'hon­our' killings

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL -

PRIME Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif re­cently watched A Girl in the River: The Price of For­give­ness, Sharmeen Obaid Chi­noy's Os­car-nom­i­nated doc­u­men­tary about 'hon­our' killings. In a state­ment fol­low­ing the screen­ing, he told Ms Chi­noy and his au­di­ence that there is no ' hon­our' in mur­der. In the days since it has been an­nounced that the govern­ment will move to plug holes in laws that cur­rently al­low killers (of­ten fam­ily mem­bers) to go un­pun­ished. Ms Chi­noy has ex­pressed the hope that her film would help put an end to hon­our killings in Pak­istan.

Read: No hon­our in hon­our killing: PM It would be won­der­ful if her wish came true. The rea­sons it will not are the ones that the govern­ment needs to ad­dress if it truly wishes to tackle the prob­lem.

Be­fore rea­sons, how­ever, con­sider con­text. I pulled up two sets of sta­tis­tics com­piled by the Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion of Pak­istan (HRCP). The first cov­ers the pe­riod span­ning Feb 1, 2004, to Feb 1, 2006. Dur­ing this time, there were 988 in­ci­dents of hon­our killings in Pak­istan. Nearly, but not ex­actly half, did not even have FIRs reg­is­tered for the crime. Firearms were the weapon of choice for do­ing away with the vic­tims, fol­lowed by blunt force in­jury with a heavy weapon.

Fast-for­ward a decade: an­other set of sta­tis­tics I pulled from the HRCP data­base was from be­tween Fe­bru­ary 2014 to Fe­bru­ary 2016. The num­ber of hon­our killings in this pe­riod was 1,276, nearly 400 did not have FIRs reg­is­tered, and most of the vic­tims were killed by guns.

The decade in the middle has not been one with­out leg­isla­tive ini­tia­tives or civil so­ci­ety cam­paigns to end hon­our killings. I chose the pe­riod im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing 2004 be­cause that marked the pas­sage of a bill against hon­our crimes. As political machi­na­tions go, the bill that was ac­tu­ally passed was a di­luted ver­sion of the one first in­tro­duced by sen­a­tor Sherry Rehman. There was much clap­ping and clam­our then too.

The whole thing re­peated it­self in March of last year with the pas­sage through the Se­nate of the Anti-Hon­our Killings Laws (Crim­i­nal Laws Amend­ment) Bill, 2014. Mean­while, in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights or­gan­i­sa­tions have de­voted bud­gets and cam­paigns to end­ing hon­our killings in Pak­istan. As the num­bers show in both cases, hon­our killings (to the ex­tent they are even re­ported) have con­tin­ued and even in­creased.

Here is why. First, leg­isla­tive ini­tia­tives have fo­cused on the le­gal di­men­sions of the is­sue, the lat­est a much needed amend­ment to the qisas and diyat laws that would pre­vent the par­don­ing of hon­our killers. This is a great idea.

At the same time, like leg­isla­tive ini­tia­tives of the past, it has no teeth at all against the root of the prob­lem: that women (and men) are con­sid­ered so­cial cap­i­tal in a fam­ily, mar­ry­ing them a form of adding so­ci­o­log­i­cal as­sets, cre­at­ing re­la­tion­ships that fam­i­lies, in­creas­ingly torn by mi­gra­tion and de­mo­graphic change, re­quire. When a woman rebels against this mech­a­nism, not only does the fam­ily lose the pos­si­bil­ity of cap­i­tal ac­crued from ar­rang­ing her mar­riage, her de­ci­sion jeop­ar­dises the fu­tures of re­main­ing brothers and sis­ters, their pos­si­bil­i­ties of mak­ing good matches that sus­tain them in a web of re­la­tion­ships where in­di­vid­ual choice de­feats col­lec­tive se­cu­rity.

In a cul­tural and so­ci­o­log­i­cal sys­tem where the fam­ily and tribe are still the only and of­ten uni­tary form of so­cial in­sur­ance against catas­tro­phe, the death of a bread­win­ner, ill­ness and job losses, col­lec­tive con­trol over the in­di­vid­ual is the glue that holds ev­ery­thing to­gether.

Hon­our killers kill be­cause they think they are preserving the sys­tem, sav­ing the sis­ters who did not run away. To over­come hon­our killings, a ro­bust state must take the place of the fam­ily in pro­vid­ing ba­sic guar­an­tees of se­cu­rity against de­bil­i­tat­ing losses; un­til it does so, the cruel elim­i­na­tion of those who wish to make their own choices will con­tinue.

The se­cond rea­son for fail­ure lies in the bro­ken mech­a­nisms of in­ter­na­tional ad­vo­cacy, par­tic­u­larly as they ex­ist in coun­tries like Pak­istan, which have faced the brunt of in­ter­na­tional ag­gres­sion. Sim­ply put, since "sav­ing brown women" be­came the rea­son to go to war, sto­ries of hap­less vic­tims of hon­our killings in coun­tries like Afghanistan, Pak­istan, Iraq and Syria have served to fuel a moral rea­son as to why such im­pe­rial over­tures are jus­ti­fied. Some brown women, those at risk of hon­our killings, are to be saved; oth­ers who hap­pen to be near tar­get zones for drones do not.

The hypocrisy of this is not lost on lo­cal pop­u­la­tions but it man­i­fests in a par­tic­u­larly grotesque way in the towns and vil­lages of Pak­istan that have borne di­rect hits from Amer­i­can ag­gres­sion; main­tain­ing hon­our, which trans­lates roughly to con­trol­ling women, has be­come a na­tion­al­is­tic goal, a stand for lo­cal sovereignty. Women are pay­ing with their lives; sim­ply telling their sto­ries has not saved them and will not save them. This last point is im­por­tant, for it rep­re­sents a very trou­bling moral bi­fur­ca­tion in the aid and ad­vo­cacy econ­omy via which cam­paigns against hon­our killings are funded and the com­mu­ni­ties in which moral change must take place.

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