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Despite a decline in honour killing incidents during the last one year, women rights activists in Malakand division insist most murders of women in the conservative region are deliberately reported by families and in-laws as suicides or natural deaths.

They also claim that such crimes often go unnoticed by the law-enforcement agencies.

One such incident occurred in the remote mountainous areas of Charbagh tehsil, 15 kilometers from the main Mingora city, in early 2017 when a girl was killed by brothers in the name of honour but was shown as a case of natural death.

“One of my close friends, also my distant relative, was poisoned to death just for wanting to marry a boy of her choice. She even told family in plain words that she would opt for court marriage if it refused her to do so,” claimed 18-year-old girl Shazia.

Husbands, brothers and fathers kill female members of family in the name of honour and tell the people they’ve committed suicide. Nobody bothers to verify such claims, local woman rights activist Tabassum Adnan insists

The girl told Dawn that the deceased was young and had passed matriculation exam and was the first female member of the family to make the daring move but the parents rejected her desire declaring the boy to be a lower caste’s member.

“The irony is that the boy’s sister is married to the brother of my deceased friend,” she said.

According to the girl, her friend was poisoned to death by own brothers angered by her intention to marry of own free will.

They however later pronounced that their sister died of natural causes and therefore, the incident went unnoticed and unreported.

She claimed that the family knew about the cause of death but kept silent on purpose.

“Now, parents in our family warn daughters they will suffer the same fate if they try to act like the slain girl,” she said.

The annual data regarding honour killings in Swat issued by the non-governmental organisations and police department showed high variance.

According to the data collected by NGO Awakening, which works for the women’s rights in Malakand division, 49 women either committed suicide or were killed in Swat district last year.

“Of these women, 22 were killed in the name of honour by husbands, fathers or brothers, while 22 reportedly committed suicide. Five women were reportedly found dead,” said Awakening executive director Erfan Hussain Babak.

If these numbers are examined, 22 honour killing and 22 suicide cases in one year suggest 3.6 women committed suicides or were killed in Swat in the name of honour every month last year.

He added that 53 women were reportedly killed in Swat in 2016 with 34 becoming a victim of the honour killing crime and 19 of other issues.

“The incidence of honour killings comparatively came down, which is an encouraging development,” he said, adding that 335 cases of violence against women also occurred in the district last year.

He said his organisation collected the data from the daily newspapers and network members.

“The incidents not reported in newspapers weren’t recorded,” he said.

The women’s rights activists say the centuries-old human behaviours in the male-dominated societies and lack of awareness and proper legislation are to blame for honour killings and violence against women in Malakand division.

“Since Swat is among the provincially administered areas, several laws related to violence against women and honour killings haven’t been extended here, which is also a major hurdle to the elimination of such evils by law-enforcement agencies,” he said.

Local woman rights activist Tabassum Adnan pointed out another customary practice causing the high incidence of the women’s murders and said men killed wives to hide own illicit relations.

“In many instances when women catch cheating husbands red-handed, the latter kill the former to prevent the disclosure of their illicit relations,” she said.

The activist insisted that in conservative rural areas, most parents asked neither sons nor daughters about their choice for life partner and decided about their marriages of their own.

She said the region had reported several cases in which men killed own wives either for being either not their choice or intensely disliked.

“If a girl refuses to marry the boy of the parents’ choice, she is killed as male members of the family consider the act a dishonour to them,” she said.

Ms Tabassum expressed concern about the growing incidence of women killings being covered up as suicides and declared it alarming.

“Husbands, brothers and fathers kill female members of family in the name of honour and tell the people they’ve committed suicide. Nobody bothers to verify such claims,” she lamented, calling for thorough investigation into women suicide incidents by the law-enforcement agencies to bring facts to the fore.

The rights activist warned the incidents of honour killings would continue to surface until laws were properly implemented to punish culprits.

The Swat police’s records show a different story on the matter: only 12 cases of honour killings occurred in 2017 across the district.

“We have zero tolerance for honour-related incidents and ordered all police stations to take immediate action in such cases. The relevant station house officers become plaintiffs in such cases to push the case forward showing that the state has become the custodian of the victim,” Swat DPO Wahid Mehmood told Dawn.

He said all 12 such cases reported in the district were placed before the courts of law but ‘compromises within families’ often became a hurdle to punishments.

He said a decline was recorded in the honour killing incidence if the 2017 numbers were compared with 2016’s and all that happened as the police strictly handled such cases.

“We even monitor our officers, who look into honour killing related cases. If they are found to be involved in faulty investigation, we take strict legal action against them,” he said.

According to the Human Rights of Pakistan, 573 women were killed in the name of honour and 646 committed suicide across the country in 2016.

However, the nationwide honour killing numbers dropped to 356 in 2017 with the incidence of women suicides in the country going up to 822.

Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2018