women or girls for alleged breaches of their honor.

* Rabab Fizah is a student who can be reached through e-mail at <>.