September 5, 2005

Pakistani girl, 15, flees in fear of honor killing

By Athar Husain

DAHARKI, Pakistan (Reuters) - Her nose is bandaged from the
bridge to the tip because, she says, her husband and his
relatives tried to cut it off.

If they catch her again, 15-year-old Lakhmira is sure
she'll be killed.

Married just four months ago, this skinny girl will be
lucky if she doesn't end up in one of the nameless graves in
burial grounds reserved for "karo kari," or honor killing,
victims in the tribal badlands of Pakistan's southern Sindh

Meeting secretly on a moonless night at her hiding place
among the marshes surrounding Daharki town, 340 miles north of
the port city of Karachi, Lakhmira sobbed and shook with fear
as she recounted her nightmare.

"If someone does not come to our rescue I will commit
suicide," Lakhmira moaned softly, tears streaming down her

"In our culture it is impossible for a girl to live after
being declared a kari even if it is a false charge. Only God
knows the truth."

Literally a "black woman," a "kari" is a woman accused of
having sex outside of marriage, while "karo" is the male
version. The custom is rooted in tribalism, although strict
interpretations of Islam's hudood penal code also rule that
adulterers should be stoned to death.

Lakhmira's 40-year-old husband, Dilawar, declared her a
"kari" after she told people that his nephews were molesting
her, wounding male pride in an influential family of the Shar

Official estimates put the number of honor killings or karo
kari murders at over 4,000 between 2001 and 2004.

The government enacted a law earlier this year specifically
banning honor killings, as perpetrators have received lenient
treatment even in cases where murder charges were brought.

But little has changed, rights groups say.

"There is also no evidence that honor killings have
decreased after this law," said Kamila Hyat, a director of the
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

Hyat said she had not heard of any prosecutions for the
crime, and while 200 such killings had been reported to the
HRCP between January and July, many more would have gone


Lakhmira lives in Ghotki, a district dominated by
chieftains, or sardars, who control feudal and tribal
communities in a region that has the highest number of "kari"
killings in Sindh.

Around Daharki there are three graveyards where "kari"
victims are dumped without proper Muslim burial rituals.

"There is a place close by where the women are brought and
killed and then cut up into pieces and buried quietly,"
villager Mohammad Ali Shar told Reuters, warning that it was
risky to go there because of the sardar's orders.

Other villagers overcame their fear to guide a Reuters
journalist and photographer to one alleged burial ground at Dah
Jampur, some 22 miles north of Daharki, where surrounded by
cotton fields some 40 unmarked mud graves lie untended.

District police officer Iqbal Kadri says the bodies are
there but he cannot make a case because of the fear and
reluctance of victims' families to come forward due to social

When cases do come to light, it is often because they
involve large sums of money, or property.

A local journalist told Reuters that around a dozen women
are declared kari every month in Ghotki district.

"It is convenient to declare a man or woman karo or kari to
settle old enmities, property and marital disputes," he said.
Sometimes a sardar brokers a compensation deal or arranges for
the woman to be sold, but often it ends in death, he added.


In Lakhmira's case she was accused of having an affair with
a man she says she has never even met.

Told that she would have to face the sardar with the
accusation, Lakhmira took refuge in her parents' house.

But when her husband and relatives came looking for her she
fled to a neighbor's where she was caught.

Only the intervention of a respected elder woman, who
insisted on mercy by invoking the Koran, saved Lakhmira from
death. But before she escaped the men began to mutilate her
nose -- a customary disfigurement for women deemed

Dressed in a grubby shalwar kameez, the long tunic and
baggy pants Pakistani women wear, and wrapped in a frayed
shawl, Lakhmira still possesses a clear complexion and striking
features despite the dirty, bloodstained bandage dominating her

Police refused to register a case against her husband after
the assault, she said.

Instead, when Dilawar and his friends returned looking for
Lakhmira at her parents' home, they accused her elderly father
of attacking his son-in-law. The police then arrested the old

"I feel completely helpless," Lakhmira cried, as much
distressed by her father's plight as her own.

She is now living under the protection of a local leftist
leader, Mandal Shah, who has a reputation for defying tribal
customs. He has his own stronghold in the semi-arid marshlands,
otherwise considered no-go areas, ruled by sardars and infested
with dacoits, or bandits.

Shah persuaded the frightened girl to meet with Reuters
journalists, who were only able to reach her under cover of
darkness after a two-hour drive, weaving over a sun-cracked
clay path between muddy pools of salty water.

Shah feared he couldn't protect Lakhmira indefinitely.

"I don't know for how long we can manage to provide her a
safe haven," Shah said.