Honor Killing of Women in Sindh and Southern Punjab

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III.    Causative Analysis of honor killings

3.1     Honor and power

The prime justification of honor killings is the notion of woman’s commodification and conceptions of honour associated with her body. These ideas seem to be deeply rooted in tribal culture. The socio-cultural setup attaches a monetary value to women where they are considered as property of the male members of their family As such women are turned into a tradable commodity and their right to decide their own fate is surrendered to their male relatives.

These ownership rights come into play at the time of marriage of a woman, which is almost always decided by the parents or other family elders. At this time, a major consideration is the property or assets that the young woman has a right to inherit one day. The woman is married off either against payment of a bride price to her father or gifted a dowry which means the bride forfeits all her inheritance rights. This commodification is also the basis of the tradition of khoon baha (blood money) where a woman may be handed over to an adversary to settle a conflict.

The other driver of honor killing is the conceptualization of family honor which has always to be protected by the woman and which gives complete and unchallenged rights over her body, speech, free will and thought to her male family members. Women are seen to embody the honour of the men to whom they ‘belong’ and by being perceived to enter an ‘illicit’ sexual relationship, a woman defiles the honour of her family and hence loses her right to life. A man’s ability to salvage his and his family’s honor must be demonstrated publicly only by killing those who have tarnished it. Otherwise, he would be considered as ‘Baighirat’ by the community.

However, what defiles honor is ambiguous and fluid – patriarchal control is not only limited to a woman’s body and her sexual behavior, but also extends to her thought process and freedom to assert her will. While the society sanctions different standards of honor and chastity for men and women, the man’s honor defiled by a woman’s alleged or real sexual misdemeanor is only partly restored by killing the woman – the alleged man has to be killed also. In Sindh, such a woman called a Kari is generally murdered first, while her partner, Karo, often flees. The punishment does not stop with only killing the Karo and Kari but also continues in death – they do not get the ritual bath, a prayer or a shroud and are buried in unmarked graves in a graveyard reserved for people like them called ‘Karion jo Qabristan’, a graveyard for Karo and Kari[18].

3.2     Anything but honor

The practice of killing in the name of honor is believed to erase the stigma brought on the family by an alleged adulterous woman. However, in some cases it is observed that women were killed on the pretext of honor while the actual motive remained something else. Cases have been reported where innocent men and women were declared Karo Kari and murdered for reasons other than besmirching family honor but to settle old feuds, acquire land, get money to pay off debts, to get a second wife, to get rid of an unwanted woman, and so on[19].

3.3     Factors contributing to honor killings

Honor crimes are attributed to social customs and traditions and are not thought of as criminal acts by people. Even if the law recognizes an honor crime as punishable, the practice is that the perpetrator goes unpunished as the society sanctions the act.

Honor crimes are part of the pervasive culture of violence against women. This culture of violence stems from illiteracy, poverty, feudally controlled socio-economic structure and a complete lack of awareness and/ or disregard of women’s rights. Another idea linked to the perpetuation of violence against women is that it should not be made public. The peculiar socio-economic realities exclude the woman from any decision-making in their families. This, coupled with the fact that all issues concerning women must not be made public, increases the vulnerability of women.

A significant factor responsible for the rise in the incidence of honor killings is the weak legal and judicial response which usually discourages reporting of cases, and even if cases are reported, lets the perpetrators go unpunished. Most honor crimes are not reported as it usually involves a male relative of the victim. The criminal justice system does not consider domestic violence a matter for the criminal courts. It is routinely dismissed by law enforcement authorities as a ‘private dispute’ and female survivors are discouraged by the police to register a case. Even if a woman succeeds in registering a case, the institutionalized gender bias impedes her access to justice[20].

In addition to cultural explanations of honor crimes, economic and financial considerations are also at play. Inherited property and dowry are important tools to regulate female behavior especially in reference to marriage. Sometimes marriages are arranged in the family just to keep the property/ land in the family. As such if the woman refuses to marry, economic interests are threatened, which may lead to the family’s men acting to control the woman invoking the notion that the family’s honor is put at stake by the errant woman. A widowed or divorced woman’s sons would forbid her from remarrying especially is she owns some property as that property would be transferred to the other family (Hussain, 2006). 

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