Pakistan: Marriage By Choice Becoming Taboo
By Nida Nida
It was spine-chilling for Pakistanis to hear news of the grandfather who killed his daughter and his own grandchildren
only for protecting the so-called honour of the family. The crime was that the daughter had married a man of her own
choice, and not that of the head of her family. The father was so vindictive he waited five years to take revenge for
his ‘honour’. He was quite satisfied after taking his revenge on the grand children, who had nothing to do with their
mother’s decision to marry of her own choice. He didn’t stop there either. He also killed two young men, brothers of the
groom, as he held them responsible too for dishonouring his prestige.
Ms. Shahnaz Tahir, resident of Tara Singh village in Depalpur, Okara district, Punjab Province, was brutally murdered by
her father and his henchmen on the night of 22nd July. Shahnaz had tied the knot with Mr. Tahir Sarwar five years ago.
She eloped with Tahir, an action which brought social stigma to her family. His father vowed to kill his daughter,
following a practice understood to be traditional.
Tahir, after marriage, left his home town along with his wife and lived in another city due to fear of honor killing.
After five years of marriage, they decided to visit their parents, thinking that now their parents would accept them and
their innocence. But when daughter and his son-in-law arrived at the house, Shahnaz’s father opened fire with weapons,
and as a result Shahnaz, her husband Tahir Sarwar, and their two children, Adnan and Ramsha, and their two
brothers-in-law, Mr. Zahid and Mr. Nawaz, were all killed. After the massacre Shahnaz’s father was satisfied and opted
to run away with his henchmen. A case has been filed with the police and, as per usual, the investigation continues.
In the recent months, Pakistan has witnessed brutal murders of several married women in the name of honour and the state
has remained a silent spectator to brutal medieval practices. This is despite Pakistan having passed a categorical law,
which has made the honour killing equivalent to crime of murder. Earlier such killings were treated as a defensive crime
in protection of the prestige of the family.
It is said that the tradition of honour-killing was a typical way out for landlords who did not want to divide their
property, in having to give some to the in-laws of the daughter. However, with the passage of time, honour killing has
also extended to marriages by choice. Rather than accepting the marriage of their daughters own choosing, the paternal
family take it as a dishonor to the pride of the family and prefer to take law in their own hands. Such families know
that the rule of law does not exist in Pakistan; therefore, it is better for them to kill the women, with no botheration
of the law, which in a real sense has become impotent, toothless.
These types of cases are abundant and occur in every corner of Pakistan every year. The fire of revenge ends with the
loss of innocent lives. The reason: marriage of own choice. Hundreds of women have been killed by their brothers,
fathers, cousins and other blood relatives for exercising their rights.
A similar case became public knowledge last year when a girl chose a taxi driver as her life partner. Brutal killings
were the result when Ms. Nargis from Mardan, Khyber Pakhtunkha province, fell in love with a taxi driver, Mr. Ehtesham.
She was tortured to death and her two children were killed by the family in honor killing. When they first found out
regarding the relationship, her parents beat her cruelly and kept her locked up inside their house. One day she
succeeded in eloping and married Mr. Ethesham. They signed a marriage contract and began leading a happy life. Nargis,
after a long time, went to her home town to see her mother. However, she was welcomed by her family with severe anger
and violence. Her family members ruthlessly beat her two minor children. Their thirst of revenge not fulfilled, they
threw the infants from the roof-top of their home, and Nargis was forced to see her children’s murder. After this, she
was brutally beaten to death.
But their inhuman revenge didn’t end there. A case of murder was lodged by the family of Nargis against her husband. The
police arrested Mr. Ethesham and his brother and kept them inside the jail for four months, torturing them. Despite all
the records disproving any involvement of Ehtesham in any murder the police forced Ehtesham’s brother to sign a
statement against his brother, accepting that his brother was a suspect in this case. Later the Judge released Ethesham
and his brother and ordered a new inquiry.
Every month many heart-wrenching cases make news, some are registered with the police and others not. The murder of two
teenage sisters, Noor Basra and Noor Sheza, by five gunmen in Chilas, Gilgit, is one such case registered. They were
killed because they danced during the rain outside their home along with other children and a video was recorded. Their
dancing video was leaked in the town. Their half-brother killed the girls for restoration of family honour. A case has
been registered by the brother of the girls against their step brother Khutore and four other alleged gunmen.
Similarly, in Dera Gazi Khan, a woman was stoned to death for having a mobile. This order was given by a feudal lord of
the area. She was murdered in the name of honor, as having a mobile was understood here to mean dishonor for the family.
Such barbaric ideas and actions still flourish in our society and our state and law enforcement departments have no
problem with this.
It is an alarming situation for women of Pakistan, where killing of the women along with their children in the name of
honor is treated not as an offence, but something in accord with Islamic traditions. Society is being forced to denounce
marriage on the basis of choice of the couple. ‘Talibanisation’ is not only restricted to terrorist activities or bomb
blasts. Its ideology against the freedom of women has seeped into society with considerable speed, and practices that
have nothing to do with Islam have come to be understood as principals of Islam. Therefore, the woman’s right to choose
her own life partner is being dealt with medieval violence. Women are being killed in the settlement of family debts, or
are being married to aged people, or to save the property are being married to the Quran, or are being sold for money.
They are being killed if they raised their voice for their rights, killed if they seek divorce from husbands, or seek to
escape domestic violence. And, religion is being used against them.
Honor killings are caused by many factors of society, including feudal culture, customs, absence of a criminal justice
system and fair trial, a weak judiciary, and gender bias and corruption in law enforcement agencies.
Landed aristocracy have a great influence in some areas of Pakistan where they hold jirgas (illegal judicial system for
the settlement of the disputes). In jirgas, generally, decisions are taken against the women, and minor girls are
exchanged to settle feuds.
In the presence of a law which makes it a criminal offence how are honour killings being allows to continue with such
violence and brutality. As of yet, no one has been punished according to the law. In the absence of a proper criminal
justice system and a witness protection law, the killers get good patronage of the police. By seeking legal protection
from Sections 323 of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC); the perpetrators (family member/relatives) not only enjoy legal impunity
but social redemption as well. With the compensation through the Diyat (Section 323 of PPC), the perpetrators get
impunity by law, which allows the payment of compensation to the victim for the settlement of disputes outside the
court. And it is during this phase that the victims, the women, are intimidated, threatened, or abducted so they accept
the meager amount as compensation, and courts remain silent spectators.
In many cases, gender biased judges force the affected women to settle the crime outside the courts. The said section of
Diyat also holds a minimum compensation of Rupees 30,000, which has no value. But by the amount of compensation being
kept at a minimum level, perpetrators take advantage. There is a strong demand from the civil society of Pakistan to
abolish Diyat, but the state and higher judiciary take shelter behind Islamic teachings and so-called sacred norms.
If the higher judiciary, and particularly the Supreme Court, does not take notice of honour killings that punish women
for choosing their life partners, society will face the worst violence in the name of religion. Courts have to ensure
protection of girls under threat. Government must stop all kinds of jirgas.
About the Author: Nida Nida is working on youth issues in Pakistan and is office bearer of Progressive Youth Forum (PYF) Pakistan
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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia,
documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these
rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.