Death is inevitable. We’re all destined to die one day; but for some, death lies in the hands of the ones we call family — in the form of honour killing. It’s the murder of a female by her male family relatives.
Honour killings are acts of vengeance committed by members of a family against a family member due to the belief of the perpetrator that the victim has brought dishonour upon the household. Thus, in order to ‘purify’ the family name and prestige, they murder their own ‘flesh and blood’. It is also referred to as ‘femicide’ since women represent the highest percentage of fatalities in this practice.
Honour killing is especially prevalent in the southern parts of Asia – Pakistan and India, and the Middle East, where women are at a great social and institutional disadvantage. In these societies, this horrendous act is not viewed as murder, but dressed up in a more refined and polished label: ‘honor killing’.
In patriarchal and male-dominated societies, the activities of women and girls are closely monitored. The preservation of a woman’s ‘purity’ is considered the responsibility of male relatives – first her father and brothers, then her husband and a woman is viewed as a second-grade citizen.
She can be targeted for several reasons, which include seeking a divorce, refusal to enter an arranged marriage, being a victim of sexual assault, or perpetrating adultery. Rape, too, is viewed as inexplicably abhorrent and an act that brings disrepute to the family.
Furthermore, even such a thing as wanting to have her say in her own marriage can be a trigger that could lead to the killing of a woman.
An example of this malicious act was the murder of 26-year-old Qandeel Baloch from Pakistan. Even though she was from an impoverished and a deprived household, this did not act as a barrier for her to fulfill her dreams.
Like many other women in parts of southern Asia, Qandeel was not hesitant to use the power of social media to gain the fame she desired, despite the censures she faced nationally. She rose to prominence through her videos which she regularly posted on Facebook. She was both criticized and admired for her actions.
On 15 July 2016, Baloch was drugged and asphyxiated while asleep by her brother Waseem, who later on proudly confessed to murdering his sister, saying, ‘she [Qandeel Baloch] was bringing disrepute to our family’s honour and I could not tolerate it any further.” Baloch was slain for her courage and openness on social media, which was seen as menacing for her male relatives.
The murder received international attention and was condemned by celebrities all over the world due to the horrendous context of sexism and the brutally inflicted on a woman in the name of ‘honor’ that so frequently jeopardizes women in Pakistan and the rest of the world.
In another macabre incident, a group of young boys and girls were put to death just because they decided to sing, clap and dance at a wedding, and “it crossed the limits set by villagers.”
In May 2012, a grainy cellphone footage emerged in a remote part of Pakistan called Kohistan, a rural region where social interaction between men and women is a taboo. The narrow-minded village elders saw the celebration as a flagrant defiance of strict tribal customs and traditions that separate men and women at gatherings.
A jirga – a tribal decision-making assembly led by male elders – decided that not only were the people in the video to be killed, but also the boys’ families were to be wiped out. The reason was that the man has brought dishonour to the girl’s family, and so his entire family must be ‘slaughtered’ as an act of revenge.
Several days later, their own friends and family burnt them and buried their corpses in the mountains, in the hope that the northern snows would veil their criminal and inhuman act, until one young man had the courage to dig it up.
Afzal Kohistani was the eldest brother of the young men who were killed. He fled Kohistan fearing for his life. He tried for justice for his innocent brothers and the girls, going against his tribe’s conservative ways of life. Afzal said: “This has destroyed my family. The girls are dead, my brothers have been killed and nothing has been done to bring justice or protect us. I know I will probably be killed, too, but it doesn’t matter. What happened is wrong, and it has to change.”
Afzal had come out into the open and had made it his mission to seek justice not only for himself and his family, but for women in Kohistan and the rest of the country. He left the people of Pakistan in shock as he told the horror stories of honour killings in remote areas of Pakistan where matters of family honour are settled in blood.
Seven years later, Afzal Kohistani was killed. He was shot in a busy commercial area in the north-western city of Abbottabad and died on the spot. His decision to expose the alleged murders had sparked a blood feud that had also seen three of his brothers killed. Afzal failed to get justice.
If honour killing is done for saving the honour of a family, where is the honour in killing someone? Religion and culture cannot be invoked as an excuse for murdering someone, because no religion teaches its believers to kill, and no culture has the right to allow the manslaughter of men or women based on their perception of ethics and honour.
The freedom of belief does not mean the freedom to kill.
People find it permissible to commit such hideous crimes because their ancestors have been committing it for centuries, and the traditions have been passed down from generation to generation. Instead of seeking alternatives to restore the family’s reputation, these wrongheaded people go straight into murdering the person, under the misconception that getting rid of the person would get rid of the ‘shame’ and ‘dishonour’ brought upon the family name.
Honour killing is an inhuman practice derived from some centuries-old customs and traditions that were practiced in the past not only by Muslims, but also Christians and Jews. This appalling crime should have been buried in the past.