The Culture of Honour Killing : Pakistan, Where Life is Expendable But Honour is Not
"This has destroyed my family. The girls are dead, my brothers have been killed and nothing has been done to bring justice or protect us."
"I know I will probably be killed, too, but it doesn't matter. What happened is wrong, and it has to change. Someone has to fight for that."
"No one in my district or my province has ever spoken against honour killing. They tell me I have defamed my culture, my religion, my tribe."
"Everybody knows what happened, but no one is ready to come forward."
Afzal Kohistani, Islamabad, Pakistan
|Still from video|
Six years ago, a video produced on a cellphone in a remote village in a rugged area of northwest Pakistan revealed a group of young teenagers having innocent fun. They were dancing. Not the girls with the boys, but the girls and the boys dancing and singing separately. But in north-west Pakistan's villages with their tribal councils and their Islamist fundamentalism demanding a strict separation of the sexes, along with draconian punishment for those who disobey the 'culture', there was nothing innocent in that display of youthful enthusiasm.
Had the cellphone video never been shared and posted to the Internet, it is likely no one other than the intimate circle of friends would have known of their youthful indiscretion in a society that is unforgiving of such cardinal sins. Its posting another symbol of naive innocence. The absurd irony is that in a cultural-religious-social backwater where medieval values and stern punishments form the essence of life, modern technologylike cellphones and computers logging onto the Internet even intersect at all.
The video clip was mere seconds in length of a few young women laughing, clapping their hands, listening to music in party dress, wearing orange head scarves and colourful floral patterned robes. After the girls, another few seconds of the video was given over to the appearance of a young man in the same room, dancing by himself. The young women in their mid-teens are now missing. Bazeegha, Sareen Jan, Begum Jan, Amina and Shaheen are no longer among the living.
And nor, for that matter is the young man. Local elders became aware of the video, that it had been seen endless times, and that there are many outside their community who have the impression that their town is one of loose morals, an affront to the honour of the town. Immediately after the video had been released to public airing the girls were confined to their homes in disgrace. Their families treated them to especial attention throwing boiling water and hot coals at them to ensure they understood the depth of their depravity and how it impacted on their community.
The village elders had communed a jirga which condemned the girls to death for having provoked a dishonourable reaction to the village, staining its honour. The girls' families unhesitatingly embraced the verdict and executed their part in expunging the stain on the families' honour and that of the extended village. When rumours of the fate of the girls circulated there was little response from outside authorities.
Until 26-year-old Afzal Kohistani began his determined efforts to find justice for his two brothers who were murdered in the village's frenzied cleansing-of-stained-honour activities. A handful of influential authority figures responded to this young man's efforts to investigate what had occurred. The head of the local jirga, a Muslim cleric, had issued a religious decree, a fatwa, to order the killing of the five girls and the dancing boy, along with every member of the boy's extended family.
Once the girls were killed, the dancing boy's sin was to be expunged, so he was killed along with two of his brothers. Which compelled the other members of his family, including Afzal Kohistani, another brother, to leave the area, forcing them to abandon their familial farmland. A lawyer in Islamabad, after a year had passed, helped Afzal to lodge a direct appeal to the Pakistan Supreme Court where then-Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry took up the case in 2012, ordering fact-finding missions to the remote area.
On arrival at the village, the representatives of the court demanded that the girls be brought before them, leading the families and community leaders after an initial refusal to bring along girls whom they said were the very ones seen in the video. The faces were no match. Several more years passed until the five-year crusade was given another boost when a new chief justice of the Supreme Court agreed to the lobbying by the brother that the case be re-opened.
The new delegation, again flown in by helicopter, and led by a district judge, included two police officers armed with government ID records stating the heights, descriptions and thumbprints of the missing girls. This time two of the girls presented were seen to be considerably younger than the victims, according to official birth dates. A third evaded identification since both her thumbs had been burned. Leading the delegation to conclude that they were not who they claimed to be.
Hearings into the grotesquely shocking case are underway.