India or Pakistan, women must speak out against honour killing

We have always been the easiest tool for violence around the world.

 |  5-minute read |   22-06-2016
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My Sunday afternoon was spent watching a Bollywood film titled Talvar, which literally translates to “Sword”.

The film was far different from a traditional story with no song and dance and was stirring the very sensitive issue of the Indian society.

pakistan_honour_kill_062116103137.jpg In Pakistan, honour killings get the cover of religion.

It was based on the true story of the Aarushi-Hemraj double murder, which took place in 2008 in Noida, India. The case caught media attention because a 14-year-old girl was found dead in her bedroom, her throat slit, and the main suspect was a 45-year-old family servant.

But when his body was found on the apartment rooftop the next morning, her parents were accused of the two murders, and later convicted by the lower court.

Currently, they are serving a prison sentence while their appeal is pending before a higher court in India.

The movie showed the incompetence of the state police as well as the justice system of India, like neighbouring Pakistan. Aarushi's parents are convicted for “honour killing” on the basis of a weak investigative procedure, according to the film.

According to the police, the couple found their daughter in a "compromising position” with the servant and killed them both in a fit of rage. After the film ended, I invested a few hours reading different honour killing cases in India.

Another case was the “Manoj-Babli honour killing” of 2007. Manoj and Babli, who were from the same clan in Haryana, eloped and ran away. The Khap - a caste-based kangaroo court in villages - that runs parallel to the judiciary in a democracy like India, ordered to kill both Manoj and Babli.

The reason of the verdict was that they both belonged to same clan and marrying within the clan is considered incestuous in that village or may be in many villages in India. After a few days, Manoj and Babli were killed by the bride’s family. This case too gained media's attention.

The judge convicted the Khap and the bride’s family. Indian media and legal experts hailed the court's decision as it was first time ever in the history of India that the groom’s mother had filed a case against honour killing and the culprits convicted.

The significance of the case was that a woman had stood up to such inhumane practices, which are mostly carried out against women in the society.

Across the border in Pakistan, two recent cases have sparked condemnation throughout the country. In one case, a pregnant woman and her husband were abducted and shot dead by a woman’s family, who were not happy with their daughter’s marriage.

The bodies were found in a water canal and the murder took place at a village in Punjab province.

According to the police, this is a case of honour killing. Just a week before this incident, 16-year-old girl, Zeenat Bibi, was burnt to death by her mother and family because she married a man from a different ethnic background.

Zeenat’s mother accepted the crime; according to her, Zeenat had brought shame to their family, and therefore she deserved it.

These are few examples of honour killings that happening in India and Pakistan regularly. The research shows that the practice is happening around the Middle East and Africa as well. The Aarushi case shows that it is convenient for the justice system to close a case by declaring it an honour killing despite with weak evidence.

Evidently, such killings have nothing to do with religion - they have a cultural motive.

In 2004, female parliamentarian Kashmala Tariq raised arguments in favour of a couple who eloped: "How can they (families of bride or groom) stop a couple marrying of their own free will when Islam permits them?"

A male member, Sardar Salim Jan Mazari, hailing from rural Sindh, replied: "We should respect cultural traditions of our society before making any laws to check such killings in the country".

In Pakistan, honour killings get the cover of religion because under the so-called Islamic legislation enacted by the 1980s military ruler Zia ul-Haq, the upheld murderers could seek pardon from the victim's family under the Islamic principles of compromise.

This law since then has remained unchanged and led to a surge in honour killings in Pakistan. Legal experts say that such laws, especially against women, have been grossly misused.

But unfortunately, the strict laws and the justice system of western societies couldn’t stop the disease of honour killing in Europe, USA or Canada. In United States, FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics shows an estimated 27 victims of honour crime every year.

Those crimes include domestic violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and honour killings.

Estimates suggest 91 percent girls have been killed because they were labelled as “too westernised” by their family members.

The more cases I researched, the more disturbing it got. Although most victims were women, there were few males as well.

According to Ayaan Hirsi Ali Foundation’s executive director, Stephanie Baric, the males are assumed to be homosexual or pressured to commit suicide if they don’t agree to arranged marriages.

Choosing a life partner of one's liking should be and is allowed in all civilised cultures and all religions around the world. But regrettably, in FBI’s report, the cases of honour killings were interpreted as a manifestation of radical Islam, which is untrue.

The woman has always been the easiest tool of violence around the world, be it domestic in the West or honour killing in the East or rape cases of battlefields.

The only thing which can combat the issue is if women from all walks of life come forward to speak up against the crime and clearly in support of the suppressed women, whether politicians, journalists, social activists, lawyers, mothers or doctors.

Women should not let other women suffer in silence.

Writer

Farheen Rizvi Farheen Rizvi @farririzvi

The writer is a US-based Pakistani blogger.

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