The incidents of honor killings in Pakistan’s Sindh are no less than gruesome horror stories – women burned, shot, strangled, drowned, decapitated in cold-blood every year. One such case came to limelight on July 4, when Sindh police discovered a severely beaten body with the disfigured face on Indus Highway.
Initially unrecognizable to police, it was finally found to be of a 24-year-old married girl, Waziran. Her father and husband accuse each other of her murder. A joint investigation team (JIT) has been set to investigate the incident. According to local witnesses, the murder was carried out in the name of honor.
Marks on the body show that Waziran was pelted with stones and repeatedly hit with a wooden stick. Waziran is another innocent soul that has lost her life to the menace of honor killing in Sindh. Even if police acts against the culprits, which is unlikely as evident from past such incidents, there is no reason to believe that honor killing will come to an end in Sindh. The resources allocated and preventive measures taken by the government are inadequate to bring about positive change anytime soon.
The patriarchal nature of Sindh’s society is a significant factor behind the honor killings. It will take years, if not decades, of continuous and widespread awareness programs to turn around people’s opinion of it. However, to immediately mitigate the crime, the Sindh Government must focus on the safety and security of women. There is a severe lack in the performance of police and the criminal justice system in protecting women.
Adding to the difficulty, local notables, feudal lords and politicians, interfere in law enforcement’s activities to please their feudal-mindset supporters. As a result, women suffer disenfranchisement from rights, opportunities, and resources available to men.
Mostly, male relatives carry out honor killing in secrecy, like in the case of Waziran. However, when the matter is complicated, they seek local notable’s permission through ‘faisla’, a traditional assembly of men led by a local notable, used as a court to mediate between disputing parties and execute decisions. Typically, ‘faislas’ produce inhumane consequences for women such as torture, forced marriage, and even killing. Due to law enforcement’s weakness, ‘faislas’ have taken primacy over state legislation.
‘Faislas’ are common in rural areas, and the government is tight-lipped on the issue because the same local notables are members of legislative assemblies, local councils and government machinery.
Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act of Pakistan, 2013, and The Criminal Law Act of 2016 prescribe comprehensive protection and support to victims. However, inadequacy lies in the dispensing of justice. Judiciary and law enforcement agencies in Pakistan lag behind the legislative body to safeguard women from domestic violence. Hence, the government should focus on law enforcement and refuge.
A separate task force should be created in rural areas whose sole goal should be to safeguard all women by preventing abuse and punishing the perpetrators of violence for deterring others. And this force must be free from the interference of local notables.
Furthermore, the government should initiate gender sensitization programs for law enforcement officials and the judiciary to stop these cases from being treated as “private family matters.”
Most importantly, a project must be initiated for the Sindh government and NGOs to collaborate to provide shelters and pro-bono legal representation to low-income women. A plan for inspiration could be found within the country, in Punjab province. Violence Against Women Center (VAWC), established in Punjab in March 2017 under the Strategic Reforms Unit, has proven to be a successful initiative to protect women.
First of its kind in Pakistan, VAWC is an all-in-one center for victims of physical, psychological, and economic abuse. The center includes an all-female police force, doctor’s office, courthouse, and counselling. It operates 24 hours a day with a staff of 60 women.
Deprived of legal protection against domestic violence, hereditary rights, and many other privileges that men enjoy, women in Pakistan are living like second-class citizens. To implement the law practically, what is missing is robust policing and shelters. It cannot be believed that the state is incapable of providing justice, equality, and liberty to women. There is no longer the time to have hollow debates in assemblies that deliver no justice on the ground. Now is the time for swift and strict action to make justice a reality for thousands of women maimed and murdered every year, most urgently for Waziran.