DESPITE the advanced spread of modernisation over the past century – a period marked by profound changes in technology and remarkable stories of human achievement – every year, thousands of people fall victim to “honour killings”, an age-old practice meant to maintain familial and societal power structures.
These killings are almost always against women and are carried out in a variety of ways, from acid attacks to psychological abuse, femicide, elder abuse, female infanticide, parental sex selection, forced marriage and dowry as well as many other undocumented crimes.
Obviously, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan – societies built upon systems of patriarchy – are among the top 10 countries with high rates of “honour killings”.
In many parts of Pakistan, these killings remain a prevalent menace, despite recent efforts to criminalise the practice. A Bill approved by the Pakistan Parliament last October effectively closed a legal loophole that allowed “honour killers” to walk free.
Groups lauded the move as a major milestone, which came just three months after the high-profile killing of Qandeel Baloch, a well-known Pakistani model and actress.
Qandeel, who earned social media star status for posting sexy shots and provocative videos, was strangled to death by her brother in the name of honour. In a recent BBC documentary on her one-year death anniversary, Qandeel was portrayed as an ordinary woman who had wanted a different life for herself, but died trying to achieve that dream while entangled in the barriers of religion, ethnicity, gender and honour.
I wish Qandeel was the first and last victim of the practice.
But sadly, last week, another woman – a mother who married the man of her choice following four divorces – was killed along with her daughter… again in the name of honour.
According to Human Rights Watch, there are about 1,000 “honour killings” every year in Pakistan.
It behooves me to ask – what kind of issues would drive a man to kill a woman for “honour”?
Women in religious Muslim families must dress in modest clothes and only allowed to show any part of her body to a mahram It is most commonly practised among the Pashtun tribe.
Violation of purdah is against the honour of a Pashtun man and it demeans him in the society.
A mahram is a relative with whom marriage is forbidden, such as father or brother. A husband is also considered a mahram by marriage.
It is a practice of trading brides between two clans in tribal areas. To get a bride for a son, one must also have a daughter or a cousin to marry off in return. In this practice, women are regarded as mere commodities to be exchanged for male gratification. On top of that, a woman never has the right to deny Watta Satta as it is seen as a big embarrassment for the family.
Marriage to Quran
Marriage to the Quran, the holy book of Islam, is another despicable practice in Pakistan. It is prevalent among landlords. The landlords marry off their daughters to the Quran, so their lives will be completely devoted to the Quran and they can never have a relationship with any man. The practice is often used by landlords to prevent distribution of land out of their families through their daughters. Breach of this practice brings big humiliation to the family, often leading to “honour killings”.
There are numerous other reasons – many untenable – why girls become victims of these killings. To put it succinctly, any act by a woman, regardless of extent, that brings so-called mortification to her family makes her death certain in the name of “honour”.
Honour? Really? I struggle to see how such killings, or any killing for that matter, can be seen as honourable. So what higher purpose do these “honour killings” serve? Are they acts of bravery? Should we maybe call it fate? Perhaps we should call a spade a spade, and label it a crime of hate, or murder, plain and simple.
Because how much honour is there in taking the life of another, or in playing the role of judge, jury and executioner all at once?