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Monday May 27, 2024

Murder, not honour

By Rida Tahir
August 20, 2023

Pakistan has been grappling with the issue of gender-related killings on the pretext of ‘honour’ for years. Only recently, a man took his finance’s life on the pretext of ‘honour’ in Naushahro Feroze. She was just one of a thousand women arrogantly killed on the pretext of so-called ‘honour’ yearly in Pakistan.

It is important to acknowledge that efforts have been made within Pakistan to address the gruesome issue of gender-related killings on the pretext of ‘honour’ through legal reforms. The parliament of Pakistan passed two Acts: The Criminal Law Amendments Act 2004 (2004 Act) and the Criminal Law (Amendment) (Offences in the Name or Pretext of Honour) Act 2016 (2016 Act) to curb the killings. However, the killings have been unstoppable. This is because legal reforms are not enough to tackle this menace.

Gender-related killings are rooted in gender inequality and discrimination, unequal power relations, and harmful social norms. Addressing the deeply entrenched issue of such killings in Pakistani society requires a multi-faceted approach.

At the outset of this article, I want to quote a paragraph from the Muhammad Abbas case (2020 PLD 620 Supreme Court). In this case, a husband arrogantly killed his wife on the pretext that she was a woman of bad character. However, he did not produce any evidence to support his claims.

Justice Qazi Faez Isa authored the order in this case. He stated in paragraph 18: “…killing is never honourable. And, a murder should not be categorized as such. It will help deter such killings if the term ghairat is not used to describe them. It is also inaccurate to translate ghairat into English as honour. The word ghairat does not have an exact English equivalent. A more accurate translation of the trait of ghairat would be ‘arrogance’ and the one with such trait is an ‘arrogant’ person. Almighty Allah tells us that Hell is the abode of the arrogant (mutakabirina).”

Upon reading the order in the Muhammad Abbas case, I realized that language plays an important role in bringing about a positive change in society. Therefore, using terminology such as ‘ghairat’ or ‘honour’ elevates the status of the perpetrators of such killings in society. They are applauded rather than condemned. I thus use the terms ‘gender-related killings’ or ‘arrogant killings’ in the rest of this article to refer to so-called ‘honour’ killings. I hope that civil-society organizations (CSOs), law-makers and policymakers will also follow the example laid out by Justice Qazi Faez Isa to call out this menace.

Another reason why gender-related killings continue unabated is because complainants face an insensitive attitude by the criminal-justice system (CJS) actors. It is essential that the complainants receive support from the CJS to hold the perpetrators accountable. In the Janab Ali case (2022 S C M R 1323), a 37-year-old woman was arrogantly killed on the pretext of ‘honour’ in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The order in this case was also authored by Justice Qazi Faez Isa.

The Supreme Court directed that women police officers should be associated with such cases, particularly where the complainant and/or the witnesses are women and may find it difficult to be forthcoming before male police officers, or are intimidated and/or actively conceal the truth of the matter.

Additionally, the SC mandated that SOPs should be formulated in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in respect of crimes committed against women on the pretext of ‘honour’ as it will help to better investigate and prosecute those who commit such crimes.

In my opinion, each provincial police must formulate SOPs in cases of gender-related killings in order to ensure swift, ethical and efficient investigation to hold the perpetrators accountable for their arrogant actions. Further, clear guidelines and trainings should be provided so that when the FIR is lodged, it should be lodged under Section 311 (added to the PPC through the 2016 Act) so that principal of ‘fasadfilarz’ is applied to ensure the offence is not compounded by the legal heirs of the deceased.

These recent orders by the SC will prove instrumental in tackling gender-related killings. It is imperative to disseminate widespread knowledge within communities based on these orders authored by Justice Qazi Faez Isa. The community must be educated about the consequences of baselessly tarnishing the reputation of women and girls and then just killing them.

This encompasses raising awareness about the legal repercussions associated with falsely accusing someone of adultery, as stipulated in Section 496C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) titled ‘Punishment for false accusation of fornication’. Violation of this law could result in a prison term of up to five years, in addition to fines. Such actions also constitute an offence of qazf under the Offence of Qazf (Enforcement of Hudood) Ordinance, 1979.

Furthermore, it is crucial to ensure that the 2004 and 2016 legislations are comprehensively understood by potential offenders. Disseminating information about these laws in local languages will facilitate a clear understanding of the potential consequences individuals may face if they commit such acts.

National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) such as the provincial commissions for women and the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) can play a key role in challenging harmful cultural norms that perpetuate gender-related killings. They must collaborate with religious leaders, community elders, and local influencers to raise awareness on the orders authored by Justice Qazi Faez Isa to tackle this menace.

Gender-related killings require urgent attention. This is because perpetrators of this heinous offence ruthlessly kill women and girls after defaming them. These women and girls are then buried and never get the opportunity to express their grief. Meanwhile, the perpetrators believe that they have the licence to brutally take the life of any woman or girl. They kill with the confidence that not only will their social status be elevated but they will not be held accountable either. Such behaviour represents the height of arrogance and warrants unequivocal condemnation. Concreate steps in the shape of a National Action Plan must be formulated to tackle both such actions and the arrogance that leads to them.

The writer is a barrister. She tweets @RidaT95 and can be reached at: ridaatahir @gmail.com