Yesterday, the Lower House of the National Assembly in Pakistan “banned” karokari (honor killings). Specifically, the legal code will now treat such acts not as “crimes of passion” but as premeditated murders and upped the punishment for such a crime.
I know that there are some serious reservations about the amended law, and it’s all about the application anyways, but I have to applaud the Minister of Law, Wasi Zafar, who took time off from much more important business for this measure. Like any other Pakistani, I grew up hearing and reading about women killed just for glancing at someone or even just accused of glancing at someone. I place the blame squarely on the State for that. And not just Zia’s Islamization efforts. Such killings are never prosecuted because they are class crimes as well as gender crimes. Rich, powerful landholders in the villages of Sindh and Punjab are the main culprits in practicing and promoting violence against women in the context of family honor. The local thanay dar simply looks away unless the national media makes a stink and, in that case, a simple FIR is registered and forgotten. If the State cannot protect its most vulnerable citizens, it cannot claim any legitimacy.
Honor. Anachronistically, a woman’s body remains the locus of the South Asian family’s honor. To protect the family name, you put the woman in a veil. To promote the family name, you seek marriage with a family of a higher station. To avenge the family name, you rape or kill your opponents’ women.
How does one combat such practices? The first thing, obviously, is to actually have laws on the books that can be used by those fighting such medieval notions. In that regard, the amendment passed is a crucial step. Second, again obvious, is to actually enforce such laws. No great hope for that in the short run. But, media can play the pivotal role in this regard. It can often shame the government’s hand.
But real change can only come when societal norms shift due to economic or political stimulus. In the urban communities, the economic change is happening as women constitute a growing segment of income earners in the public sphere. These professional women are more likely to assert their rights and have access to support structures outside of the family. In the rural communities, the majority population where honor killings occur, women have always worked in the public sphere and it has not helped them. In that context, I think change can only come through societal shifts brought about by political pressure. Religion, duh, is the obvious marker here. The State must undertake a radical and aggressive educational effort that emphasizes the rights of women in the Islamic world and back that up by cleaning up the Hudood code, doing Madrassa reform, teach-ins, promoting civic NGOs etc. I have little hope that The General is interested much in all that.
For now, let’s see what the State does in this case.