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The struggle to live

Updated March 08, 2012
Young women frequently publish announcements in Sindhi newspapers declaring their intention to marry of their own free will and fight for their rights. – Photo by Dawn

The concept of honour killings, commonly known as Karo-Kari in Pakistan, is part of a cultural tradition prevalent in almost all provinces.

It’s a custom that is primarily committed against women who are thought to have brought dishonour to their family by engaging in illicit pre-marital or extra-marital relations.

In order to restore this honour, a family member then kills the female in question in order to revive family honor.

Majority of these victims are females, however, there is a fair amount of men who are murdered in the name of sanctity.

The practice of honour killings has not declined. Even after five years of the law’s implementation, people continue refusing to file a report.

‘’People charged with the law claimed they didn’t know about it, even the police, lawyers and judges said that they never knew,’’

said Anita Weiss, Professor and Head, Department of International Studies University of Oregon at the Karachi Literature Festival that was held last month.

She further said that the people who commit the crime do not consider it a crime because to them it’s a religious act merely based on the safeguard of religious deviation.

The reason for this, panelists at the discussion said, is a pervasive culture of violence and a lack of knowledge of womens’ rights. A much denied fact remains that domestic violence is not only restricted to the lower class.

An added reason put forward for women being victimised this way is because of their vulnerability or lack of contribution in terms of money. Also, the school of thought that women are a commodity and are “owned” by men, leads to such practices.

Having said that, Weiss added,

‘’Honour killings are only a form of murder and cannot be justified.”

Karo kari or any articulation of it, is considered a private family matter and therefore goes unreported in most cases. A cousin kills another and thus they believe that family matters can be resolved without legal intervention because it’s strictly within the family.

‘’If we speak of the state, come 80s come General Zia ul Haq era, the Shariah or any other law in the name of Islam regards murder as a private offense, which means you can settle it by paying a fine,’’ said Nafisa Shah, Chairperson of Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Development (NCHD).

‘’What is interesting is that your so-called local tribesmen are killing for honour but your state is also allowing those type of mediations to take place,”

she said.

There are several legal provisions that are compensated to the victimized party, provided it’s a mutual agreement.

At hand, there are interrelated marriages and murdering amongst them which require settlements provided the law fights the same cause. But what remains evident is that there is a gap or a space in the laws defined.

In the original case of law for honour killings, the victims’ heir had the power to forgive or forego.

Presently, the victims do not have the right to speak in the case of religious honour, but they have such powers in case of any other form of murder.

‘’There is still a very thin space between what constitutes an honour crime and what doesn’t, and obviously the space for mediation is still there and it is enormous,’’ said Shah.

Prior to the law the conviction rate for honour killings was three per cent, and she said she has looked into 1,600 cases in the past 10 years where the murderers have not been convicted.

‘’The law needs to be implicated,’’ said Shah.

‘’As a nazim, every day I experienced women approaching me about their daughters being killed and that the police refused to file a report. In return I would ask them to promise me that they will not mediate and over a period of months it eventually ended up in compromise between families thus leading to mediation.’’

She further informed the people that the general stereotype pertaining to Karo Kari claims that men kill women for honour, but in reality one third of the victims are men.

A fascinating development in rural Sindh is that Sindhi newspapers now publish stories of women coming out and giving statements in front of the court in favour of love marriages.

‘’Often wars took place over these when I was nazim,” Shah said. “I used to deal with 14 - 20 murders that had taken place over one elopement.’’

Recent instances, however, have shown that women are now taking a stand for their rights and coming forward with affidavits of free will despite the fear of getting killed.

‘’There are many women who get killed but there are many more who survive and fight for their right, even by challenging local practices of murder,’’

said Shah.

The writer is an Assistant Multimedia Producer at