Throttled by ‘Honor’

A woman was killed last week for marrying a man of her choice. She was beaten to death by her father, brothers, and former fiance. First, they tried to snatch her away from her husband. When that failed, her own kin attacked her, swung bricks at her, and beat her till her screams eventually stopped. They finally succeeded in killing her after previous attempts to attack her on multiple occasions had failed. She was three months pregnant.

This did not happen on the orders of a Jirga. This didn’t happen in a rural village or a quiet neighborhood in an urban locality with no witnesses. This did not happen in some abandoned property late at night. No, this crime took place in broad daylight, near Lahore High Court (LHC) with eyewitnesses standing by and doing nothing as a woman was murdered before their eyes.

An important fact related to the case is being misrepresented in almost all official reports. The public ‘honor’ killing of Farzana is being referred to as a stoning. This could not be further from the truth. The victim’s father told investigators that four people were involved in the plotting of the murder, which means it was a premeditated ‘honor’ killing. What it wasn’t is a public stoning. Pakistan is one amongst 15 countries where stoning as a punishment is practiced, but these incidents of stoning are always extra-judicial. Stoning is the punishment for committing zina (adultery), and in countries where it is legal or practiced, it is sanctioned by the law, or by the community. In the case of Pakistan, where it is practiced, but not legal.

As the online initiative Pakistan Feminist Watch wrote in their statement: “This is also being misreported as a stoning which makes it seem like a state-sanctioned punishment which it was not. No parallel legal system ordered it either… Her family members fired at her and then used bricks and stones that were lying near them to beat her to death… A stoning is very different. This was not one.”

Pertinent questions that arise in this situation is the inaction of the court. If courts had not opened at the time, surely there were lawyers going to and fro from LHC? And if the crime was committed right in front of the LHC, where were the court’s security guards? Why were they absent from the crime scene, and if present, why didn’t they do anything to prevent the crime? And what about the crowd of onlookers that gathered as the deed was committed, but did not attempt to stop it? Reports reveal that Farzana was supposedly escorted by three policemen, how then was she attacked and eventually killed? Her husband  and stepson begged the police  who refused to help. The case is eerily reminiscent of the Sialkot lynching of two young brothers in 2010. The two boys were beaten to death by a mob, while those looking on, including police officers, did nothing. That is the only similarity to the case of course, but one has to wonder how or why, we as a people, have reached this point. Two teenagers, or a pregnant woman are beaten to death before us, and we do nothing to prevent the crime from happening.

Foreign media outlets picked up on the story within hours. The Guardian, New York Times, Time, all ran the story, and the news was successfully outraged over on social media. Dawn, Express Tribune, and The News dedicated an editorial each to condemning the public killing.

According to a report published by Aurat Foundation in 2012, the number of ‘honor’ killings reported for the years 2008-2012 decreased from 475 cases in 2008 to 432 in 2012. This isn’t an indicator of a decrease in killings in the name of  ‘honor.’ The decrease in figures indicates that ‘honor’ killings were perhaps reported on less since the Aurat Foundation builds its reports on media sources. In contrast, the Human Rights Commission Pakistan (HRCP) report cited 869 cases of ‘honor’ killings in 2013. Thanks to the Qisas and Diyat laws, ‘honor’ killings have  become easier, so to speak, as the men who commit ‘honor’ killings are brothers, fathers, uncles of the women, and, therefore, can be forgiven by their family under the law, and avoid jail time.

 There is no justification for committing murder in any situation. But ‘honor’ killings are problematic when the reasons for committing murder are ‘infidelity’ or ‘illicit affairs’; the reality is that just glancing at another man, speaking to one, or walking next to a man, can and is considered as proof of an ‘illicit’ relationship between a man and woman. In any case, suspected or confirmed infidelity is not a cause for murder, and the social double standards which allow men to marry as they please, but punish women for forgetting that they are another man’s property are increasingly hypocritical. Love marriages and elopement are often involved in ‘honor’ killings, due to the mindset that a woman marrying of her own choice brings dishonor to the family. Why? Because in a patriarchal social structure, a woman’s agency is taken away, and her life is dictated by the traditions and customs of patriarchy. Any deviation from these traditions is a blow against the patriarchy and  family honour is one of patriarchy’s many tools.

The head of the family is male, and so, if the women under his ‘rule’ deviates in any way, the ‘burden’ falls upon him, and the other male members of the family, to punish the transgression, so that the family ‘honor,’ or rather his ‘honor,’ is restored to its virginal glory, and the structure of patriarchy remains intact.

But is patriarchy breaking or not? That is the key question here, because the majority of women’s problems is caused by patriarchy, and that is why it must be dismantled. According to Bolo Bhi’s news records, from May 12-31 there were 23 cases of ‘honor’ killings reported in Dawn, The News, and Express Tribune. Out of these, 15 cases cited alleged affairs, and five cited  love marriages as a ‘cause’ of murder. More and more reports of honour killings are related to women choosing their partner. Isn’t this a sign that women are gaining more agency and making more decisions on their own, causing cracks within the patriarchy? Considering that women are well aware that they face death by eloping or marrying of their own choice, isn’t this a rebellion of sorts, a decision to die on their own terms rather than be bartered off into marriage a symbol of silent defiance?

[Read Pakistan’s Suffragettes by Farieha Aziz] 

Whether that is the case or not, it is no justification for senseless violence. The destruction of patriarchy cannot come at such a high cost – at the sacrifice of so many innocent women across the country. But it is a matter of how we choose to perceive the situation. We cannot individually charge across the nation as vigilantes. It may sound heroic, but it is not a solution in any case. But consider this: what if the increase in acts of violence against women is a desperate attempt by the patriarchy to regain control over rebellious women? Wouldn’t recognizing the weakening of a seemingly-invincible social structure give us greater power to fight it? Rather than despairing over the inhumanity of murdering a woman in broad daylight, it is better to not let an innocent woman’s death be in vain and become yet another statistic. Rights organizations including the Human Rights Commission Pakistan (HRCP), Shirkat Gah, Women’s Action Forum (WAF)  as well as the United Nations (UN) have expressed their horror at the crime, and the impunity that allowed this to happen in broad daylight.

Let Farzana be a symbol of the brutality of patriarchy, the barbarity of a social system that disproportionately favors men and reduces women to chattel. Let our collective rage become a clarion call to all who support the cause. As more and more women defy social conventions for the right to make their own life decisions, it will only represent female empowerment  as women risk death to live on their own terms. That they should not have to risk their lives is a moot point; what matters is how many women take the risk, because each woman represents hope for the future of women in the country.


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[…] brutal public murder of Farzana Parveen. (See Bolo Bhi’s blog on the murder of Farzana Parveen here) This should not come as a shock considering the high rate of violence against women (VAW) in the […]

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