IN Pakistan, the gap between the law’s good intentions and the reality as experienced by citizens appears to be widening in many instances. One area where this is evident is the shocking crime of ‘honour’ killings, where the life of a woman (and sometimes a man) is extinguished for transgressing the mores of an intensely patriarchal society. From before Samia Sarwar to after Qandeel Baloch, the numbers of such cold-blooded murders over the decades run into the thousands. And the numbers refer only to cases that have been reported and recorded. How many other lives are being wiped out behind the silence of the chaddar aur chardiwari cannot be guessed — even though the country has enacted some reasonable legislation to curb this horrific custom. In 2016, for example, parliament passed the Anti-Honour Killing Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act, 2014, giving the state the option to act against the suspected killers on its own to make it more difficult for murderers to be ‘forgiven’ by relatives of the victim.
However, at a news conference in Quetta the other day, women’s rights NGO Aurat Foundation presented evidence that the existence of the law does not necessarily prevent the crime. According to data it had gathered, some 50 people — including 30 women — have been killed in Balochistan by their relatives in the name of ‘honour’ in 2018. It was pointed out that these findings rely on the cases that are brought to the attention of the authorities; the actual number could be much higher. The way forward lies in sensitisation and awareness-raising so that ordinary people are conscious of both their human rights and the law. Much depends on the stringent enforcement of the laws that have been passed. Were the perpetrators of the reported cases to be successfully prosecuted, it would send out a strong signal that ‘honour’ killing is a crime that the state will not tolerate. But do state institutions have the resolve to eliminate the practice once and for all?
Published in Dawn, November 26th, 2018