Farzana Perveen’s murder was not the first time men played the game of honour on a woman’s body. In societies like Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and much of the Middle East and Africa, this is an everyday reality women have to live with. According to a 2000 UN report, around 5000 women are killed every year around the world. There exists no UN research after that. In 2012-13, the global figure estimated by independent organizations was 20,000 killings per year. In Pakistan, HRCP reported the number of killings in 2012 at 949 and in 2013, at 869.
Just to freshen up the memory, two women were shot dead a few months ago in Sindh for ‘bringing shame’ to their families by choosing their husbands. Earlier, four women were killed in Qila Saifullah for similar reasons. Three girls from Kohistan were killed because their images were seen in a video wherein they were singing in the presumed presence of boys who were also reportedly killed later. A couple was shot dead in Kashmir on the suspicion of ‘illicit relations’. A famous actor in Lahore was beaten, humiliated and her eyebrows shaved on suspicion of infidelity.
Sürücü, a 23 years old girl, Turkish by origin living in Berlin, who married a non-Turkish man of her choice, was killed by her six brothers aged 16 – 25. Laura Wilson was the first white victim of honour killing in UK. In 2010, Ashtiaq Asghar, her boyfriend of Pakistani origin, killed her for conceiving a baby as a result of her brief fling with another guy.
Methal Dayem, a 22 year old girl from the West Bank was killed in Cleveland by her cousins Yezen Dayem and Musa Saleh for driving her car, for being too independent and refusing to marry her cousin. In Toronto, five year old Farah Khan’s father and stepmother killed her because the father suspected that she was not his child. Jagir Kaur, a politician in Indian Punjab killed her daughter Herpreet who fell in love with Kamaljeet Singh, her party’s political worker. She and six others were charged for murder but not arrested.
Susheela, the daughter of a Jat shopkeeper in Haryana, married Rajpal, a Dalit. A few days after she told the court she had chosen to marry Rajpal, she was poisoned to death. After Sushela’s murder, Rajpal was charged with her abduction and rape. He is now serving life term in jail, while Susheela’s killers are leading their normal lives.
Naz Perveen, a 25 year old in Utter Pradesh, married Kasif Jamal, 35, against her family’s wishes. Both were killed in broad daylight in a busy market. Dozens from the community came out to claim responsibility. No investigation was ever done.
Hatice Peltek, a 39 years old Turkish woman was killed by her husband because she was ‘a shame on the family’ after being molested by her brother-in-law. Yasser Said shot his 17 year old daughter Amina because of her ‘western ways’, while his wife helped him. Palestina Isa, a 16 year old Palestinian- American was stabbed to death by her father Zein Isa while her mother Maria Isa helped him by holding her tight. The murder surfaced two years later when the FBI accidentally heard the audiotape of Zein’s bugged home.
Back in 1999, Saima Sarwar’s murder by her family in the office of veteran human rights defenders and lawyers, Asma Jehangir and Hina Jillani, was one of the most publicized honour killing cases in Pakistan. No one pursued the case further because her family was well connected politically. Like in a number of other honour killing cases, no one was prosecuted for the murder of Ayman Udas, a young Pashtun singer from Peshawar whose brothers killed her for not being ‘chaste’ after she divorced, remarried and pursued a singing career.
This story is endlessly repeated whether it is Pakistan or may be the West Bank, Gaza, Turkey, Afghanistan, Somalia, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Russia, Canada, USA or UK. If a woman dares to live on her own terms, make her own choices and challenge societal norms.
Most – almost all – cases of honour crimes happen in conservative societies with strict codes of social engagement especially for women. Everyone in these societies – men and women – are perceived as roles, not individuals. You have to always act in your role as mother, daughter, sister, wife, husband, brother, father etc. The moment you move out of these well-constructed roles and start living as an individual, you ‘bring shame’ to the family and ‘dishonor’ it.
The ‘honour’ is not only violated by a woman’s decision to marry against her family’s wishes. There is a wide range of things that make her unchaste and thus liable to be killed, tortured and humiliated, in some cases even raped. She is worth nothing if she doesn’t fulfil moral standards dictated by ‘culture’. Doesn’t matter even if she dies or is raped. She deserved that.
Family honour can be disrupted if she asks for a divorce, moves out of an abusive relationship, refuses a marriage proposal, chooses her profession, insists on wearing clothes of her choice which may be ‘western’ and thus unworthy of a chaste woman. She can hurt honour by just moving out of the house.
Murders however, are the extreme form of honour crimes that include an array of other ways to target women. Shaving off the head and eyebrows, beating, torture, acid burning, chopping off limbs, confinement to the home and forced marriages are various other forms of honour crimes.
When onlookers and the police did not help Farzana in front of the Lahore High Court, the judges were not moving and the Prime Minister was ‘taking notice’ after 48 hours of a gruesome murder when the international media shrieked, all of them were just following this code. Not a big deal. The state and society, in these cases, mostly act as accomplices or witness the violence silently because the act is not a crime in the social consciousness. It is an obligation.
A female relative of Palestina Isa summarized it very finely when a journalist interviewed her after her parents were sentenced. “Palestina left no choice. You guys need to understand our culture and religion.” Another of their family friends’ Mrs. Abraham said, “I feel it [the sentence] is not right. We follow our religion. Isas had to discipline their daughter or lose respect. They’d be embarrassed in front of everybody in the country like somebody going outside without their clothes on.”
In this scenario, no law in however strong language it is drafted, can save women (and men) from perishing at the altar of honour. The FBI tape played in the courtroom and carried voices of Isa shrieking for help from her mother, while her mother told her to keep quiet and her father screamed, ‘Die quickly. Die, my daughter. Hurry up.’ Hurrying up is the only recourse for us it seems.
The writer is an Islamabad based defender of human rights and works on democratic governance.