‘Honour’ among murderers

Published: August 12, 2010
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According to a study published in the Middle East Quarterly in 2010, the number of honour killings has escalated from 1989 to 2009.

I recently came across a picture from Sargodha, which showed a young man sitting on a charpoy with a knife in his hand and blood on his shalwar. He was posing like a hero. His expression was serious. There was no regret on his face or fear, maybe a hint of pride.  The guy had not taken on any terrorists or robbers single handed. No. He had killed his young sister, who had married without the permission of her family a year before.

The man had gone to his sister’s house and convinced her to visit their family home so that bygones could be bygones. When she arrived the next day, he had slaughtered her. The neighbours heard her screams and called the police. That was when he had stated that he had done it to protect the family ‘honour’.

Though there are some who argue that it has nothing to do with religion – since the phenomenon also exists in India, Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, Sweden, Turkey and Uganda to name a few – the fact remains that most such acts are committed in Muslim countries. But even in non-Muslim countries, the prosecution rate and the sentences awarded, in case of convictions, are disproportionate to the brutality of the act. The low rate of prosecution is usually because the perpetrators belong to the same family. The sentences are relatively lenient because in a majority of the countries no particular law exists to deal with the heinous crime.

According to a study published in the Middle East Quarterly in 2010, the number of such killings has escalated from 1989 to 2009. The worldwide average age of the victims is 23; a little over half of the victims are daughters and sisters while about a quarter are wives and girlfriends of men who commit the crime.

The warped notion of honour that seems to have developed, without a clear pattern, stems most likely from the ideas that women are a lesser being and properties of the ‘superior beings’, men. The concepts are silently supported by the social, political, religious and economic systems of the society. Complicity by other women and the community reinforces these concepts, while strengthening the view that violence against family members is a family issue not a judicial one. As a result, the definition of what defiles ‘honour’ has become very loose. The consequence: women are treated as commodities and have no say about their own lives or a right to choose and the ownership rights are most at stake when marriage comes into play.

Most unfortunately, even the judiciary tolerates this practice under the doctrine of “sudden and grave provocation”; honour killing often attracts a much lesser sentence than the normal penalty in a murder case. In the circumstances, with express societal and implied judicial sanction, the practice has perpetually grown into a menace. The only way to control the menace is to devise a multi layered strategy aimed at long term goals such as changing the societal concept of family honour through education and integration, and short term goals such as providing swift justice to the victims and restricting the doctrine of ‘sudden and grave provocation’ to within reasonable limits.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 12th, 2010.

Aatekah Mir-Khan

Aatekah Mir-Khan

A senior sub-editor for the Lahore city pages of The Express Tribune

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://muhammadilyaskhan.blogspot.com/ Muhammad Ilyas Khan

    A friend writes in an email : “At stone’s throw from my house a very young man
    has been shot dead ~~his fault, loving a girl, perhaps
    related to him, in another village. I am sure the girl will
    also be disposed off sooner than later. The weaker vessel
    is generally so treated here. Ghani Khan in his book ”The Pathan”
    which he wrote about 70 yrs ago remarks about the Pakhtoon,
    ” He will sell his old wife to buy a new rifle.”
    If this is how we treat love, the fountainhead of all that is good in human
    nature then Nature has a good case for emptying its reserve of calamities
    on this province of the brutal Pakhtoons. And, as we say in Pashtu the green
    and the dry will burn down together in wildfire.”

    My response: “The problem is not the ‘treatment of love’, I am not generalizing it to every Pukhtoon as educated and enlightened sections in our soceity would think and act differently but the real problem is our false concept of honour, our male chauvinism and most of all our ‘hypocricy’ and double standards. So I, as a Pukhtoon male, would take pride if someone else’s sister falls in love with me and will readily boast about it in the circle of my friends. But if my sister falls in love with someone, I’ll consider it as a dishonour and will kill her. The same will I do to a man who dares to show a feeling of love to my sister. This mindset is added by our myopic vision and hence by killing our sister or her lover we, in the process, instead of restoring our honour, only expose ourselves in front of others on the one hand and become murderers on the other. I feel only an education which develops rational thinking is our way out of this ignorance.”
    http://muhammadilyaskhan.blogspot.com/Recommend

  • David Perfetti

    I am from LatinAmerica and am familiar both with Brazil and Ecuador and there is no such phenomena as honour killing in these two countries you mention! Perhaps you are refering to passion crimes (rejected lover, etc)?Recommend

  • Wasim Jarral

    well, the picture shows the brutality, really an alarming situation in many countries. The reason behind it is lack of education. Though we say its a matter of ego, its not true. Then we match such instance with Islam. There is no link between such type of brutality and any religion of the world.We have to come forward for education.We have to teach people values and humanism. Recommend

  • http://lordsofquackery.blogspot.com/ Laconic

    Apparently the phenomenon exists amongst the Pakistani community placed in Canada and England too. I reckon it’s more a quality of conservative cultures rather than religion. We find this phenomenon in societies where we want to “desperately conserve dominance” of culture. Such an environment, goes without saying, exists in the sub-continent.

    The Capitalist/bourgeois = Patriarch, as Engels put it. Recommend