Death is inevitable, we’re all destined to die one day; but for some, death lies in the hands of the ones we call family. Most often being the murder of a female by male family relatives, honor killings are acts of vengeance, usually death, committed by members of a family against a family member due to the belief of the perpetrator that the victim has brought dishonor upon the ménage (the members of the household) . Thus, in order to ‘purify’ the family name and prestige, they selfishly murder their own flesh and blood. It is often also referred to as ‘femicide’ since women represent the highest percentage of fatalities in this practice. Honor killing is especially prevalent in the Southern parts of Asia – Pakistan and India, and the Middle East , where women are at a great social and institutional disadvantage. In these societies this ferocious act is not viewed as murder; rather it is dressed up with a more refined and polished label: ‘honor killing’.

In patriarchal and male-dominated societies, the activities of women and girls are closely monitored. The preservation of a woman’s ‘purity’ is the responsibility of male relatives – first her father and brothers, then her husband; a woman is viewed as a second-grade citizen. She can be targeted for several reasons, which include seeking a divorce, refusal to enter an arranged marriage, being a victim of sexual assault, or perpetrating adultery. Rape too is viewed as inexplicably abhorrent and an act of bringing disrepute upon the family. Furthermore, even such a thing as having her own say in marriage can be ta trigger which could lead to the killing of the woman.

Such an example of this malicious act is the murder of 26-year-old Qandeel Baloch from Pakistan. Even though she was from an impoverished and a deprived household, this did not act as a barrier for her to fulfill her dreams. While many women in parts of Southern Asia are, Qandeel was not hesitant to use the power of social media to gain the fame she desired; bearing in mind the amount of censures she faced nationally. She rose to prominence via her videos which she regularly posted on Facebook. She was both criticized and admired for her actions.

During the night of 15th July 2016, Baloch was drugged and asphyxiated while asleep by her brother Waseem, who later on proudly confessed to murdering his sister, saying: “she [Qandeel Baloch] was bringing disrepute to our family’s honor and I could not tolerate it any further.” Baloch appears to have been slain for her self-assertive, and rather candid presence on social media, which was seen as menacing for her male relatives. Qandeel’s murder garnered international attention and has been condemned by celebrities all over the world due to its atrociousness and the horrendous context of sexism and brutally inflicted “honor” that can so frequently jeopardize women in Pakistan and the rest of the world.

When some might say that Qandeel deserved to die; had brought death upon herself because of her blatant behavior, that her killing for honor was permissible, this could be agreed by many of those with a close-minded nature - to an extent. But when it comes to a point when a group of young boys and girls are put to death just because they decide to sing, clap and dance for a wedding, it exceeds the limits we must condone to these kinds of outrageous acts. In May 2012, a grainy cellphone footage emerged in a remote part of Pakistan called Kohistan, a rural region where social interaction between men and women is taboo. The narrow-minded village elders saw the celebration as a flagrant defiance of strict tribal customs and traditions that separate men and women at gatherings. A jirga - a tribal decision-making assembly led by male elders - decided that not only were the figures in the video to be killed, but so were the boys’ families to be wiped out. The reason behind this is the custom belief that because the man has brought dishonor upon the girl’s reputation, his entire family must be slaughtered as an act of revenge. Several days succeeding, their own friends and family burnt them with hot coals and buried their corpses in the mountains, in hope that the northern snows would veil the notorious act – until one young man had the courage to dig it up.

Afzal Kohistani was the eldest brother of the young men that were killed. He fled Kohistan for the sake of his own life. He strived for justice for his innocent brothers and the girls, going against his tribe’s conservative ways of life. Afzal quoted “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.” Afzal had come out into the public eye and had made it his mission to seek justice for not only himself and his family, but for women not only in Kohistan but in the rest of the country. He left the civilians of Pakistan scarce as he spread the horror stories of honor killings in remote areas of Pakistan where matters of family honor are settled in blood.

Seven years later, Afzal Kohistani was killed. He was shot in a busy commercial area in the north-western city of Abbottabad and had died on the spot. His decision to expose the alleged murders sparked blood feud that has also seen three of his brothers killed. Afzal failed to get justice. The video claimed more than nine lives.

Honor killing is done for saving the honor of the family, but where is the honor in killing? Religion and culture cannot be invoked as an excuse for murdering someone, because no religion promotes or teaches its believers to kill, and no culture has the right to allow the manslaughter of men or women based on their perception of ethics and honor. The freedom of belief does not mean the freedom to kill. People find it permissible to execute such hideous crimes because their ancestors have been committing it for centuries, and the traditions have been passed down to generation to generation. Instead of seeking alternatives to restore the family’s reputation, these wrongheaded people go straight into murdering the person, passing on the ill misconception that getting rid of the person would get rid of the ‘shame’ and ‘dishonor’ brought upon the family name.

Honor killing is an inhumane practice derived from some centuries-old customs and traditions that were practiced in the past by not only Muslims, but also amongst Christians and Jews. This appalling fallacy should have been left in the past.

Hafsa Rehman
Hafsa Rehman
Read next: Chad Alan Lee
Hafsa Rehman

Hi there! I'm an aspiring writer, trying my best to raise awareness on issues which continue to be suppressed by society.

See all posts by Hafsa Rehman