SINCE the medieval times, the term honor has been employed as a convenient justification for the most heart wrenching of moral transgressions, especially against women. From the time of the ancient Romans, who believed in the right of the paterfamilias to kill the women of his family over allegations of tainted credibility, to the Europeans who literally burned their women to death in case they exerted personal choices, or to the ancient Mexicans who adhering to their Aztec Laws, stoned and strangulated the ‘impious’ and ‘dishonourable’ women, killing as a matter of convenience has always been practiced under the façade of honour.
The past couple of days have illuminated a series of honour killings, occurring unbridled around the country, all standing there as bleeding wounds demanding our attention to be redressed. Be it the burning to death of Ambreen in Abbottabad over the alleged claims of assisting her friend in contracting a love marriage, to the killing of Sumera in Karachi over conversing with an outsider, or the killing of Maria in Murree following her refusal of a marriage proposal , to the murder of Zeenat in Lahore for daring to contract a marriage out of her own will, all cases of honour killings share a poignant strain of thought- the desire of female victims to exert their independence over issues that mattered to them. They all ended up being murdered in the name of honour, for they did what they deemed appropriate. Any saner mind would question that was a woman’s desire to exert her independence so grave an offence, whose price could only be paid by putting an end to her life, when all that she had been doing so was freely advocating her independence, something guaranteed to her by the constitution of the land?
Or is her fate forever sealed, by the virtue of her very gender, for she has long been considered as the weaker sex, callously associated with male honour? The despicable trend of honour killings also alludes to the susceptibility of women to violence that assumes the posture of abuse in relationships. And it does not ends just there, instead is indirectly inculcated in the minds of the younger lot, who upon observing the male patriarchs abusing the women of their family , come to believe in the need of the recourse to violence as a usual practice in itself. The psychological theory of “Cycle of Violence”, that stresses that violent behaviour is largely learned, rather than intrinsic. Eminent psychologist, Gelles contends that it is unit of family itself that imparts approval for the usage of violence. Since a child is a product of his environment, a violent domestic setting would induce in his personality a tendency to commit violent acts when he grows up, since this is what he has been observing around himself since his childhood.
Going by this sad reality, the remodelling of the bleak social destiny where the ‘customs supersede laws’, seems to be a far cry for Pakistan, considering the apathetic inactivity of the governing forces in the face of this crime. Almost every time following such a criminal incident, those at the helms of affairs are seen huddling together to produce a couple of additive laws and legislations to cope with the crime, yet the reality is that these apparent pearls of wisdom , exist only on paper with little practical value attached to them.
What the leadership continuously fails to realize is that, it is the implementation of the pre-existing laws against this crime that needs to be ensured, if at all it is serious in its approach towards curbing it. Why many cases of honor killings exist in the first place is because, the perpetrators of the crime are not penalized for their horrendous act. The moment they realize that they will be taken to task for their shameless act, will be the moment when e can really hope for the crime to be curbed. In the wake of this reality, it also needs to be understood that since social attitudes play a pivotal role in heralding change in the society, the media can come across as a potent tool in overhauling mass perceptions associated with honor killings. By projecting it as a despicable act, a murder that is in no way associated with reclamation of honour, a killing that should garner shame rather than approval and by necessitating on the need for valuing the female space, voice and independence, since it deserves to be acknowledged, the media can surely render its part of responsibility.
To evolve as a nation, and as a society for that matter honour killings need to be tackled with an iron hand. In our failure to take a robust stance and line of action against honour killings, we are collectively trivializing murder, making it seem as a justifiable practice against ‘honour reclaiming’ contexts. By doing so we are not only manifesting our morally regressive postures in an age where advancement and progression are the catchwords, but are also sealing the fates of hundreds and thousands of women whose only demand is to be heard , to be respected and protected against such vile advances. Our silence today, sadly seals fate of another innocent soul, somewhere in Pakistan, who will be killed in the name of honour. It would just be another heartless murder, another loss of an innocent life, and a deeper spotting of another dreary stain on the tattered fabric of humanity and morality, standing as an expose of the Pakistani society. — The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore.