IT may be the middle of a deadly global pandemic, it may be the middle of a political crisis, it may be 1950 or it may be 1999 or even 2020. Killing Pakistani women for alleged ‘honour’ continues as regularly as the rising and setting of the sun.
It does not seem to matter who they are — YouTube stars, village women, city women, older women and younger women. That they are women seems to be enough. The emergence of easily available mobile phone technology has made things easier for the murderers; innocuous activities like clapping or standing about in the open air can all be invested with transgression enough to kill.
This time it was the fate of two girls from a village that lies on the boundary between North and South Waziristan tribal districts in KP. The village is called Shaam Plain Garyom. The video that made them targets is 52 seconds long and shows a man recording himself with three girls. Two of the girls in the video, aged 16 and 18, have been killed. It is uncertain whether the third girl is alive. The two women are suspected of having been killed by their paternal cousin. He and another accused have now been arrested.
According to the police, the video was shot over a year ago but spread on social media relatively recently. The remoteness of the village has made it difficult for the details of the crime, such as the names of the two dead women, to be confirmed. The fact that the village sits in the heart of the tribal areas means that there is little information as to what exactly happened since the time the video began circulating and when the girls were killed. Like so many other truths, this one is likely going to be buried by the collusion of tribal elders, local law enforcement and just about everyone else.
So-called honour killings are simply mercenary money killings, where women are reduced to a kind of stock.
What is known of the facts including the video that lies at the centre of it makes it remarkably similar to the case from Kohistan that emerged in 2012 and in which male dancers and women clapping at a wedding celebration were similarly marked for murder. Investigations by the government led only to subterfuge, apparently with other women presented as the murdered women, etc. That incident set off a round of retaliation and revenge. The most recent casualty of the Kohistan incident was Afzal Kohistani, who had revealed that the women had been murdered in the bloodletting saga that saw his own brothers being killed.
There were publicised arrests, followed by the release of some arrested on bail. It appeared that no one thought the accused had actually done anything wrong or that the public deserved protection from them.
This time will be no different. Those arrested now, while the country’s outrage is hot and heaving, will be released unceremoniously as soon as it falters – and attention and outrage, we know, always, always falters and fades away. No column or argument or essay can change this course ahead. I would know; I have written and screamed out at the cruelty of so many, all too many, ‘honour’ crimes. Everybody in the country expects that women will be killed for whatever made-up reason; everyone accepts that women will be killed. It is just the way things are in the country; even those who can do not bother to raise their voices.
But while columns and essays cannot make people care or lift them out of the apathy that would end the crimes themselves, they can be used to disabuse them of the fictions surrounding these deaths. One of these is the idea that to kill women in such a way is a product of ‘tradition’. This flawed view holds that it is some history or custom that held that women can be done away with every time they anger this or that man by clapping or talking or simply existing.
It is in fact modernity and the commodification of human beings, particularly women, that has made it seemingly okay to murder with impunity. The issue, then, is one of economics rather than some inchoate tradition. Women represent capital, which can be exchanged and traded through marriage. The men who want to preserve the value of their capital (and also have a vested interest in reducing the value of other men’s capital) are thus incentivised to keep women in their control, just like they would any piece of property. Rumours can released into the air for this purpose sometimes, cell phone videos at others.
So-called honour killings, then, are simply mercenary money killings, where women are reduced to a kind of stock. Errant women, particularly those who have the astounding temerity to insist that they are something other than capital that men have the right to trade and spend, have zero value and are therefore worthy only of being killed. And so, a culture controlled by men dictates the death of women.
Times of hardship, such as our current and future disease-laden times, are likely to make matters worse. The capital at the disposal of men is only going to dwindle, and in times of want, Pakistan is likely to care even less if more women are murdered.
The girls of Waziristan are dead because of a mobile phone video. There is no issue of tradition here, only one of technology and the general social tolerance of the murder of women for any reason and for no reason. Honour killings will not stop until women are no longer equal to capital, equal to how much they can be traded or exchanged for, and equal to nothing at all if they develop the courage to insist that they are actually human beings.
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2020