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September 15, 2017

Whither honour?


September 15, 2017

It is hard to imagine that in the 21st century, crime of the kind that has just been reported from Karachi should take place. The killings of a teenaged boy and girl, aged 17 and 15 respectively, in Karachi after they had decided to contract a free-will marriage has now been confirmed as yet another case of ‘honour’ killing; the couple was accused of violating the Pakhtun ‘code of honour’. The murders were executed by family members on the orders of a jirga of elders of the Mohmand tribe. The couple, whose bodies were exhumed for a post-mortem examination, had been tortured and electrocuted before being killed. The police are now looking for a tribal elder who had presided over the jirga. According to reports, the jirga had decided that the couple would be killed by their respective fathers and uncles. The relatives have been arrested but the tribal elder is still at large. This case will be a test for the ‘honour’ killing law passed by parliament last year which disallowed family members from pardoning murderers in return for blood money in such cases. Since most ‘honour’ killings, including this one in Karachi, involve family members, the same family which is responsible for the murder ends up pardoning their own kin. Some critics of the bill have said it still doesn’t close all the loopholes and how the authorities deal with this case will show whether further reform is needed.

It is not enough for the government to just try and convict the tribal elder who ordered the murder and the family members who carried it out. Usurping judicial functions should be a crime in itself, especially since they have repeatedly been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The ‘justice’ jirgas deliver routinely treats women as disposable property that must be punished for the crimes committed by their families. But one shouldn’t expect the government to take any action. Rather than enforcing the law against jirgas, the government gave them legal cover when it passed the Alternate Dispute Resolution Bill, which allows jirgas and panchayats to resolve civil matters. Even though the ADR Bill would not apply to matters such as the murdered teenage couple’s efforts at marriage in Karachi, it reinforces the system and gives official approval to an archaic and often brutal system of ‘justice’.

The fact that this atrocity occurred in the largest urban centre in the country where the law of the land failed to protect the two young lovers gives reason for deep thought. It is clear that traditional practices that act essentially against the most vulnerable members of society, and particularly women, are not restricted to remote tribal areas and villages. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, there have been over 15,000 cases of ‘honour’ killings in the last 12 years. Most of these do not even end up being investigated as FIRs as never filed and the matter hushed up. The thinking behind them is almost impossible to comprehend. Ugly facts, however, lie before us. In Karachi, the bodies of two people who had a bright future ahead of them lie charred by electrocution. It is up to the authorities to find some justice for them amidst the prevailing darkness.     


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