According to Human Rights Watch, almost 1,000 women are murdered in Pakistan in the name of honour each year, killed on the grounds of ‘unacceptable’ amorous relationships, defiance of physical or cyber-gendered spaces, brazenness in dressing and language, or perceived immorality.
As per the data compiled by Sindh Suhai Organisation (SSO), a nongovernmental organization (NGO), at least 217 people, including 152 women, have been killed in the so-called honor-related crimes across Sindh in 2022. “As many as 36 people were targeted in Jacobabad district alone, while 27 people were killed in Kashmore district,” disclosed SOS Chairperson Dr Aisha. According to the breakdown, 23 people were killed in Ghotki, 16 in Shikarpur, 14 in Larkana, 10 in Khairpur, five in Sukkur, and 86 in other districts during the period between January and December 2022.
“Landlords have their laws in the rural areas,” Dr Dharejo said. “They are so powerful that even police avoid registering FIRs against killers [in honor-related crimes],” she added.
Women’s rights activist Anees Haroon urged the government to register murder cases since the bereaved families in most cases submit to jirgas and do not pursue court cases.
Even though it was perceived as an old tradition, something new generations knew better about, we still get to see such cases happen around us. Few get media attention while many go noticed.
One such woman, Qandeel Baloch, was persecuted and ultimately murdered for questioning ingrained patriarchal conventions. Her fight deserves special attention since it inspired and sparked (although posthumously) a crucial reform in Pakistani law regarding “honour” murders.
Similarly, in 2022 In a Waziristani area, two adolescent girls were brutally killed by a family member after a video of them appeared online. Waziran, a 24-year-old woman, was allegedly stoned to death in Jamshoro in July by her husband and brother under the guise of honour. In Karachi, where his 19-year-old sister was killed last month as a result of her “constant interactions” with a “man in the neighbourhood,” a man was identified by authorities.
When looking at the legal aspects of things the courts have frequently treated the accused, mostly men, with a special sense of empathy, treating the ‘affront’ to his honor in, say, discovering his sister with her ‘lover’ as a mitigating element that qualifies him to a lighter punishment. When faced with such a circumstance, it has been theorized that a man would have been so severely and unexpectedly aroused that he lost his self-control, leading to the death of the individual who had caused the alleged “provocation.” In such a state of lack of self-control, taking someone’s life would not constitute “murder,” but rather “culpable homicide,” which is punishable at the judges’ discretion with a sentence of imprisonment ranging from 10 years to life.
The Honour Killing Act, passed by Pakistan’s National Assembly in 2004, declared any murder committed for the sake of honor a crime. The criminal law (amendment) of the Pakistan Penal Code, which was passed as part of Section 302(c), contains a loophole that allows family members of the victim to pardon the defendant through the Islamic legal procedure known as Diya. If the victim’s heirs forgive the offender, the punishments would not be imposed. This is a particularly disturbing practice in the context of honor killings since frequently it is family members who carry out the murder.
However, following the brutal murder of Qandeel Baloch in 2004, and again in 2016, the legislature made the necessary changes to the Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure to ensure that qatl-i-amd, or murder committed on the pretext of honor, shall be subject to a minimum penalty of life imprisonment regardless of the compounding of the offence and/or waiver of qisas by the victim’s family. As a result, the new statute has nullified the courts’ prior discretion in certain situations and eliminated the need for a family’s preference or agreement.
It is important to recognize the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Muhammad Abbas v. The State. First, the order categorically stated that, as a result of the 2004 and 2016 changes, a murder committed in the name of honor carries a minimum sentence of life in prison, even though there may have been a slight but significant provocation. Second, by issuing the order, the court effectively overturned the use of grave and sudden provocation—in this case, an insult to someone’s honor—as a mitigating circumstance in the handling and punishment of cases of honor killing.
Lastly, the apex court emphasized that “the Holy Quran … does not permit killing on the ground of adultery, let alone on the ground of ghairat [honour] … nor prescribes a lesser punishment for such killings”. All lives are sacred in Islam, the court reasoned, and a murder committed in the name of honour does not entail lesser culpability.
In the midst of it all, there is hope with long-awaited changes in the law having been made. While this doesn’t completely prevent such a crime it has had a positive impact. The main issue that still prevails regarding honor killings in Pakistan is that highlighted by the Human rights convection “little evidence that the incidence of honour crimes has abated” despite the aforementioned legal amendments.