No honour in killing

By: Hassan Rizvi      Published: 12:50 AM, 4 Nov, 2021
No honour in killing
File photo

There is a sharp rise in honour killings within Pakistan. It is a commonplace topic which no media outlet leaves undiscussed. This is due to the fact it bubbles like a toxic sludge underneath our society. It is a problem that has afflicted our country ever since the time of partition. Moreover, it is an emotionally volatile topic due to its grim nature. The comments section on any such post is perfect proof of this. Obviously, this falls under the heading of violence against women.

The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women is considered an international bill of rights for women. Therefore, it defines what ‘violence against women’ actually is. Article 1 of the Declaration defines ‘violence against women' as any gender-based violence that causes “physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women.” Moreover, this includes threats, fear-mongering and limitation of personal liberties. This includes offences that happen both in public and private life. Furthermore, Article 3 outlines the liberties granted to women whereas Article 4 entails states to “condemn violence against women”. It also expects them to not let custom, culture or religious tradition prevent them from eliminating violence against women. Most importantly, these laws apply to honour killings. 

On a national level, the Constitution of Pakistan 1973 also guarantees protection to women. Under Article 34, the constitution ensures the full participation of women in national life. Additionally, Article 37 (e) protects women and children by ensuring just and humane conditions. It also allows maternity leave for women. However, there are no specific articles that specifically deal with violence against women, including honour killings. Instead, laws specifically dealing with this matter had to be passed.

Honour killing is murder committed to ‘preserve honour.’ The one murdered is usually a woman. It is referred to as ‘karo-kari’ in local terms. This is a highly barbaric custom that is still practised today. It is a tribal custom the dates back to pre-Islamic times. Honour killings are usually committed if a woman acts according to her own will and this upsets outdated cultural norms. This act is murder in its truest form. Therefore, the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2004 declares honour killing to be murder. This is declared under S. 2(ii). Moreover, it amends S. 299 of the Pakistan Penal Code 1860 which defines honour killing as an “offence committed in the name or on the pretext of honour” that results in the loss of life. Before this amendment, honour killing was never considered a heinous crime. In fact, a sentence could be either reduced or waived under ‘sudden and grave provocation by the courts.’

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan notes a rise in honour killings. It states that 15222 cases of honour killings took place from 2004-2016. This was a sharp increase from only 837 cases in 2014. Of course, these figures appear to be a large understatement as countless cases go unreported. This is not only the situation in rural areas but may even be a foul reality in most posh districts.

Violence against women has seen a sharp increase during the 2020 pandemic lockdown. While this largely involved domestic abuse, honour killings also followed suit. Many women who saw the outdoor activity as an escape from their abusive relations were stuck at home. Thus, they had nowhere to go besides putting up with such brutal treatment. It was not out of the ordinary for them to lose their lives, especially through honour killing.

Sadly, extremely insufficient progress is being done to combat this primitive custom. The estate of the victim either never file the FIR (First Investigation Report) or drop the proceedings entirely. This greatly restricts the development of the law and prevents justice from being done. Most unfortunately many laws exist on paper in Pakistan yet they are never implemented. Furthermore, the judiciary is the interpretive branch of any state. In Pakistan’s case, the Parliament makes the laws whereas the judiciary interprets them. Therefore, it defines how the law actually works while clearing any doubts one might have.

There are two recent judgements related to honour killings, which have to be examined. The first one is Aurangzeb V. The State (2015 YLR 912). In this case, a husband had murdered his wife and her alleged lover in a fit of rage for ‘honour’. The court had overturned the defendant’s conviction despite having committed the murder. The court relied on the fact that the accused suddenly found his wife with her lover. This situation enraged him to commit murder with an axe. This sudden burst of anger was a valid defence for the courts to acquit the accused. The other case is Sajjad Hussain Vs. State (2016 YLR 1517). It concerned a man who had murdered his wife, her alleged lover and his own three children in a feral fit of rage. The defendant found his wife in an “unobjectionable position” with her alleged lover. The Trial Court had convicted the accused on five counts of murder.  However, the High Court had overturned the defendant’s conviction. Therefore, setting aside his S.302(b) PPC conviction and his death sentence accordingly. The court said “ambient circumstances” forced the defendant to commit these depraved acts. Thus, the court had upheld the Aurangzeb v. The State verdict. This is a most troubling range of court decisions. Furthermore, these are all modern-day cases, which have not just reduced the sentence of the defendant. Instead, they have completely quashed their conviction, that too after being found guilty of ‘honour killing’. Honour killings are a most heinous offence, but the defendant ended up getting acquitted because he had a sudden loss of control.

These decisions are a massive downgrade from Federation of Pakistan v. Gul Hasan Khan (PLD 1989 SC 633). In that case about honour killing, the courts upheld the conviction of the defendant. Even under strict interpretations of Islam, the court upheld the conviction of the defendant. The Honorable Court declared honour killings to be un-Islamic. Thus, it highly discouraged taking the law into one’s own hands regardless of the situation. This even included Zina (illegal intercourse) taking place in front of the husband. Ironically, this decision took place in 1989; fifteen years before the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2004. It would seem this decision is a larger development against honour killings than the Act itself.

With the horrible facts stated above, the courts as well as the government of Pakistan must make a serious effort to greatly mitigate honour killings. The country ought to be pulled out of the Stone Age. Thus, it has to evolve into a modern age where all are equally protected under the law while nobody is above the law. Furthermore, it would really help if the stance on honour killings were returned to their Federation of Pakistan v. Gul Hasan Khan state. Many human rights organizations such as the Aurat Foundation are increasingly alarmed by this turn of events and rightfully so. Mankind is in the modern age, yet it is greatly held back by such barbaric practices. Nobody should take pride in murdering their loved ones just for the sake of fragile notions of ‘honour.’

The government of Pakistan has to form a competent body to further assess this disturbing trend. They will have to acquire an estimate closer to the actual amount of incidents. Thus, bringing many unreported incidents into the light. As mentioned earlier, the laws exist on paper. However, they will have to be implemented. Thus, making the law more than just a document on a piece of paper. The courts will have to decide cases against culprits in honour killing cases. The proceedings should take a reasonable amount of time which should vary depending on the complexity of the case. They should look for no less than a 25-year sentence for such crimes. Any softer sentence would mean a slap on the wrist. Moreover, the police should be highly cooperative in such matters when filing an FIR in favour of the victim’s estate. They will have to size up to the worth of the taxpayer’s money spent on them. Creating difficulties for the victim’s families will benefit none except the wicked.

Another important goal is raising social awareness. The government will have to run ad campaigns against this social evil. The public will have to be made aware outside of city circles that such a practice is not only un-Islamic but it is extremely inhuman. The ulema will also have to step in and deliver a much-needed fatwa against the practice of honour killings. This will work in Pakistan’s favour given the influence of religion in mainstream society. Finally, charity begins at home. Parents will have to educate their children on certain rights and wrongs. Furthermore, they will have to teach their children by example. However, all this seems like a pipedream given the current position. Yet, Pakistani society must act now to eradicate this evil as soon as possible. This can only be accomplished with everybody’s combined effort. No family member can find honour in brutally murdering their loved ones unless they are completely insane. To conclude this article, there is and will never be any honour in killing.

Categories : Opinion