Crimes of ‘honour’

Published November 18, 2014
Chauvinistic judges sometimes allow the plea of “grave and sudden provocation” to colour their judgments.    - Reuters/file
Chauvinistic judges sometimes allow the plea of “grave and sudden provocation” to colour their judgments. - Reuters/file

When a category of crime draws sustenance from age-old cultural attitudes, particularly those pertaining to the concept of honour and a woman’s place in society, legislation alone is an inadequate deterrent. Nevertheless, a beginning must be made, and so it was with the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2004 when, for the first time, ‘honour’ crimes were defined in the Pakistan Penal Code.

The same piece of legislation also effected an important amendment in Section 311 of the PPC. This section specifies the penalties that can be awarded by a judge regardless of whether or not a compromise has been reached in a case of murder, including honour killings.

Read: Woman stoned to death outside Lahore High Court

The amendment set a minimum punishment of 10 years’ imprisonment in cases where the offence is found to have been committed on the pretext of honour but, crucially, it did not take away judicial discretion in awarding punishment in such cases, or other instances of murder.

This meant that many husbands, brothers, fathers and other male relatives (victims of honour killing are overwhelmingly female) still manage to evade punishment.

The Punjab government, reportedly spurred by the horrific murder of Farzana Iqbal by her family, in broad daylight, adjacent to the premises of the Lahore High Court in May this year, has now taken an important step towards strengthening the law pertaining to honour crimes.

Also read| Honour killing: Men kill mother and step-sisters in Lahore

It has proposed, among other amendments, that the word “may” be replaced with “shall” in Section 311, thereby removing judicial discretion and making the punishment mandatory in cases of honour killing whether or not a compromise has been struck.

Also read: Move to ensure punishment for ‘honour’ killing

That such an amendment should be necessary is largely a comment on the cultural attitudes to honour which impact how — indeed whether — such cases are investigated, prosecuted and adjudicated upon. These attitudes hobble the case from the outset.

Quasi legal mechanisms of justice, such as jirgas, often hand in glove with an unsympathetic law-enforcement apparatus, discourage victims’ families from going to court.

The police, a product of the same society that gives rise to such crimes, brings its own biases to the investigation. Delays at the trial stage render a victim’s family susceptible to social pressures because of the ‘shame’ associated with pursuing such cases.

Chauvinistic judges sometimes allow the plea of “grave and sudden provocation” to colour their judgments. The issue must be addressed holistically: plugging loopholes in the law must go together with the sensitisation of police, medico-legal staff and public prosecutors.

Published in Dawn, November 18th , 2014


Biden’s world
Updated 27 Jan 2021

Biden’s world

Biden’s America is not going to be one that once again throws open visas so that the world’s brightest can easily immigrate.
The PDM’s predicament
Updated 27 Jan 2021

The PDM’s predicament

The interests and stakes of the parties in the alliance are too diverse for them to maintain unity of action for a longer period.


Updated 27 Jan 2021

Pemra’s powers

The right to freedom of expression has been curtailed to such an extent that it invites comparisons with martial law times.
27 Jan 2021

Increasing debt

THE numbers released by the State Bank regarding the government’s domestic debt stock and servicing at the end of...
27 Jan 2021

Women in conflict

“WHEN the guns fall silent, it does not mean the suffering of women and girls stops. The suffering and abuse that...
Pakistan-US ties
Updated 26 Jan 2021

Pakistan-US ties

The US remains the world’s most powerful country, one Pakistan cannot afford to ignore.
26 Jan 2021

NAB not impartial

NAB CHAIRMAN retired justice Javed Iqbal has claimed that his organisation is an unbiased anti white-collar-crime...
26 Jan 2021

Pakistan-South Africa series

IN what is seen as a rare instance, Pakistan start as the underdogs on their home turf when they take on South ...