‘Honour’ in shame
A RECENT report by the Sindh Police has put into perspective the extent to which our society — including the criminal justice system itself — continues to justify, condone and encourage violence against women under the guise of tradition and faith. According to the report, in the past five years, 510 women and 259 men have been murdered in cold blood on the pretext of ‘honour’ across the province. Out of the total number of cases, 649 reached the police. However, only 19 cases — a paltry 2pc — resulted in awarding of punishment to perpetrators. The courts acquitted the suspects in 136 other cases, while the remaining 494 cases still await trial. Though these figures might reflect only a fraction of the actual number of such murders, they are enough to expose our hypocrisy. We have laws but little to no implementation. Those who make these laws are often found advocating for or even participating in the very ‘traditions’ that violate women’s right to life and bodily autonomy. Members of the public want rule of law, yet many end up pardoning family members who murder female relatives. Worse still are those who twist a religion that considers murder as among the greatest of sins in order to justify killing women.
It is hardly surprising, then, that this dissonance reflects in the anti-‘honour’ killing law enacted in 2016. Though a major achievement in symbolic terms, as a legal instrument, it represents only an incremental step towards justice for those killed in the name of ‘honour’. The criminal amendment still permits family members of victims to ‘forgive’ their killers, while leaving it at the courts’ discretion to award punishment despite such pardons. Such a loophole — one among many — allows for the subjective interpretation and application of the law by police officers, prosecutors and judges alike. The report highlights these legal lacunae, along with faulty investigations, as well as collusion between prosecutors, witnesses and suspects, as being the main reasons behind the low conviction rate in ‘honour’ killings.
Besides, passing legislation is hardly enough to effect change in societal attitudes and break the vicious cycle of gender-based violence. Apart from improving the law and sensitising agents of the justice system, there is a dire need for comprehensive community outreach to combat the tacit acceptance of such ‘traditions’ in our society. In this regard, the media — particularly the Sindhi media — has played a commendable role, first by exposing and then continuing to shine a spotlight on such grotesque crimes. But the media’s job is only to inform, and change is only possible if the state proactively assumes its responsibility to vigorously prosecute and punish perpetrators as well as their abettors. Continued apathy in this regard only serves to endorse anti-women practices such ‘honour’ killings, which are in total violation of fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitution.