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This article talks about the idea of Honour Killing and its improper use as an abstract weapon by the depraved. In the year 2016, a tweet surfaced online which was authored by a journalist from Pakistan, Mubashir Zaidi against a judgement passed by a court in Multan.
“ It is now proven that a mullah will always escape punishment irrespective of the crime.”
The tradition of Honour Killing has existed in societies for a long time now, with first instances of these going way back in time to almost 1200 B.C., in the tribal days of the Hammurabi and Assyrian tribes. Over time, from a rare instance in male-dominated villages, it has become one of the central topics of the power struggle between the two binaries in the biological spectrum, namely Man and Woman.
In the dominantly patriarchal societies of countries India and Pakistan, it is often a Fundamentalist interpretation of religious scriptures and teachings that began the active and unabashed oppression of women in society. The narrative became one with no space for expression of opinion or judgement by women – they were now seen merely as commodities which added to the value of the household.
This paper aims to focus on the atrocities against women in the territory of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The practice of considering women as a “commodity” or “thing” goes way back to pre-independence Pakistan, and these tensions were seen mostly in the Sindh, Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab regions of the northern part of this country.
The Position of the Pakistan Penal Code on Honour Killings
The victims of Honour killing range from as young as 3 years old to women who are almost 90 years of age. The reasons for these irrational murders are anything ranging from family/tribe quarrels or inter-tribe marriage, etc. One of the most shocking reasons behind honour killings is also the fact that under Section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860 (P.P.C) murder is punishable by death or life imprisonment.
However, it is not classified as a murder when the offender is “deprived of self-control by grave and sudden provocation and causes the death of the person (victim) who gave the said provocation.” Murders in this exceptional category were then included in Culpable homicide not amounting to Murder under Section 304 of the same code which reduced the sentencing to 10 years imprisonment and also allowed great discretion on part of the presiding judges.
An application of this clause could be found in Kamal v. State , wherein the Supreme court of Pakistan gave a judgement divided between 302 and 304, as the accused had killed his wife. While Justice Salahuddin Ahmed wanted maximum sentence, the other judges on the bench, namely Muhammed Afzal Cheema and Dorab Patel followed previous cases and wanted a lesser prison sentence for the accused. Ultimately, it was agreed upon that the trial court had erred in giving the capital punishment and he was awarded the lesser sentence.
Religious Culture: Quintessential element in advocating Absurd Logic
In 2016, another precedent was set, but this time, a little different, yet very bitter-sweet in nature to its inherently divided audience. On July 16th that year, Qandeel Baloch was found dead by her mother in their home situated in Shah Sadar Din in the Punjab province. The cause of death – Asphyxiation, and the way her parents got to the killer – it was her own brother Waseem Azeem who sedated the rest of the family in order to have some peace when committing the heinous sin.
He did not stop there or hide in a corner after what he did to someone who was his immediate consanguineal kin. Instead, he was seen parading the town on his motorbike announcing his achievement. There is no surprise that his efforts were applauded and met very little opposition from his own parents who had just lost one of their children, who was perhaps their most profitable one as she was the highest wage earner among all seven siblings.
Out of all cases, why did this one go to court? The reason being that this woman was Pakistan’s first social media celebrity, a woman from an extremely orthodox background who broke barriers, did all those things she was told not to do and most importantly, who had moved out of an abusive marriage, giving up custody of her only son – all before she turned 22.
She changed her name, Fouzia Azeem and the past associated with her was carefully and completely buried in old paperwork. Qandeel was a woman of the more modern face of Pakistan – the urban woman, who worked in advertisements and soap operas, wore trousers, had a profile on social media. The content shown on her media handles was something not taken well by public as she posed in lingerie, and also made a promise to striptease if-then Cricket captain, Shahid Afridi and his team beat India in the T-20 world cup.
She received a very mixed audience to her videos, with some even calling her “Pakistan’s Kim Kardashian”. In April 2016, she appeared on the comedy news show, Ajeeb Saa which also featured Mufti Abdul Qavi, a Muslim cleric and member of the now ruling Pakistan Tehreek- e – Insaf party who was revered for his knowledge of the Quran and his dedication to the Islamic faith.
Throughout the debate, much to the dismay of the organisers who very evidently, wanted controversy and viewer ratings, Qavi maintained the stance of a scholar, just dictating the words of the Quran and not uttering a single word about his personal opinion of the videos curated by then 26-year-old Baloch. However, on discovering their common roots of Multan, he did announce on prime-time television that he would meet up with her the next time he was to visit Karachi.
Along with this, he also expressed his intention of providing Baloch with enough guidance regarding religion. He said, “I will be guiding Qandeel Baloch and I am hopeful she will listen to me.” Post this statement, it was a little bit downhill for the priest as he was sacked from the moonsighting committee that announces the beginning of Islamic holidays in Pakistan, a post extremely prestigious among the religious clerks of the nation.
A few weeks later, during the holy month of Ramadan, the mullah met with her in a hotel room in Karachi, where she posted pictures and videos of her in a western outfit but wearing the holy cap of Qavi. The public and media of Pakistan went in an uproar when they found out about this prima facie flirtatious meeting between the already controversial pairing.
After the meeting, Baloch went on social media platforms and even held press conferences where she claimed inappropriate behaviour on part of the mullah when he was off-camera. In an interview with journalist Issam Ahmed, she said, “He is a blot on the name of Islam. Who is he to claim to be a guardian of the faith?” This comment was not received very well by majority of the press which led them to start digging into her past, something which she had securely kept away for a long time in order to keep her family away from the scrutiny of media personnel.
Safdar Shah, who was counsel on behalf of her parents said in an interview with The Guardian, “When she was revealed, the people of the area started tormenting her brother: ‘Your sister has violated our cultural and religious norms.’ They told him he had to do something.”
Approximately 18 days after her name hit the mainstream media platforms, she was found dead in her home. Her mother, Anwar Bibi said that when her now late daughter had arrived home on the evening of 15th July, she was covered from head to toe and seemed very scared, although denying any threats to life. Little did this ever-supportive mother know that her most adventurous offspring would be murdered in her sleep that night, while they lay in bed heavily sedated from the medicine that had entered their system when having dinner.
The next day, the press had come to Qandeel’s house within hours of getting reports of her death. It was not just another normal death, it was an instance of killing in the name of honour, a phenomenon that Pakistan was well aware of, but was always done in hiding, not bought up on a routine basis in front of national media.
Her killing immediately focussed attention on a question that has been suppressed for long – Why is a mere suspicion of a woman deviating from a state of purity a reason enough for the men around her to take away something as precious as her life in the name of Honour?
As difficult this question appears, it is that simple to solve it. When we take a look at social movements like the #MeToo or TimesUp initiatives or simply the Suffragette movements, it reveals a very basic Legal Quandry on part of society which pushes it towards punishing the ones who are oppressed and often easily bullied – women.
Societal Ramifications: Hindering the growth of women
The practice of blaming women for bringing a dent in the Honour of the household is ancient and surprisingly, has not changed with time. When a woman is sexually abused, she is often forbidden by her family members from sharing her case with the world outside as it is a very common practice for these “outsiders” to find faults in the victim rather than examine the appalling state of affairs in society.
This leads to gossiping among the neighbourhood, a common practice but something really bad when discussing about a sexual assault victim which often ends up in slanderous exchange of views about the victim and distorts the actual set of events, pinning the blame on the female victim’s physical attributes or her clothes or the fact that she was travelling unaccompanied late at night which became an ‘invitation’ to the man for assaulting her.
A very regressive chain of thought accompanies the long-standing practice (in both Hinduism and Islam) that a woman is the wealth of her family, she is a part of the property that the family owns and because of this, the onus of maintaining the honour lies solely on her shoulders.
It is a very common practice in the Sindh region of Pakistan to marry off the daughters of the household to inanimate but holy objects like the Quran or a tree to ensure that the property remains within the family so that they do not have to share their property in a marriage contract.
Tribe before Life
There have been various instances of honour killings in Pakistan, India and other South Asian countries over the years. Over time, there has been an observation by various human rights organisations that new forms of media expression have added to the numbers of those killed in the name of honour, and these now also increasingly include men in the list of the deceased.
On March 7th 2019, a 29-year-old Afzal Kohistani was shot dead in Rawalpindi. He was no ordinary man. In 2012, his five sisters and several young men from his family were killed for sitting together in one room, singing and dancing, with one member filming them. The tribal jirga members thought that these individuals had brought disgrace not only to the family but also to the tribe as a whole.
This was hidden from the authorities for a long time and the remote location of the village in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province only added to the advantage that the leaders had over the family. Finally, when Afzal filed a petition against them in the court, this issue was extensively studied not only by the media but by various international organisations, including the Human Rights Watch which scrutinised various aspects of Pakistani media and judiciary and stated that people like Baloch who continue to challenge the regressive thought process are often tracked down via social media since the latter provides vital information about the location of a person at any given time.
In an article for Al Jazeera, journalist Rabia Mehmood who works exclusively on issues concerning religious persecution and gender rights says that, “In other words, I like many others practise a form of self-censorship. As not appearing “proper” in public can have ramifications.” In the case of the Kohistani siblings, the tribal leaders’ event went a step ahead to trick the authorities into believing that the girls, in fact, were alive.
They used photoshop applications to alter the visibly different features of a few similar looking girls and presented them as the girls who were rumoured to be dead. When the officials sent those pictures to expert analysts, it was revealed that the photographs presented to them were fake and that they showed absolutely no resemblance to the actual individuals. The struggle faced by Afzal to ensure justice for his siblings was arduous and ultimately ended up with him sacrificing his own life.
New age media
This term commonly is understood to be social media platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and very recently, Tik Tok. After doing a substantial amount of research, as a student, I can safely say that I beg to differ from this definition slightly. When the growing influence of media is observed, Televised news cannot be ignored.
News channels grew in their influence from the late 1990s, increasing not only in number but also in their predominant skill of persuasion and mob control. In the case of Qandeel Baloch, the media wanted to make a joke/controversy out of her acts and hence called her on various primetime debates alongside panellists strictly from the clergy or from political parties so that the latter can pick on her bold choices, which go against the fundamentalist rules followed by general society.
Qandeel’s actions were her personal choice, not subject to outside criticism. When her brother did not show any remorse for his crime in a nation-wide press conference, there is one aspect of the logic of honour violation that goes amiss on his part. Fouzia had given up her identity, her name and all of the documentation that indicated her connection to her biological family.
Therefore, as a layman who has minimal knowledge of the Quran, she seemed to not be a part of that family and therefore, not a property of the same. So, him killing her in the name of honour does not apply as she was not a part of his family anymore. The judges in the Supreme court sentenced him to 25 years.
However, inspite of having substantial evidence to convict the mullah for misconduct and possible assault of Baloch, he was left scot-free as he was a member of the clergy and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party. He was seen a year later in a leaked video dancing with a couple of women in a manner that prima facie did not appear modest, but the case was not re-opened in court.
On a concluding note, it is an apt moment to mention the influence that social media can have on judgements and how judicial patronage of honour killings is not helping much for the situation in Pakistan. As discussed through various examples above, the judiciary is swayed by the narrative presented by the mainstream media and social media as they themselves are audiences of the same.
However, social media in any country is controlled by the government to ensure that anything that goes against the narrative and pictures presented/promoted by them is the one that does not reach out to the people. In fundamentalist and theocratic countries, the government wants a narrative to exist among the public which is in tandem with what they think are the religious requirements of existence, different for Man and Woman.
But, the most intriguing question might always remain as to why the maintenance of honour is dependent only on a woman in an age where feminist narratives are not only gaining popularity but are also available through “new media” to all sections of society.
Chitrita Mahesh Nayak
Jindal Global Law School, O.P. Jindal Global University
- Sanam Maher, “Viewpoint: Qandeel Baloch Was Killed For Making Lives ‘Difficult’”, BBC World Asia (Sept 30, 2019, 10:05 AM), Available Here
- Asif Khan and Maseeh Ullah, “Judicial Patronage Of Honour Killings In Pakistan: The Supreme Court’s Persistent Adherence To The Doctrine of Grave and Sudden Provocation.”, Buffalo Human Rights Law Review (Jun 18, 2015, 10:15 AM), Available Here
- Rabia Mehmood, “The Killing of Qandeel Baloch: Honour Meets Technology”, Al-Jazeera (Jul 21, 2016, 11:05 AM), Available Here
- Pamela Constable, “A Pakistani man told me he feared he’d killed for exposing ‘Honour Killings.’ His worst fear just came true.”, The Washington Post (Mar 8, 2019, 12:10 PM) Available Here
- Musa Uman Abubakar, “Gender Justice in Islamic Law: Homicide and Bodily Injuries” 2018.
 Exact wording from the PPC, 1860, Sections 302.
 Kamal v. The State (1977) SC 153