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Honour killings: Killing an honour?

Honour killing is back on the headlines. I have come across several stories of honour killings, not just in the developing world, but one also in the UK! So here goes something on them. Mind you I’m giving details of very few incidents here, the ones which hit the headlines, god knows how many more have gone unreported.
I don’t think that the actual figure of honour killing is available with anyone, neither is there any authority at the national or provincial level to monitor the act and collect the details in every country. The numbers are only collected from police and media reports. But what about the cases that go unreported?

Honour killing is a compoundable offence in which the parties -- accused and victim family -- can reach a compromise and settle the issue. As the accused of the honour killing is often a family member -- father, brother or husband -- of the victim, he easily earns pardon by the kin of the victim or the complainant. In such killings, parents should pursue the case, but as both the victim and accused were related, the killer gains an advantage.

Let me begin with Palestine. To the shock of all, the man killed slit the throat of his wife in the market, in front of all. Why? Just because she sought divorce from her abusive husband of 10 years!

In 2012, 12 women were killed by relatives, including three in "family honour" cases. Those include suspected adultery and similar cases. The new addition is a man killing his wife brutally in the market.
Nancy Zaboun, a 27-year-old mother of three, was reportedly regularly beaten by her 32-year-old husband Shadi Abedallah, at times so severely that she had to be hospitalized. Even then, Abedallah was never arrested, police only made him sign pledges that he would stop beating his wife. And what’s even more surprising is the fact that Abedallah himself is a former police officer and he killed her after attending a hearing in her divorce case.

Women might have scored some breakthroughs in traditional Palestinian society in recent years, including gaining a greater role in public life, but tribal laws still remain strong, and violence against women is generally viewed by police as an internal family matter.

The case might have reverberated across Palestinian society because of the brutality of the attack, but violence against women is overlooked here, as in other parts of the Arab world, and women's rights activists say abusive husbands are rarely punished.

On July 18, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) released a statement, which said a 19-year-old girl was murdered overnight in a refugee camp in Gaza City by her brother and father in an apparent "honour killing". “The body of the girl, identified only by the initials "WMQ," arrived at the city's Shifa Hospital at approximately 2:00 am (2300 GMT on Tuesday),” The Egyptian Gazette reported. "Palestinian police spokesman Major Ayman Batniji told PCHR that police opened an investigation immediately and arrested her father and her brother who both confessed to committing the crime in the context of 'family honour'," it said.

Honour killings, in which a family member murders a relative who is perceived to have ruined the family's reputation, occur periodically in the Palestinian territories.

Last year, following the murder of a woman in the southern West Bank city of Hebron, Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas pledged to amend a decades-old law under which those citing "honour" as a defence could expect to receive a jail sentence of no more than six months.

Honour killings are not new to India. They have been on the headlines very often. On July 14, a man was murdered for falling in love with an upper caste girl. Elango was murdered by a gang of men who opposed his falling in love with Selvalakshmi, 18, a dominant caste girl in Erode. Selvalakshmi’s brother Saravanan, who wanted to save the ‘honour’ of the family, arranged his friends to ‘finish off’ Elango, a dalit. His friends brought Elango to Muneerpallam secretly and killed him. Now Saravanan’s gang has been put behind bars. Selvalakshmi is depressed and sees no hope for her future. “This is not an isolated case. Many Elangos and Selvalakshmis are facing threat from their families for marrying out of their caste,” reported The Asian Age.

A local court of Badaun in Lucknow on July 30 awarded death penalty to seven members of a family for killing a couple in Fareedpur village in May 2006. The police, in its investigation, found that Deen Dayal and Aneeta, both in their early twenties, had been victims of ‘honour killing’. All those convicted belonged to the girl’s family and included her father Nathu.

A local court in Sonipat in Haryana on August 1 awarded life imprisonment to a woman and her two sons for killing her 12-year-old daughter and 14-year-old niece in the name of honour. Chanchal and her cousin Raj Kumari were killed after their grandmother caught them with their 16-year-old cousin around two years back. The judge also slapped Rs 10,000 fine each on the convicts -- Vidya Devi, Kumari's mother, Chand Varma and Suraj Varma, reported The Times of India. They would undergo an additional 10-month imprisonment if they fail to pay the fine. A police officer said the "affair'' infuriated Vidya and her two sons, who took the girls to a secluded place and strangled them to death. They then threw their bodies into a canal near Badwasni village in Sonipat on June 26, 2010.

Earlier in Pakistan, the honour killings were mostly isolated to northern Sindh, southern Punjab and some parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in Pakistan, but now the capital police are registering cases regularly especially in its rural areas, reported Dawn. At least six incidents of honour killings were reported over the last two-and-a-half months in the country.

On July 3, a man was found dead from a nullah at G-11/2. The victim, Mohammad Bashir, and his cousin Ahsanullah, natives of district Kohat, persuaded two local girls to elope with them and did a court marriage a year back. A Jirga -- a tribal assembly of elders -- was called which barred the couple from entering the village. In response, the couple migrated to Islamabad and started living at Merabadi in Golra. On July 13, the victim received a call on his mobile from his in-laws and immediately left the house. Later, he was found strangled in the nullah.

On July 6, a man killed his wife and her alleged paramour in the area of Shahzad town. Later, the accused, who escaped from the spot after the killing, surrendered to the police. The accused told the police that when he returned home on July 6, he found his bedroom locked from the inside, but his wife was in the kitchen. Later, he found a man inside his bedroom and lost his temper and killed the duo. He further claimed that around a month ago, he had returned home and found his bedroom locked. Later, his wife opened it and he saw the man escaping from another door. He rebuked his wife over her illicit relation with the man and in response she left the house. A week later, she returned on his insistence, but did not abandon the illicit relationship.

On July 19, a man killed his sister ‘MB’, 19, on pretext of “honour” at his house in Kirpa. The victim’s family was trying to convince her to marry a man of their choice, but she repeatedly refused. When asked for the reason, she disclosed that she had married secretly. Over the disclosure, her brother killed her with a pistol and escaped. Later, the victim’s father lodged a complaint against his son and the police registered a murder case.

An Afghan man killed his two teenage daughters when they returned home four days after running away with a man in a southern village, police said on July 19. The father, who shot the girls, has been detained on murder charges in Nad Ali district in the southern province of Helmand, a hotbed of the Taliban insurgency, provincial police spokesman Farid Ahmad Farhang told AFP. “He killed two of his daughters. His daughters had run away with a young man four days ago. When they returned home their father killed them,” Farhang said. Police have issued an arrest warrant for the young man, who is said to be working as an interpreter with NATO forces in the southern province, reported The Nation.

So-called “honour killing” is a common practice in Afghanistan. The Taliban recently publicly executed a young woman in a village near Kabul after she was accused of adultery. The execution was widely condemned internationally after a shocking video of the killing surfaced in Afghan media. It showed a crowd cheering as a man shot the woman with a rifle.

The UK:
It is not that only developing countries and Muslim-dominated countries are haunted by honour killings, it happens even in the developed countries, even in the West, even in the UK! A jury in the UK has begun considering its verdicts in the trial of a couple accused of murdering of their daughter because they believed she brought “shame on the family”, reported The Independent. Iftikhar Ahmed, 52, and his wife Farzana, 49, of Liverpool Road, Warrington, Cheshire, are alleged to have suffocated their 17-year-old daughter Shafilea with a plastic bag. The 10-week trial heard evidence from Shafilea's sister Alesha, who claimed that she and the rest of her siblings witnessed the murder at the family home. Taxi driver Ahmed denies murder, saying Shafilea ran away from home in the middle of the night and he never saw her again. Farzana also denies murder but told the told the jury she saw her husband beat her eldest child and she believes he killed her.
Study on honour killings:
Worldwide, most honour killings take place in Muslim countries -- Pakistan, in particular. But the northern parts of Hindu-majority India also are plagued by the phenomenon. Official estimates suggest at least 1,000 honour killings take place in each country every year. The actual numbers likely are many times that.
As Phyllis Chesler and Nathan Bloom wrote in the Summer 2012 edition of the Middle East Quarterly, “honor killing is the premeditated murder of a relative (usually a young woman) who has allegedly impugned the honor of her family.”

In the case of Pakistani honour killings, the researchers found, three motives prevailed: punishment for “illicit relationships” (often involving a woman who elopes with a mate of her own choosing); “contamination by association” (in which family member are killed for the moral sins of their sister or daughter); and “immoral character,” in which the woman or girl (the average victim age is 22) is punished for going unveiled, or otherwise flouting the standards of dour piety expected of Muslim women in backwards societies.

In Indian honour killings, these factors sometimes are present. But the dominant motivation is something entirely different: caste. This difference in honour-killing motivation is tied to a difference in the murder-sanctioning decision-making process. In Pakistan, the killings are embarked upon as small-scale family conspiracies. In India, on the other hand, caste-based councils called khap panchatays explicitly order the killings -- despite the fact that inter-caste and intra-gotra marriage has been legal in India for over half a century.

The difference in Indian/Pakistani honour-killing motivations also leads to another striking statistical gap between the two nations: “In 40% of the cases, Indian Hindus murdered men, while Pakistani Muslims murdered men only 14% of the time in Pakistan,” the authors reported. “The higher percentage of male victims in India underscores the fact that Hindu honor killings are more often about caste purity than sexual purity. While sexual purity is traditionally a female responsibility, the religious mandate to maintain strict boundaries between castes is an obligation for all Hindus, both male and female.”

From a policy-making perspective, this analysis suggests that there is more hope in India than in Pakistan for eliminating the practice of honour killing.

India has unambiguously denounced honour killings and is keen to crack down on the khap panchayats’ stubborn grip on popular attitudes in northern India. In particular, a bill drafted in 2011 stipulates that: “It shall be unlawful for any group of persons to gather, assemble or congregate with the… intention to deliberate, declare on, or condemn any marriage or relationship such as marriage between two persons of majority age in the locality concerned on the basis that such conduct or relationship has dishonored the caste or community or religion of all or some of the persons forming part of the assembly or the family or the people of the locality concerned.” Unfortunately, the fate of the legislation remains uncertain -- because the khap panchayats still have political sway.

In Pakistan, the situation is worse, because national authorities don’t even control large swathes of their own country’s northern borderlands -- let alone the murderous intra-familial dynamics of the tribes that inhabit these areas.

Political Islam also is a complicating factor in Pakistan. Like the Hindu faith, Islam provides no explicit religious justification for honour killings. Yet the perceived imperative of “protecting” Muslim women from the “impurities” of the West has become wrapped up with the Islamist political project, and so has blurred into a quasi-religious justification for honour killings.

In 2009, the authors note, “Pakistan’s National Assembly passed the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill, which strengthened legal protections against domestic violence for women and children. However, the Council of Islamic Ideology, a constitutional body charged with assessing whether laws are consistent with Islamic injunctions, issued a statement saying the bill ‘would fan unending family feuds and push up divorce rates.’ After this, the bill was held up in the Pakistani senate and allowed to lapse.”

Moreover: “Under Sharia-based provisions of Pakistan’s judicial system, murderers can buy a pardon by paying blood money (dyad) to the victim’s family. Since the family of honor killing victims are nearly always sympathetic to the honor killer as well as complicit to some degree, getting a pardon is usually just a formality. Women’s rights organizations in Pakistan have pressed parliament to disallow the practice of blood money in honor killing cases, but conservative Islamist groups have blocked the needed legislation.”

From a strictly Western point of view, the most interesting conclusion from the Chesler/Bloom study is this: Pakistani immigrants to the West sometimes bring the seeds of a deadly honour culture with them, while Indian immigrants typically do not.

That is because the belief that a family’s honour lives and dies with the perceived chastity and obedience of its female members is deeply culturally ingrained in Pakistan, and often survives for decades, even on Western soil. On the other hand, Indians who emigrate to the West also leave behind the khap panchayats, and the codes of caste behaviour they enforce. (To my knowledge, certainly, there are no khap panchayat in Brampton or Mississauga -- at least, none that issue murder decrees.)
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