In the latest horror in the name of family honour a young pregnant woman and her husband were found murdered in a canal in a small Punjab town for having married against the wishes of her family.
A few days earlier, a teen-aged girl was burned to death by her own mother and brother for having contracted a marriage they disapproved of.
Sadly there have been so many cases of so-called honour killings that it is difficult to keep count of them. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, in the first five months of the current year alone, as many as 212 women were killed in the name of family honour – an appalling practice that has origins in this country’s tribal/feudal culture.
Such brutal violence has been rampant because of a deep-rooted bias against women. The police and the judiciary in a way have been facilitating the perpetrators by taking a lenient view of the crime, with the courts handing only nominal punishments to perpetrators.
Under the persistent demands by rights groups the Musharraf government tightened the law requiring so-called honour killings to be treated like any other murder. Yet, that has not helped because under the Qisas and Diyat Law the family of a victim is allowed to pardon the killer.
In the case of ‘honour’ killings the murderer is always a close family member – a brother, father, uncle or even mother – and hence while one kills the others use the ‘qisas’ (punishment) provision to forgive, letting the murderers walk free.
The intent of the law surely is not to encourage murder, which is what is happening. It must be changed to stop misuse.
However, various studies show that punishment alone does not deter crime. It is equally important to address causes that impel people to commit crime.
In this case the instigation to murder comes from society putting pressure on families to ‘save’ their honour even though the religion does not attach dishonour to a woman marrying a person of her choice.
Unfortunately, however, religious leaders who routinely issue statements for greater control over women’s lives have failed to raise their voice against this heinous practice.
Only recently Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) gave a statement on the issue, though a half-hearted one, saying “there are laws in the country to deal with the obscenity and other moral crimes so one cannot kill [an] other in the name of honour”.
The CII also said that being provoked after witnessing a ‘moral sin’ by a close relative was an element of human nature. It needs to be pointed out that as per religious injunctions the punishment for ‘a moral sin’ in question is the same for men as for women.
The CII is expected to be free from social prejudices while making its pronouncements on any matter.