Twisted notions

Published May 29, 2022

THERE is a sickening sense of déjà vu about the crime and, even worse, the certainty that this will not be the last time such a heinous act is committed. In fact, this time around there were two women — Pakistani-origin Spanish sisters duped into coming back to their native village in Punjab on the pretext of their mother’s ill health. Just a day after they arrived, they were murdered for refusing to go through with an arranged marriage to their cousins, both of whom reportedly have no formal education or jobs. The sisters had been forced to enter into nikah with their cousins a year ago but were adamant they would not process the visas that would enable their husbands to join them in Spain. That act of defiance, the refusal to be treated as chattel to facilitate the ambitions of their extended family, cost the young women their lives — becoming yet another statistic in the shameful chronology of ‘honour killings’ in the country. The police have arrested six people for the murder, including two of the sisters’ own brothers.

The case is reminiscent of the killing of an Italian national, 28-year-old Sana Cheema in 2018, who, it is believed, was also murdered upon her refusal to agree to an arranged marriage and for wanting to, instead, marry her Pakistani-Italian boyfriend in her adopted country. Her father and brother were among three men arrested for the murder, but all were acquitted after a year for ‘lack of evidence’. In 2016, British national Samia Shahid was killed when she was tricked into coming to Pakistan to see her critically ill father. Her family was angry with her for having divorced her husband, also her first cousin. At the root of all these murders is of course the very twisted idea that women are the repositories of family honour, without the autonomy and agency to make important decisions about their lives, such as choosing their life partner. That thinking is so ingrained that it refuses to evolve even when their sisters/daughters have been brought up in the West. The law on honour killing was amended in 2016 to ensure that perpetrators cannot evade punishment even if they are ‘forgiven’ by the victim’s family — which, in a grotesque travesty of justice, is often also their own family. As can be seen in the acquittal of Qandeel Baloch’s killer, much more remains to be done.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2022

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