IN collaboration with the United Nations' Development Programme (UNDP) and the UK's Department for International Development (DFID), the Sindh police have launched a project for the prevention of karo-kari.
The project is unique for, having derived input from various human rights' organisations, it emphasises the role of the police in the elimination of the practice. The reason that a man or woman is killed under the pretext of 'honour' in Pakistan can be the suspicion of an extra-marital affair, a fictitious allegation of fornication made to settle an old dispute, or monetary benefit.
A close study of honour killings in our society shows that it is linked to illiteracy, ignorance and an entrenched tribal system. Cases such as that of Tasleem Solangi in Khairpur, and Abida and Tehmina Bhutto in Shikarpur, are perfect examples of women being slaughtered by feudal butchers.
The exact number of karo-kari cases in the country has remained unascertainable since the killings are often hushed up. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan's 2008 annual report estimates that 1,019 women were killed in the name of 'honour' that year. Another estimate suggests that since 2005 around 10,000 lives a year have been lost under this pretext. Official figures compiled by the Sindh police say that in total 632 cases of karo-kari were reported in Sindh from 2004 to 2008. Meanwhile, the database of the Madadgar Helpline Karachi shows that during the same period 2,829 people died in honour killing incidents in Sindh.
Why has this heinous crime not been checked, even though it violates codes in the country's constitution? Examples are articles 10 and 14 of Pakistan's constitution, and articles 3, 7 and 16 of the UN Charter, which speak about the protection of life, liberty, equality and the rights of people. Why do women — who are the prime victims — continue to be sacrificed at the altar of 'honour', despite much recent legislation on the protection of women?
The answer can be found in the prevalence of a weak justice system and an incompetent police force. In a system where women are considered commodities and men's social lives are dictated by chauvinism, the suppression of cases concerning honour killings is a logical consequence — the perpetrators must be sheltered and the 'honour' of the family be further preserved. Even where cases are reported, they run into the brick wall of an intrinsically defective process of investigation that is caused by the police's lack of professionalism and the flawed perception of police officers in the context of honour killings.
Consider, for example, that according to an inter-departmental survey conducted by the Sindh police, 30 per cent of the police officers proved sympathetic to the practice of karo-kari. Further, the survey revealed that 88 per cent of the police officers saw no difference between honour killings and other sorts of murders.
When the police take up reported cases of karo-kari with this mindset, the entire investigation is carried out in a perfunctory manner and resultantly, the fact-finding process remains confined to a single perpetrator — whereas in fact, such killings are carried out with the connivance of or upon the provocation of multiple offenders who are, in most cases, close relatives of the victim or are tribal chieftains. Since the main person accused surrenders himself — as the police state — the rest of the culprits go scot-free.
During the course of the investigation, the investigator does not explore the forensic aspects of the case and neither is he trained to collect evidence from the crime scene to establish charges. The entire investigation is resultantly based on statements by witnesses who often change their statements during the prosecution stage of the case, paving the way for the acquittal of the accused.
Police officials claim to have taken drastic measures recently in order to increase officers' efficiency while handling cases of honour killings. Indeed, human rights cells have been established in various districts, the women's quota in the police force is being increased, and special instructions in this context have been given to police stations and the Madadgar helplines to react rapidly.
According to the focal person of the Prevention of Karo-Kari Project, Barrister Abdul Khaliq Shaikh, the project covers Sukkur, Naushero Feroze, Khairpur and Ghotki districts where special karo-kari cells and a victim support helpline (111-123-588) have been set up. Through workshops, special training has been imparted to supervisory police officers (SPOs), station house officers (SHOs) and investigators to enhance their professionalism. And to make the effects of the project lasting, a new syllabus with a focus on human rights is being devised to be taught in police training centres.
These are commendable steps taken by the police force. They will yield tangible results, particularly when supported by judicial and legislative reforms. In karo-kari incidents, in the absence of heirs, the SHO normally becomes the complainant and registers a case on behalf of the state. Owing to delays in the delivery of a verdict, however, the case goes into cold storage. Due to the judicial system's weaknesses and people's lack of trust in the courts, the legal heirs of the victim resort to jirgas for justice.
There are also some loopholes in the law that help culprits in such cases go scot-free. For example, cases concerning honour killings often fall apart when the heirs of the victim withdraw their complaint - and the case - by using the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance to strike a private, compensatory deal with the accused. Thus the practice of karo-kari is encouraged. To establish a firm deterrent, it would be useful to legislate so that honour killings become a crime against the state and after the case has been investigated, the persons involved are awarded rigorous punishment.
While there is a dire need for projects such as that initiated by the Sindh police, which will enhance professionalism in the police force, the menace of honour killings will remain as long as there is a weak criminal justice system and effective legislative reforms are not introduced.