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Love kills

July 06, 2014


By the time we arrived, Saba was lying in bed at the government hospital in Hafizabad. The left side of her face had a deep wound and her right hand was in a cast. This petite, young woman was barely 17 years old. She smiled despite the pain and whispered “I’m much better now, I made it out alive.”

 Two armed policemen stood outside guarding her room while a female policewoman sat vigilant next to her bed.

In the early hours of Thursday, June 5, 2014; Saba was taken in a car and then allegedly shot by her paternal uncle in the presence of her father and three of his friends, for choosing to marry a man she was in love with.

Honour is a loaded word for women in Pakistan

“I was in and out of consciousness and I heard my father say, don’t just throw her body away, put it in this sack, so that no one finds her.”

Imagine being betrayed by your own father. Saba floated in the water and found some reeds to hold on to; then slowly made her way to a fuel station in pitch darkness, where she found help.

Hafizabad Hospital, where Saba was sent for treatment went out of its way to take care of her. Dr Shahid Farooq, the medical superintendent in charge of the hospital is an extraordinarily compassionate man. We were led to his office, which was full of people asking for help. He dealt with each one of them patiently.

At one point he turned to us and said, “I have a daughter you know, how could I not take care of Saba,” His hospital routinely sees cases of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence. “Often by the time they arrive at the hospital, it is too late,” he said.

Ali Akbar, a quiet yet efficient SHO from Hafizabad, Saddar Station has taken a special interest in the case. I was struck by his description of Saba when I met him.

“The bravery she has shown is commendable, since the place where she was thrown is dark, eerie and barren. Even the river is quite deep and it is difficult to get out of there. I must say, she has shown extraordinary courage that even most men would fail to show.”

Akbar led the team that arrested her father and her uncle. The three accomplices are still at large.

Saba has eight siblings, her father Maqsood, sold cloth in Azad Kashmir to earn a living. They live in a tiny one-room house on the outskirts of Gujranwalla. 

Maqsood showed no remorse in jail telling us that he did what he did in the name of honour.

“Whatever we did to her, we were obliged to do it. She took away our honour,” he said. “I have four other daughters for whom I have to set an example. I am ready to spend the rest of my life in jail.”

We often find the police and hospital to be callous and insensitive but Ali Akbar and Dr Shahid Farooq, reaffirmed my faith that even in small towns across the country, the system can work when it wants to. Saba is lucky she survived and found support both at the hospital as well as from the police.

More than a thousand women are killed in the name of honour every year. And that is just the reported number. Speak to anyone working in this field, whether it’s a lawyer or a rights activist, and you will come away with a strong feeling that the real numbers are much higher.

One would think love is a crime in Pakistan, given a stream of headlines about honour killings. Yet, our dramas feed us a steady diet of romance and companies use love to sell everything from soft drinks to mobile networks across the country.

Last week, Sajjad Hussain and Muafia were tied up with ropes and their throats cut with a grass-cutting chopper in the village of Satrah, district Sialkot. The girl’s father reportedly told his other children to witness the incident and “learn what would happen to them if they married someone of their own choice”.

Two weeks ago, a young woman was burnt alive by her family. Three weeks before that a young woman was stoned to death outside the Lahore High Court.

These are just anecdotes, scour the newspapers, regional and national; and the stories will horrify you. Bludgeoned to death, burnt to death, hung, shot, beaten, decapitated. Honour is a loaded word for women in Pakistan.

No one has ever been made an example. So in towns and villages across this country, women are routinely killed in the name of “honour” and the perpetrators are either never arrested or easily exonerated under the Sharia Law, which allows for the family to forgive the accused.

This emboldens others to continue the crime. Imagine, if no one has ever been sent to jail for killing in the name of honour in your town, then wouldn’t you think it’s a crime you can get away with? Well that is precisely what is happening.

That is why Saba’s case is so important. She survived and she can fight back.

Saba was released from hospital recently and is in hiding. Her husband and her brother-in-law have been getting death threats and are being pressured to forgive her father and uncle. Despite having severe financial constraints, she wants to pursue the case. “My husband is also supporting me on this case, he and his entire family are with me,” she told us.

Last week when we visited, her resolve had softened. “There is so much pressure,” she said “to forgive but how can I, look at what they did to me.”

Saba’s entire neighbourhood is watching, will she become a statistic or will she stand up and fight? Only time will tell.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 6th, 2014