In Pakistan, gruesome 'honor' killings bring a new backlash

Lahore, PTI | Updated : 04 July 2016, 10:09 PM

Parveen Rafiq closed her hands around the neck of her youngest daughter, Zeenat, and squeezed and squeezed until the girl was almost dead.

Then, in the tiny apartment where the family lived, she doused the 18-year-old with kerosene and set her on fire.  Neighbors saw the smoke and rushed to the home. Someone inside, apparently one of Rafiq’s daughters-in-law, was screaming, “Help her! Help!”

But the door was bolted from within. Moments later, they heard Rafiq scream from her rooftop: “I have killed my daughter. I have saved my honor. She will never shame me again.”

Zeenat’s crime was marrying a childhood friend she loved, defying her widowed mother’s pressure for an arranged marriage and, in the mind of her mother and many of her neighbors, tarnishing her family’s honor.

Her macabre death on June 8 in the eastern city of Lahore was the latest in a series of increasingly gruesome “honor killings” in Pakistan, a country with one of the highest rates of such killings in the world.

In one case, a mother slit the throat of her pregnant daughter who had married a man she loved. In yet another a jilted suitor doused a teenage girl with kerosene and set her on fire.

In the city of Abbottabad, a teenage girl was tortured, injected with poison and then strapped to the seat of a vehicle, doused with gasoline and set on fire. Her crime was helping a friend elope.

A jirga, or council of local elders, ordered her killing and dictated the manner of her death. The vehicle was parked in a public place, outside a bus stop as a message to others.

The brutality and rapid succession of killings horrified many Pakistanis. The numbers of such killings have climbed in lockstep with their sometimes-public spectacle. Last year, three people a day were killed in “honor” crimes in Pakistan: a total of 1,096 women and 88 men, according to the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

In 2014, the number was 1,005 women, including 82 children, up from 869 women killed a year earlier. The true numbers are believed to be higher, with many cases going unreported, activists say.

Some human rights and women’s rights activists believe honor killings have been inching up and showing greater brutality as the older generation tries to dig in against creeping change. Over the years, more women have been going to school and working outside the home, even among lower and lower middle class, and use of social media has helped women raise their voices.

First Published: Monday, July 04, 2016 10:06 PM
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