May 27, 2006
Pakistanis try confronting shame of honor killing
By Waheed Khan
KARACHI (Reuters) - Ayesha Baloch was dragged to a field,
her brother-in-law held the 18-year-old down, her husband sat
astride her legs and slit her upper lip and nostril with a
They call such assaults on women a matter of "honor" in
some Pakistani communities, but for the majority it is a source
of national shame.
Married less than two months ago in Pakistan's central
district of Dera Ghazi Khan, Baloch was accused of having
sexual relations with another man before marriage.
"First they tortured me and beat me. I started screaming.
Akbar then caught my hands and pulled me to the ground. Essa
sat on my legs and cut my nose and lips," Baloch mumbled
through her bandages at hospital in the city of Multan.
"I was bleeding and started screaming after they fled on a
motorcycle. People heard me and rescued me and took me to my
At least she wasn't killed.
More than 1,000 women are slain by their husbands or
relatives, and that is just the reported, not actual, number of
"honor killings" in Pakistan each year.
Many killings are planned rather than done in rage, and the
motive often has more to do with money or settling scores.
The same week, a world away from Baloch's village, social
activists, parliamentarians and community leaders gathered in
the suburban, leafy capital of Islamabad to launch a campaign
-- "We Can End Honor Killing."
Farhana Faruqi Stocker, country director of international
aid agency Oxfam, said some 10,000 people called
"change-makers" had signed up so far.
But Stocker knows two constituencies will be vital to the
"The mindset of legislators has to be changed in order for
good legislation to come out," Stocker told Reuters.
But she is well aware that there are many remote rural
areas of Pakistan where maulvis, or clerics, exert more
influence than local government and federal law.
"In order to bring change, we have to engage with clerics."
MORE THAN LAWS NEEDED
Pakistan is a country living in many centuries at once.
Its small, Westernised elite embrace the 21st, conservative
clerics preach strict interpretations of Islam from the Middle
Ages, while many of its poor rural communities are governed by
tribal customs going back long before Islam arrived.
Honor killings are known as "karo-kari" killings.
A woman is deemed a "black woman," a "kari," once she is
accused of having sex outside of marriage and is liable to be
killed. "Karo" is the male version.
The custom is rooted in tribalism, although a strict
interpretation of Islam's hudood penal code also rules that
adulterers should be stoned to death.
A former president of Pakistan, Farooq Ahmed Leghari, comes
from Dera Ghazi Khan. He says it will take more than laws to
change society there, or places like it.
"To fight this menace you need social movements involving
people from all segments of society," Leghari told Reuters
after the launch of the campaign against "honor killings."
President Pervez Musharraf champions enlightenment, but
critics say he has achieved little due to the influence of
tribal chieftains, feudal lords and religious parties in
A law enacted last year set a minimum 10-year jail sentence
for perpetrators of so-called honor killings.
But rights lawyer Rashid Rehman said crimes are more often
covered up by families, and police prefer not to get involved.
"Those arrested are often freed for lack of evidence or
after reconciling with the victims' families, in most cases
close relatives," he said.
While police have taken Ayesha Baloch's assailants into
custody, along with their father who egged them on, she has low
expectations of justice; "They are powerful people with money,
and will get out on bail."
Mukhtaran Mai, an icon for oppressed women and herself the
victim of a gang rape in 2002, said police should enforce the
law without bias, but getting more girls into school was
"Until women are allowed to get educated ... these crimes
will continue," said Mai, whose rape was ordered by village
elders after her 12-year-old brother was accused of having
sexual relations with a woman of another tribe.
Some 70 percent of Pakistanis live in rural areas where
feudalism and tribalism still thrive and traditional codes
Burdened by a population of 160 million growing at well
over two percent a year, and with an annual per capita income
of $800, Pakistan is in danger of being swamped by social
Cities are inundated with migrants from rural areas, who
bring village ways with them.
Police face an uphill battle even to stop an increase in
honor killings, never mind eradicate the crime, according to
Fida Hussain Mastoi, assistant inspector-general of police in
the southern province of Sindh.
Days earlier, Nur Jehan died in Karachi, a month after
being shot four times by relatives who accused her of loose
They tracked her down in the city, having traveled from a
village in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, then
seized her, shot her and left her for dead in a ditch. She
survived for a month in hospital, until a stomach wound became
She was 14.