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Pakistanis happily convert girls to Islam but love marriage faces honour killing axe

Three years on, justice in Qandeel Baloch’s honour killing case remains due despite her brother’s boastful confession of murder.

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This 15 July marks the third anniversary of Qandeel Baloch’s brutal honour killing at the hands of her brother. Qandeel was Pakistan’s first social media celebrity, whose persona made many in the devout country uncomfortable.

Unapologetically flaunting her sexuality in social media videos, 26-year-old Qandeel would address her naysayers with remarkable defiance: “I’m 99 per cent sure that you all hate me but I’m 100 per cent sure not even my shoe gives a damn about it.” Qandeel was indisputably a social spectacle of a woman’s manifestation of her attitudes and defiance, which was not only rebuked by all but also eventually brought her tragic end.

On the night of 15 July 2016, Qandeel’s brother Waseem Azeem first drugged her, and then strangled her as she slept. While confessing his crime in court, he said he was proud of committing the murder. “I’ve earned heaven and honour by providing relief to my family,” Azeem said. “Girls are born only to stay at home and bring honour to the family by following traditions but Qandeel had never done that. My friends used to send me her videos/pictures on my mobile and everyone was sharing.”

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Not a single week passes without such horror crimes in Pakistan. It’s the same story every time, only with different characters and settings. What remains unchanged is the misery of women – sometimes at the hands of their fathers, brothers, husbands or uncles: all those relationships that are embedded in the idea of providing ‘security’ to women.

Numerous murders have taken place in recent years where the killers have committed such horrific crimes in the name of honour. It was the killing of Qandeel Baloch that brought this issue into national debates and resulted in the tightening of law against honour killing to protect women. Unfortunately, the situation continues to remain the same.

On 30 June, Muhammad Ajmal of Multan killed his wife, their two children and six in-laws on the suspicion that his wife, Kiran, was having an affair. Ajmal burnt their bodies by setting his wife’s family home on fire. This week in Nowshera, one Akbar Khan killed his daughter and her fiancé after learning that his soon-to-be son-in-law had visited her when he wasn’t home. Khan was helped in the killing by his son Ahmed Ali.

All this in the name of honour.

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There are many examples where men use honour as a means to reprimand women for certain acts that they disapprove of. This creates a situation where the man has the right to act as the victim whose honour has been smeared by an action carried out by a woman. This once again deprives women of their basic rights and gives the men in their lives to hold their actions as dishonourable at will.

This practice has not come down and the law has failed to generate awareness. There is also minimum coverage in the media. This shows the triviality with which the issue is perceived in society and puts a mirror on the psyche of people at large. We have become insensitive to this vice and there are no concrete measures in practice to put an end to this social evil.

The rare outrage over Qandeel Baloch’s murder forced Pakistan Parliament to bring new legislation against honour killing. The anti-honour killing law called for tough punishment, tightening a legal loophole that allowed killers to walk free if pardoned by the family members of the victim. The new law took away that power from the family members, except in cases where the convict has been sentenced to death.

However, this still hasn’t made much of a difference. Three years on, justice in Qandeel Baloch’s case remains pending despite her killer brother’s boastful confession. Similarly, the father, brother and uncle of Sana Cheema, an Italian woman of Pakistani origin, were acquitted in February despite them confessing of having strangulated her in April last year because she wanted to marry a man of her choice in Italy. In 2016, British-Pakistani citizen Samia Shahid, 28, was raped and murdered by her ex-husband Muhammad Shakeel with her father’s help while visiting Pakistan. The family had initially claimed Samia had suffered a heart attack but the authorities determined she had been strangled. Her father was released on bail that year and later died in a Lahore hospital in 2018.

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A World Economic Forum’s report in 2018 on gender gap had ranked Pakistan 148th in the list of 149 countries. This report was received with much contempt, similar to the contempt Pakistan shows for crimes against women. 

Considering how such crimes are justified, one wonders how the conversions of minority girls into Islam are being perceived as Cupid’s doing, when similar love marriages – and within the same religion – are seen as issues of honour and lead to killings. This is indeed a tragic situation where the society is once again seen as manipulating a crime by calling it acceptable, even commendable, to suit its own beliefs.

The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.

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