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Crimes of `honour`

December 14, 2011

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PAKISTAN, where the regularity with which honour killing is reported is matched only by the frequency with which the perpetrators go unpunished, would do well to take a leaf out of Belgium's book. On Monday, a court in Mons handed down lengthy sentences to the parents and siblings of Sadia Sheikh, shot dead in 2007 after moving in with a Belgian man and refusing to submit to an arranged marriage. Her brother Mudusar, who confessed to killing her, was sentenced to 15 years in prison, her sister Sariya to five and her parents Tarik Mahmood Sheikh and Zahida Parveen — who are believed to have ordered the killing — 25 and 20 years respectively. While the sentences were lesser than those asked for by the prosecutors, the latter neverthe- less consider their case successful, given that Mudusar had repeatedly said his family had nothing to do with the murder. Most importantly, the sentences are long enough to be prohibitive. In contrast to Pakistan, where the honour-killing debate is still at that mediaeval stage where the practice is defended by some in the name of custom, the Belgian state has said that it will vigorously pursue any such case.

With the conviction comes also the need for Pakistanis to reflect on how adherence to archaic logic in matters of tradition shames them. This is not the first time that people of Pakistani extraction have been accused of such a crime. In June last year, Canadian courts sentenced Muhammad Parvez and his son Waqas Parvez to life imprisonment for killing 16-year-old Aqsa Parvez in 2007 because she refused to wear the hijab. Other countries, too, have seen such cases and while the crime is not limited to the Pakistani community, we seem to almost head the list. Perhaps this is because in Pakistan, the state's stance on honour killings has been too soft. Most such cases either do not reach the trial stage, or the prosecution's case collapses for want of thorough planning and investigation. Ridding Pakistanis of the notion that honour killing is a defendable crime entails coming down hard on the perpetrators.