How ‘Honour’ Is Used As A Pretext To Persecute Women In Sindh
Saima Jafri argues that ‘honour’-related crimes against women in Sindh are carried out due to the hegemony of feudal culture with the intention to deprive the victims of their rights by using ‘honour’ as a pretext.
Not a day goes by without news of murder of a woman in the name of ‘honour’ in Sindh. Strangely, the victims of ‘honour’-related crimes belong to all age brackets starting from as young as 14 to 65. So, what could be the reason? Are women in the rural areas so ‘liberated’ that they fall in love (or lust) and then end up getting killed for choosing to marry the men of their choice? Or is there something else behind it?
Take for example the case of a 60-year-old woman who was murdered in Kandhkot, Sindh, on June 6 by her husband after being declared ‘kari’. It’s evident that there is more to the honour-related crimes – family feuds, economic interests of those involved and personal grudges. The easiest way to settle a family feud is to kill a woman and probably man, too, in the name of ‘honour’.
Since laws and police are lenient towards such crimes, tribal disputes are settled in such a way that the aggrieved party murders one of its women besides murdering a man from a competing tribe, calling it ‘honour’ crime. Later, these cases are settled by local jirgas ‘peacefully’.
‘Honour’-related accusations bring in huge penalties and due to the politics of ‘honour’ killing, an exchange economy thrives within the province. Mostly, these crimes are either settled through jirgas whereby murderers are made to pay an amount as compensation, part of which is paid to the victims’ family and part to the heads of jirga. Sometimes, when the murderers family can’t pay money, they settle the dispute by handing over their girls (most of whom are minor) to settle the matter. These girls are called Bahn (arm) in Sindhi.
Sometimes women are killed them in the name of ‘honour’ by their family members who do not want to give them their share in property. On the pretext of honour, resources of the weak are snatched away to benefit the rich and powerful as protection money.
Thus, the motivations behind these crimes are numerous, mostly economic, having nothing to do with the so-called honour. However, it’s obvious that social structures add to the occurrence and perpetuation of the practice of ‘honour’ killings.
Massacre in the name of so-called ‘honour’ are common across Sindh. However, some districts such as Jacobabad, Shikarpur, Kashmor, Sukkur, Ghotki and Khairpur are well-known for such crimes. A rough estimate put the number of ‘honour’ killings in Jacobabad at 55 to 60 a month, approximately two a day (Shah, 1998).
Recent studies estimate the rate to three murders per day. Pakistani society is based upon a gendered hierarchy which strictly adheres to patriarchal value systems. Many parts of upper Sindh are stalled with the interaction between feudal, tribal and patriarchal values controlling all aspects of the lives of women. Politicization of police makes it impossible for victims to report crimes and expect justice. Mostly in ‘honour’-related crimes settlements are reached through Jirga the local counsel of powerful elite.
These men enjoy power throughout democracy or dictatorship and control police, law, administration, even education and healthcare with an iron fist. Locally these men are called wadero, sardar, bhotar, pir etc. Because of fear of social exclusion poor people have to abide by the rules and decisions of these men. Moreover, the organization of Sindhi society along lines of Zaat and Biradri discriminates against women treating them as mere objects of honour.
The overall situation of women’s rights in Sindh is disturbing to say the least. State institutions from police to parliament seem to be reluctant to implement the already passed pro-women laws which seem to be limited to papers only. As long as the perpetrators of ‘honour’ killings are provided support by local elites, no sense of justice can prevail. The influence of these men needs to be reduced and police needs to be depoliticized to reduce the hegemony of feudal culture which is resulting in a systematic genocide of women.