"Help me father, help me mother, help me my gracious God," cried the helpless girl in the presence of the whole village, but no one was ready to help her. "I am not Kari (name given to a woman of ‘loose morals’ in tribal culture). I am loyal to my husband; I know and respect my culture,’’ she was saying.
She was running to save her life when a man came and hit her again and again with an axe. She shrieked with pain and died within minutes.
The scene described above does not belong to a horror movie. This is reality and the incident happened in a village in tehsil Rojhan, South Punjab earlier this year and is mentioned in an FIR. This woman Meer Bibi belonged to caste Jatoi, married to Khayali Lallani. She was murdered by her own husband. He blamed his wife for illicit relations with her cousin Chhero s/o Naukar. Nobody verified the accusation.
It is a custom that the husband cannot be wrong. If he says his wife is Kari, no one can challenge him as per society’s rules and customs.
An FIR No.45/14, serial No.25232, date 10.3.2014 was lodged by the police under section 302/311 PPC against Khayali Lallani. The state became complainant to discourage compromise between the two parties. ASP Rojhan Shabir Ahmed Sethar told TNS, "The killer had no sign of repentance on his face; he admitted with pride that he had declared his own wife Kari and killed her."
The ASP said it was the first time that he had registered a case where the complainant is the state. Otherwise, usually it’s the heirs who become complainants. After some time, they forgive the killers who are then released. This encourages this practice.
A common practice is that a person declared Kara has to give his sister in marriage to the person whose wife is declared Kari. The Kara has to pay a fine to the tune of Rupees one lakh to the husband of Kari. The Kari is killed but if she survives the matter goes in jirga.
Karis are sold and married in other provinces.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has an overall estimate of such cases in Pakistan which says 1265 women were killed in the name of Karo Kari from 2009 to 2013. This data is based on the number of reported cases. Many cases go unreported.
HRCP reports say Karis were killed by firearms or sharp instruments. Some have been reported to be poisoned. They say the murders are pre-planned and are not sudden reactions prompted by ghairat. Women are always killed and men are not.
Husain Naqi, veteran journalist and human rights activist with HRCP, says "Karo Kari or Kala Kali is being practiced in South Punjab and Sindh. NGOs, civil society, media and judiciary have played their role against this inhuman custom. Still such incidents occur in huge numbers at places where the literacy rate is abysmally low. NGOs must conduct workshops and enhance awareness among the people to discourage this crime."
A person who holds jirga in South Punjab, Balochistan, Sindh and KP told TNS on condition of anonymity that jirga is the most primitive legal institution. "Society is built on the basic unit of family. Sanctity of marital relation is based on the concept of honour. Woman plays a pivotal role in maintaining that. Jirga is the only integrating force which stabilises family and respect for each other."
He says whoever violates this basic discipline must pass through the same process of agony which he or she has inflicted on the whole society. "If state can take revenge from the accused, why can’t jirga play the same role on a small scale," he asks.
He says jirga is more acceptable "because it is a product of society while state is an artificial structure which commands with sheer naked force. Jirga is respected because it upholds longstanding customs."
According to lawyers, Article 9 of the Constitution guarantees that no person should be deprived of life or liberty, save in accordance with law. Karo Kari is not in accordance with law. The victim of Karo Kari is not given the right to defend in accordance with the judicial system of Pakistan.
Similarly, Article 25 of the Constitution grants equality to citizens. A woman in any big city of Pakistan cannot be humiliated or punished as Kari while the women in faraway rural areas do not enjoy the liberty, security of life and certainty in law. They also say that if the state becomes a complainant in all Karo Kari murders, they can be stopped.
Fareeda Shaheed, Executive Director Shirkat Gah -- Women Resource Centre who has been visiting Rajanpur often to investigate Karo Kari cases, tells TNS the practice of killing in the name of Karo Kari, Kala Kali and honour is going on in all four provinces of Pakistan. But the situation in district Rajanpur is very alarming. She says she has faced threats each time she went to Rajanpur.
She further says that a Kari belonging to South Punjab is sold in Balochistan so that she is totally cut off from her relatives. If she belongs to Sindh she is sold in KP, while the Kara has to leave his area for one year. "The relatives of Kara try to settle the case. This process is called Khaer or Haer in local language. Only after that, Kara can return."
"In Sindh when women committees were made at taluka and district level by the government, such incidents decreased. These committees were made to monitor police stations. FIRs were lodged under the pressure of these committees," she says, adding that Karo Kari is an attitude which must change. How does honour lie in this practice, she asks.
An eye-witness account
Here is an eye-witness account from a village in Punjab bordering Sindh on one side and KP on the other.
"It was a summer evening. Thousands of people were eagerly waiting for their Sardar Zawwar Khan. All eyes were fixed on the gate of the dera from where the Sardar had to appear.
"A caravan of vehicles appeared amid dust. The head of the tribe stepped out of a car. Others followed, taking hurried steps. There was a girl among them who looked dead tired, walking as if she was going to be slaughtered. She glanced at the crowd, hoping for mercy but there wasn’t a speck of sympathy on their faces. She was made to feel ashamed of herself. But there was pride on every man’s face, including that of her father and brother.
"People were whispering; kari ae saen, kari ae saen (she is Kari and has illicit relations with a young boy Zaman). She was taken to a special room of the dera which was prepared for ill-fated girls like her. The Sardar came towards the crowd who were already standing there in his honour.
"On inquiring, a man in his 50s with a rifle on his shoulder raised a voice; ‘Saen, I am head of the tribe. We have declared this girl, Noori, a Kari and have brought her to your dera. Sardar asked for her father. A man stood up with pride and said, "Saen I am Mittha Khan, the father of the girl." Sardar asked him if he verified his daughter was Kari .He replied "G saen jia jia. Sain muhnji dhi kari aa" (Sir, my daughter is kari). Again Sardar asked who was Kara. Mittha Khan said, ‘Zaman Khan is Kara’ (Sain Zaman assan jo kara ahe). Both parties were there. Sardar called them on one side. There was the tribe of Kari (Noori), on the other side there was the tribe of Kara (Zaman).
"After listening to both parties, the Sardar gave a verdict that the girl was Kari. It was decided the girl will remain in Sardar’s gate (A typical word which is used for a disgraced girl, kari) and work for the Sardar until she is sold in Balochistan.
"Kara had already escaped and was awarded punishment in absence. Kara would have to pay 5 lakh rupees and his sister’s hand would be given in marriage to Noori’s father, failing which he would be sentenced to death. People cheered at the justice and wisdom of the Sardar who had prevented bloodshed. They returned to their houses happy.
Meanwhile, as night approached, Noori was brought into the bedroom of Sardar, fearful that she would be killed. Instead, the Sardar slept with her and so did many of his men before she was sold to someone in Balochistan.
"The ‘torchbearers’ of honour and justice were busy saving their tradition and manly ego but no one condemned the sexual attacks on Noori. The honour of a whole tribe and safety of culture is attached to a girl’s sexuality. Her father rejected Noori because he thought she had sexual relation with a boy. Now she was sexually abused by many men.
"People would visit Noori daily pretending to be the Kari’s buyers. At last a man from Balochistan came to purchase the Kari and took her to Balochistan. During her stay at the dera of Sardar, none of her relatives came to see her, not even her mother. It was her punishment because she had been disloyal to her family and it was the custom of that society," he concludes.
Civilised society cannot imagine such things are possible in the 21st century but all this actually happened in a village in Punjab bordering Sindh and KP.
Names have been changed for security reasons.