“Whatever we did, we were obliged to do it. She took away our honour,” a father of eight told journalist and filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy after he tried to kill his daughter Saba. “I have four other daughters for whom I have to set an example.”
Saba loved a man whom she had married without her family’s consent. Infuriated, her relatives put her in a car and threw her in a river before shooting her. She survived miraculously to tell her story to Sharmeen. It became the subject of the documentary that won her her second Oscar.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had the documentary screened at his house, and vowed to introduce new legislation to fight the practice of “honour killing”.
According to the data gathered by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 7,894 cases of honour killing were reported in newspapers between January 2004 and February 2016. Among the victims, 103 were male and 8,452 were female (of which 880 were minors). The reported reason for the murder in 1,394 cases was their choice of partner for marriage. As many as 439 were killed after they were raped and considered a disgrace to the family, and 5,969 were murdered because of what is described in our society as ‘illicit affairs’. The reasons for the rest of cases are unknown.
Analyst Nafisa Shah, who has a PhD in honour crimes, says the system comes from the medieval ages. “In the pre-legal era, women were treated as a commodity,” she says. “And to restore the honour of the family, they were the most vulnerable target.”
“The public should know how many cases were reported and what happened to them”
The Jirga, or tribal council, continues to survive as a parallel justice system in many parts of the country, says activist Samar Minallah Khan. “If the Jirga decides that the honour of a family has been breached, they have to either kill the girl or give a younger one to the ‘affected’ family in order to restore their honour,” she says.
A set of laws introduced in 1990, known as Qisas and Diyat laws, made it impossible to punish such crimes because they allowed the victim’s family to pardon the suspect. In cases of honour killing, the perpetrator is usually a member of the family or an acquaintance. In effect, the family pardons itself.
According to the HRCP data, 1,780 such murders were committed by a sibling of the victim, 612 by the parents, 2,376 by the husband, 447 by in-laws, 245 by the sons or daughters, 221 by neighbors, 1,049 by relatives and 378 by acquaintances. Murderers in the rest of the cases were not identified.
The Qisas and Diyat laws were promulgated as an ordinance in 1990 by the caretaker government of Ghulam Mustafa Jitoi. The ordinance was renewed every four months until 1997, when a Nawaz Sharif led government passed it as an act of parliament.
“That was done in haste, without consulting the relevant quarters,” says Nafisa Shah.
The Criminal Law Amendment Act of 2005 gave courts the right to reject any compromise between the victim’s family and the accused in such cases. But police and courts accepted such compromises in most cases to save time and resources.
In 2014, Senator Sughra Imam moved a new bill against in the upper house to make honour killings a non-compoundable offence. An out-of-court compromise is not possible in non-compoundable offences, so a family could not pardon the accused. The Anti-Honour Killings Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill was passed unanimously by the Senate, but it could not be introduced in the National Assembly and lapsed. The legislation may be presented in the next joint session of parliament.
Nafisa Shah believes the new law will be good step forward, but not a perfect solution. “The family will not admit that the victim was murdered in the name of honour. They may register an FIR citing some other motive and proceed to pardon the perpetrator.” She believes murder must always be a non-compoundable offence.
Asad Jamal, the lawyer who fought Saba’s case, says it may not be too hard to determine if a murder took place in the name of honour. “If a brother murders his sister, or a father murders his daughter, the first possible reason would be honor.”
Legal expert and social activist Farzana Bari also finds the proposed new law satisfactory. “It proposes making honour crimes offense against the state.”
Asad Jamal is drafting two of his own proposals to amend the laws related to honour crimes. He believes one of them has reached Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif through Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. “The basic proposal is that in every honor-related crime, the convict must be punished,” he says. “He must not get away with it, misusing Qisas or Diyat laws.”
Maliha Zia of Aurat Foundation traces the roots of the problem back to the era of military dictator Gen Ziaul Haq, who took measures to “Islamize” the constitution. “Murder is usually a crime against the state, but it was privatized and made a crime against a person,” she says. Maliha Zia believes the number of actual cases is much higher than is reported. A number of non-government organizations have expressed the same concern.
Senior Superintendent of Police Waqas Hassan says 95% of murder cases are reported to the police. Some of them may go unreported for some months, but ultimately someone informs the police.
According to the data provided by HRCP, at least 5,146 cases of honour killing were reported to the police, while no reports were registered in 364 cases. For the rest of cases, it could not be determined if an FIR had been registered.
There is also no data on how many honour killing suspects are pardoned. Maliha Zia says all such data should be computerized and made public. “People should know how many cases were reported and what happened to them.”
Punjab had the highest number of honour killings with 3,806 cases, according to HRCP data. At least 2,799 of the reported honour killings took place in Sindh, 653 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 588 in Balochistan.
As many as 584 cases were reported from Lahore, 41 from Rawalpindi, 112 from Quetta, 143 from Karachi, 37 from Hyderabad, 172 from Larkana, 221 from Jacobabad, 473 from Sukkur, 295 from Peshawar and 67 from Swabi.
According to the data available with by Punjab Police, 256 cases of honour killing took place in 2011, 184 in 2012, 275 in 2013, 312 in 2014 and 242 in 2015.
In Punjab, a majority of the cases were reported in upper and central region. As many as 149 of the reported cases took place in Sialkot, 300 in Gujranwala, 557 in Faisalabad, 218 in Sheikhupura, 187 in Bahawalpur and 73 in Multan.