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    Pakistan: Alarming Increase in Honour Killings Grips Swat

    GenderEmpowermentPakistan: Alarming Increase in Honour Killings Grips Swat
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    Pakistan: Alarming Increase in Honour Killings Grips Swat

    Despite legal proceedings against perpetrators of honor killings, many evade justice due to societal norms. Victims often struggle to pursue cases fully, hindered by the stigma of honour.

    By Shehzad Naveed

    Kalsoom Ahmed, a 22-year-old resident of Charbagh Tehsil in Swat District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, witnessed the tragic death of her 17-year-old sister Shah Bano, who was poisoned by their family. Nearly nine months later, Kalsoom still harbours fear, haunted by the image of her family’s hands stained with her sister’s blood, worrying that she may meet the same fate.

    Recalling the events, Kalsoom lamented, “Shah Bano was a bright student aspiring to become a doctor. However, her dreams were shattered when our family took her life. She confided everything in me, including her secret affection for a young man from the village with whom she occasionally communicated by phone. Only I knew about their relationship, but our family grew suspicious of Bano. They feared she might elope with him, tarnishing our family’s honour. Consequently, she was poisoned and killed.”

    The community attributed her death to her alleged asthma and breathing issues, shielding her perpetrators from legal repercussions. In Pashtun culture, discussing one’s choice of partner is deemed taboo, and any deviation from societal norms is met with either honor killing or forced early marriage.

    “The Awakening,” a Pakistani NGO, documented 263 honor killings in Swat over the past twelve years. The numbers fluctuated annually: 16 cases in 2012, 29 in 2013, 14 in 2014, 27 in 2015, 34 in 2016, 28 in 2017, 16 in 2018, 15 in 2019, 18 in both 2020 and 2021, 16 in 2022, and 32 in 2023.

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    Irfan Hussain Babak, the executive director of The Awakening, explained that perpetrators often resort to poisoning to disguise their crimes as suicides, evading punishment. Law enforcement’s tendency to categorize women’s deaths as suicides or omit the honor killing clause (Section 311) from investigations further facilitates the accused’s impunity. By excluding this clause, authorities avoid implicating the state in cases of honor killings, perpetuating injustice, and shielding offenders from accountability.

    Establishing Women’s Voices

    In Pashtun society, Jirga is a traditional institution for conflict resolution, predominantly governed by men. However, the “Khwaindu Jirga” stands out as a unique forum where women address issues affecting women directly. Tabassum Adnan, a member of Jirga from Swat, highlights that despite legal proceedings against perpetrators of honor killings, many evade justice due to societal norms. Victims often struggle to pursue cases fully, hindered by the stigma of honour.

    Tabassum emphasizes the significance of the Khwaindu Jirga, where women unite to offer financial and legal support to those in need. Here, women are empowered with knowledge of their rights, enabling them to challenge cultural norms and seek justice through legal channels. The Jirga provides not only emotional support but also financial assistance and police protection to victims, fostering a community of solidarity.

    Unveiling the Perpetrators

    Advocate Saif-ul-Islam sheds light on the perpetrators behind honor killings, often close relatives, which deters reporting and witness testimonies. Despite legislative measures like the domestic violence bill, lack of enforcement hampers victims’ ability to seek help. Dr. Mian Nizam Ali suggests that underlying mental health issues in some individuals fuel suspicion and violence within families, leading to tragic outcomes.

    Police data reveals a disturbing trend of honour killings, with cases spanning years. District Police Officer Shafiullah Khan Gandapur stresses that justice must prevail, with perpetrators facing prosecution under Sections 302 and 311 PPC. He underscores the psychological toll on victims’ families and society at large, urging collective action to combat gender-based violence and its aftermath, exacerbated by societal pressures and the COVID-19 pandemic. According to recent police reports, despite ongoing challenges, law enforcement remains vigilant in apprehending perpetrators and upholding the rule of law to ensure the safety and dignity of all citizens.

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