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A bitter food for thought…..

Whenever the topic of “honour killings” came up in any Dinner party or gathering I attended, I would end up arguing and fighting against it being a Pakistani or a Muslim phenomenon.

Alas, God  heard my cries and enlightened someone else also, to acknowledge that honour killings are not synonymous with only Pakistan.( We needn’t worry! We have  monopoly over many other issues like Feudalism, bigotry,  “outside hand”, to name a few. And yes, we also have a huge turnover from the “rumour factories” all across the land).

Yesterday, I came across an article in The Independent by Robert Fisk. He introduces it by the opening paragraph:
“ It is a tragedy, a horror, a crime against humanity. The details of the murders – of the women beheaded, burned to death, stoned to death, stabbed, electrocuted, strangled and buried alive for the “honour” of their families – are as barbaric as they are shameful. Many women’s groups in the Middle East and South-west Asia suspect the victims are at least four times the United Nations’ latest world figure of around 5,000 deaths a year. Most of the victims are young: many are teenagers, slaughtered under a vile tradition that goes back hundreds of years but which now spans half the globe.”

(However, his is a half the truth. It doesn’t span only half the globe—it spans across the globe. Only the magnitude may be variable . Fisk failed to mention the lands beyond the Atlantic Ocean).

The Independent did a 10 month long research and investigated the existence of Honour Killings in various Middle Eastern and South Asian countries. The study came out with few interesting facts:
-Although unfortunately being stereotyped as a “Muslim practice”, it exists among the Christian and Hindu communities as well.
-Men are also killed for honour at times.

Indeed, this barbaric practice transcends beyond any faith and sect. It is a hallmark of ‘Jahalat” (ignorance is too soft a word for this ). It would be an equally heinous crime to label it to any religion -whether Hinduism or Islam or Christianity or any other ism for that matter.

My heart bleeds when even seasoned journalists label it “a largely Muslim practice”. It may be more frequent in some Muslim communities but that has more to do with their level of ignorance rather than their faith. For all those who either don’t know or simply forgot-Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had denounced, campaigned against and banned the “female infanticide”(burying the female child) some 1400 and more years ago. The birth of the female child in PreIslamic Arabia was a dishonour to the family.

The practice of Honour Killing dates back to 2000 years, and has been documented to be existing in the ancient Rome and the Mesopotamian Civilizations(in Hammurabi’s Code).

The reports from Amnesty International and other Human Rights groups indicate that menace of honour killings is increasing each year.

The Fisk article mentions, “ Iraqi Kurds, Palestinians in Jordan, Pakistan and Turkey appear to be the worst offenders but media freedoms in these countries may over-compensate for the secrecy which surrounds “honour” killings in Egypt – which untruthfully claims there are none – and other Middle East nations in the Gulf and the Levant. But honour crimes long ago spread to Britain, Belgium, Russia and Canada and many other nations.”

UNFPA estimates that annual worldwide total of such killings is around 5,000. I beg to disagree here. This may be the hard statistics,  but it just represents the tip of an iceberg. A vast majority (upto 90%) of these dastardly acts are conveniently reported as suicides or accidents.

In fact, honor killing exists  in the garb of various other names in different parts of the world. It comes with the name of “Karo-Kari” in Pakistan, “Dowry Deaths or Bride Burning” in India, “Loss of Ird” in the Bedouin (Middle Eastern) communities and as “Crimes of Passion“in Latin American countries.
Each of these kinds merit their explanation and clarifications:
KARO-KARI: The compound word literally means “black male”(Karo) and Black female (Kari), a metaphor for the adulterers. Once a couple is accused of “immoral behaviour” the male family members authorise “themselves” to restore the honour of the family by killing both the karo and the kari. But the real life scenario is that in most of the times only the female accomplice becomes the victim, whilst the perpetrators are close male relatives-father, brother, husband or son. One needn’t bother to get a witness, mere suspicion and accusation is enough to desecrate a family’s honour. To wind up the event the victim’s family pardons the murderer (usually from within the family) or are “counselled” by the elders of the community to accept blood money (if the perpetrators are outsiders). And hence the murderer sails free in ALMOST ALL the cases . A Bill against the practice was passed in the Pakistani Parliament in November 2006, but the practice still goes unabated. We still have a couple of “people’s representative” sitting in the parliament who have the audacity to stand up and justify the incident as “our culture”. And the irony is that one of them remains a Minister – with just a change in his Ministry after human rights activists’ cries for his removal.

DOWRY DEATH/BRIDE BURNING: It isn’t technically an honour killing, but the motive behind the act is similar —for not honouring the in laws by not bringing “enough” dowry. (Dowry is a symbol of the high credentials of the groom. The more he earns the more dowry he deserves). A young woman is murdered by her husband and his family for not living up to their expectations of the dowry she brings with her. She is typically dowsed with Kerosene, and set alight leading to death by fire. Although there is legislation in place since 1961 as Dowry Prohibition Act, about 500-600 brides are dowsed each year. The murderers and the abetters can be sentenced to from 7 years to life imprisonment, but the reality is that many are passed on as accidental kitchen fire or a suicide unless the girl’s parents are strong enough to cry foul. The dowry deaths saw their peak in the 80s and early 90s in India. I remember reading at least 2 or 3 cases each day in the newspaper those days.

LOSS OF IRD: This is a preIslamic custom. “Ird” is a Bedouin honour code for women. A woman is born with her “ird’ intact, but any immoral act of sexual infidelity could take her ird away. Los of ird doesn’t merely imply to the physical transgression, but it is more of an emotional concept. Once lost, a woman cannot regain her ird  . In contrast to this “Sharafa”–the honour code for men can be acquired, augmented, lost and regained.  And if this wasn’t enough Sharafa is required to protect the Ird of the women of the family and honour of the tribe. Majority of these cases get highlighted only in the countries like Jordan, Iraq or Turkey. In countries where press is gagged—like Egypt and the Gulf,  the incidents are claimed to be nonexistent. We can guess that.

CRIME OF PASSION: This too isn’t technically claimed as an honour killing but the perpetrator generally kills the woman when his honour is stabbed by her presumed or real infidelity. It could be considered more of a form of domestic violence where the husband, partner, lover or the boyfriend murders the woman in a rage of jealousy or when the latter being caught for infidelity. Usually the perpetrators claim to have committed the act in a fit of rage or “temporary insanity” (in legal language) and the crime gets mitigated. Unfortunately a lot of the offenders get away with lighter sentences on that account. “Femicide” and violence against women as it is also called has reached alarming proportions in the Latin America. In a report from Peru, 58% of men accused of murdering their women blamed it on the infidelity or jealousy.

The irony is that in any form of honour killing, one need not prove the offence and the offence need not be grave either. Just a suspicion or a dream could lead to the act. So also, it need not be a grave act of marital infidelity or premarital sex, even flirting and failing to serve her man on time can be enough to dishonour the fragile “honour’ of men in her life(whether a husband or a father or a brother).

Statistics say that all round the globe only half the killings are by firearms, the rest being by throttling, strangling or stabbing with a knife. Majority of women are between the ages of 16 and 30 years of age.

Wherever it is done (here or there), whoever commits it (a brother or a husband),or Whatever the motive is (honour or jealousy) the end result remains the same—a woman (in 99.9%) cases) becomes a prey to the misogynist mindset of a close male relative.

The practice is nurtured by the idea that Woman is “our property” and that the violence against a woman is “a family issue” and not a judicial one.

As quoted in an old article from National Geographic on honour killings: “Women are considered the property of the males in their family irrespective of their class, ethnic, or religious group. The owner of the property has the right to decide its fate. The concept of ownership has turned women into a commodity which can be exchanged, bought and sold.”

Just to give a firsthand feel I copy-paste some of the real-life clips from across the globe:
* In Turkey, a young woman’s throat was slit in the town square because a love ballad had been dedicated to her over the radio.
*In Delhi, India, Deepika Bajaj (28), customer care and services manager of Hans Hyundai in Jhilmil Colony, was burnt to death allegedly by her husband and in-laws,over the issue of dowry, in their house at Gopal Park. The woman had made a call to the police saying that her in-laws were trying to set her ablaze. When the police reached the spot, she was found burnt in her room.
*In Pakistan , five women were buried alive for “honour crimes” in Baluchistan by armed tribesmen; three of them – Hameeda, Raheema and Fauzia – were teenagers who, after being beaten and shot, were thrown still alive into a ditch where they were covered with stones and earth. When the two older women, aged 45 and 38, protested, they suffered the same fate. The three younger women had tried to choose their own husbands.
*In Iraq, a 17-year-old girl, Rand Abdel-Qader, was beaten to death by her father because she had become infatuated with a British soldier. Another, Shawbo Ali Rauf, 19, was taken by her family to a picnic in Dokan and shot seven times because they had found an unfamiliar number on her mobile phone.
* Even in liberal Lebanon, there are occasional “honour” killings, the most notorious that of a 31-year-old woman, Mona Kaham,
whose father entered her bedroom and cut her throat after learning she had been made pregnant by her cousin. He walked to the police station in Roueiss in the southern suburbs of Beirut with the knife still in his hand. “My conscience is clear,” he told the police. “I have killed to clean my honour.”
*In India, an engaged couple, Yogesh Kumar and Asha Saini, were murdered by the 19-year-old bride-to-be’s family because her fiancée was of lower caste. They were apparently tied up and electrocuted to death.
*In Peru, in a police report obtained by IPS, Juan José Galiano, 36, confessed that he strangled his partner, Rosa Trujillo, 38, because he suspected her of carrying another man’s child.
*In Brazil: The mountainous south eastern state of Minas Gerais is commonly known as the terra dos machoes, or land of the machos. “Here, if a man sleeps around with other women, it’s a sign of masculinity,” says Elaine Matozinho, a policewoman in Belo Horizonte. “But if a woman is an adulteress, it’s a different story: she pays with her life.”
*”In Jordan, if a woman is afraid that her family wants to kill her, she can check herself into the local prison, but she can’t check herself out, and the only person who can get her out is a male relative, who is frequently the person who poses the threat,”
*In London,UK„The 16-year-old was stabbed to death by her Muslim father Abdullah, in west London, because he disapproved of her Christian boyfriend.
*In Canada, Aqsa Parvez, who was found strangled in her family’s home. Friends said Aqsa had been at odds with her family over her refusal to wear the hijab.
*In Canada,Kamikar Singh Dhillon, who pleaded guilty to stabbing Amandeep Kaur, 22, to death Jan 1, 2009, said he feared his daughter-in-law would leave his son for another man with whom she was allegedly having an affair.

PS. After all this writing I do not have any spirits left in me to conclude this note. My mind is numb. I leave it on the readers to draw their own solutions to the problem and give the feedback if interested.
Read and think……..

Ilmana Fasih
8 September 2010.

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