The bodies of Bakht Jan, 15, and her boyfriend Rehman, 17 were exhumed a month after they were buried. The bodies exhumed at Maulada graveyard in Sherpao Colony on last Wednesday had marks on the arms, chest and legs that indicated electrocution. Death by electrocution is almost unheard of in honour killings in Pakistan. Police said the couple were planning to elope but their families found out and tribal elders ordered them killed. Families from the two victims originally reached a settlement in accordance with their tribal traditions. Unfortunately, a Jirga called to endorse this settlement rejected it and issued an order of honour killing in effect to “teach” others a lesson. Police had been alerted by source and had then arrested four people, including the fathers of the dead couple.
Honour killings as defined by Human Rights Watch are acts of vengeance, usually death, committed by male family members against other family members, who are held to have brought dishonour upon the family. Up until now, honour killing is still practised in many countries across continents, particularly in the middle east. It is by no means restricted to religions or ethnic groups. Honour based violence is rather governed by culture and customs embedded in individual communities. A victim can be targeted by his/her family for various reasons including being a victim of rape, refusal to enter into an arranged marriage or committing adultery. Official statistics reported that just in 2015, approximately 1100 lives were taken by honour killing in Pakistan. These brutalities often targeted against women places countless girls and women in jeopardy.
Although women around the world are enjoying substantial advancement in increasing rights and liberty in the society, women in the Middle East region continue to suffer from a dismal deficit in human rights. Women are denied voting rights, education and even an identity. “There are several obstacles we see through the work of our grantees in accessing justice. The main one is very often the lack of knowledge of women’s rights and how to access the justice systems itself. There is widespread mistrust towards the justice system,” said Vanina Serra, a programme officer at Mama Cash, a multinational women’s fund that supports the rights of women, girls and transgender people. According to the World Bank, most Middle Eastern countries do not have women’s quotas for parliament. Women’s representation in the judiciary is also much lower than in politics and the number of female justices is disproportionately small compared to the number of women on a whole. As a result, women’s rights are often neglected or avoided in the political realm as women are underrepresented among policymakers.
Intuitively, it might seem that only the murderer should be held guilty for the moral evil that he has committed. However, people who turn a cold shoulder to the issue should also be accountable as they are essentially letting innocent people die. It might be considered unjust if one pleads guilty for an upshot that one has not initiated. I will now further elaborate by connecting them with the moral distinction between positive and negative freedom. British social and political theorist Isaiah Berlin came up with two notions of liberty. Negative freedom demands individual autonomy free from external restrictions; positive freedom, on the other hand, is facilitated by a certain degree of interventions and aims to give an individual the ability to achieve their own ambitions and desires. When positive rights are violated, there is a deprivation of the victim’s well-being and authority; whereas when negative rights are violated, there is an interference with the victim’s autonomy and often leads to a loss in well-being and authority. Killing undoubtedly violates both kinds of freedom. The positive act in initiating death interferes with the authority and autonomy of the victim. Whereas an individual who allows the killing does not initiate the moral wrongdoing but lets the victim die. The lack of a positive act does not render a person innocent. By the omission of offering help, an individual effectively deprives the victim’s liberty and bereaves him/her of the potential possibility of achieving aims in the future.
Opponents argue that everybody must be ready to respect the culture and conditions of those people who come from other backgrounds. They claimed that it is Western values and norms that these practices are rendered problematic. However, it is my strong conviction that respecting the basic right to life is not a virtue exclusive to Western cultures. Taking Confucianism, the most prominent school of philosophy in China, as an example, it is stated that every human interaction is bound by a certain prescribed relationship such as a teacher and student, father and son or husband and wife. People should treat others according to their prescribed roles. Violent behaviour rooted from anger can never be justified since it has no place under any circumstances among these interactions. Consequently, cultural discrepancies shall never be an excuse to rationalize a crime of manslaughter. There will never be honour in killing and this should come to an end immediately.
A new law was passed last year in Pakistan in regards to honour killing. Murderers can no longer walk free if pardoned by the victim’s family. “A vicious circle has come to an end. A killer will face a minimum sentence of 25 years in jail,” Senator Farhatullah Barbar told CNN. This is indeed a great step forward in protecting women’s right in the country. However, this is merely the first step. According to Senator Rehman, the bill still does not provide adequate protection for women against violence. The bill only dealt with murder and death. It does not make honour killing a crime against the state. Individuals can only bring on a cause of action against another individual. Stringent implementation is required by the collaboration of different governmental departments. While it is also important to address the root of the issue and reshape the values of women within societies. Extensive education should be introduced to all institutions including those in rural provinces, where abuse against women is the most prevalent. Rome was not built in a day and neither is the long road to gaining women’s rights. Although immediate improvements might not be expected, one shall never forget that this is a step by step process. The collective effects of each tiny step will undoubtedly bring us towards a brighter future for all women in the world.