229 People Killed In The Name Of Honor In Swat In 7 Years

229 People Killed In The Name Of Honor In Swat In 7 Years
Gul Meena* belongs to the Matta Tehsil of Swat and is around 22 years of age. But ever since her younger sister Farzana* was killed a few months ago on pretext of family honour, she has been scared of interacting with men, in case she too becomes a victim.

Now she cannot even look at a man from a distance, let alone talk to him. Farzana had been a first-year student and wanted to get married, though she failed to convince her parents and brothers. Her brothers were afraid that she might register a court marriage, so they killed her. It was known in the area that Farzana had been suffering from cancer for some time, so it was not difficult for her father and brothers to murder her by poisoning her tea. The family lied to the neighbors, saying she had died because of the cancer, to protect the brothers and father from any legal action.

In the last few years, there have been several incidents of ‘honor’ killings in Swat, in which many people lost their lives, but the majority of those killed were women. According to a non-governmental organization “The Awakening”, 229 people were killed in the name of ‘honor’ in Swat in the last seven years.

According to the report, 211 women and 18 men are among the dead. According to The Awakening, since 2012, they have been working on cases of domestic disputes, honor killings, sexual violence and suicides in Swat. The Awakening collects data on these incidents from its members, police, newspapers, journalists and lawyers.

A 25-year-old youth from Babuzai area of Mingora Tehsil, the main city of Swat, said on condition of anonymity that in 2019, he had a court marriage with a girl of his choice and both of them were living happily. “It has been three years now since we were married, but even today we are forced to live outside Swat. We have come to know through a friend that the girl’s parents are still looking for us to meet and kill us both,” he said. “In Malakand division, including Swat, marriage through one’s own choice is not considered good even though Islam allows us this choice. I wonder when we will understand this truth.”

Why kill in the name of ‘honor’?

Honor killing is the killing of a member or members of a family, who has brought dishonor or shame to the family or has rebelled against family traditions. Common reasons for this honor killing include marriage of choice, divorce, separation, refusal of forced marriage, desire to marry outside the family, illicit sex or sexual assault. “The history of honor killing is not a few hundred years old, but centuries. Since ancient Roman times, there is a history of killing women in the name of honor.”

Why are incidents not reported?

Irfan Hussain Babak, executive director of The Awakening, says that most of the men and women who are killed in the name of honor are poisoned, later such incidents are given the color of suicide. These incidents mostly take place in Swat Tehsils Charbagh, Matta, Khawaza Khela, and remote areas of Tehsil Kabal.

According to the human rights organization “The Awakening”, 53 people were killed in the name of honor in 2016, 50 in 2017, 32 in 2018, 32 in 2019, 29 in 2020, 18 in 2021, and 15 in 2022. This total tally includes 211 women and 18 men.

Every year, The Awakening reports cases of violence and honor killings from various regions and provides financial support as well as legal support to the victim’s family. Most people come to Babak with their own problems. Irfan Hassan Babak further said that The Awakening has created special family courts in which we deal with cases of ‘honor’ killings, mistreatment of women, domestic violence, non-inheritance, divorce, mental harmony, and underage marriage. I solve marriage and other household problems like impotence.

To prevent this, the elders of the area, human rights organizations, and above all social workers can play an important role. Together with them, these problems can be overcome.

People’s opinions and culture are important components of legislation, because legislation seeks to govern the people. Until the government is made aware about the magnitude of the problems of the people, it will not be possible to make effective laws.

According to Irfan Hussain Babak, so far he has reported 228 cases in seven years. 80% of the criminals have been legally sentenced, but sometimes it also happens that after the court sentences the accused, affected persons get a consent form.

According to Irfan Hussain Babak, “it is not easy to work on violence, honor killings, and incidents. We have been working in various districts of the Malakand division including Swat since 2012. We also face severe difficulties. These incidents are always between two families, so most people threaten our members and lawyers. Campaigns are also launched against us in various areas including Swat because everyone knows that it is difficult to work here because of the Pashtun culture but we will continue to fight for human rights and intolerance.”

COVID-19 & violence against women

According to the survey report of The Awakening in 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic, people were confined to their homes, and because of this, there was a noticeable rise in incidents of violence against women. In 2020, there were 410 reported incidents against women. During the year 2020, 14 rape cases were also reported in Swat. According to police figures, 21 people were arrested and they were also sentenced.

Why are women killed in the name of honor?

The founder of the first of its kind women rights organization "Khwindo Jirga" and a women's rights activist, Tabassum Adnan, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said that first and foremost, our society needs to understand that every human being, whether male or female, has the full right to live their life, so we need to change our thinking and attitudes. Tabassum Adnan said that they hold jirgas (traditional councils) to solve domestic issues of women, in which they solve various types of problems. Most of the cases we receive are not actually suicides or illnesses, but rather girls killed in the name of "honor".

Who can be involved in murder?

Advocate Saifullah Al-Islam explained that in cases of murder based on "honor," both men and women involved in the killing are often related to the victim. Because of this, they do not initially report the crime, and when they do, they often do not testify. As a result, many of the perpetrators avoid punishment, and even when they are caught, they do not accept responsibility for their actions.

In such cases, weak testimony or lack of testimony of those involved in the crime often results in the perpetrators avoiding punishment. According to legal expert Saif Al-Islam, it is difficult to prove in court whether a woman has committed suicide or has been murdered due to incomplete evidence.

Regarding cases of murder based on "honor" and the Islamic perspective, religious scholar Maulana Syed Ahmed mentioned that such incidents are not sanctioned by Islam or traditional culture, and they do not encourage such actions. Ignorance and lack of knowledge of Islamic teachings are responsible for such incidents. Not knowing the actual reason behind violence against women leads to serious consequences. Ahmed claims that in many Muslim countries, this propaganda is being used to promote Western culture under the banners of human rights and women's rights. According to Maulana Syed Ahmed, "If a man accuses his wife and her acquaintance of committing adultery and kills them, he has committed two murders, not one, and he must be held accountable for both."

Swat Police Survey Report

According to the statistics obtained from the District Police Office under the RTI Act, there were 7 cases reported in 2016, 6 in 2017, 5 in 2018, 9 in 2019, 7 in 2020, 8 in 2021, and 6 cases in 2022, including 5 men and 37 women. As per the statistics, 20 cases are still pending in court, while 69 individuals have been arrested.

Does the police report deaths as accidental killings?

In this regard, the district police officer attempted to contact Shafullah Gandapur, but he refused to comment via phone or messages on several occasions. SP Swat, Arshad Khan, stated that the police are working diligently on such incidents. Suspects involved in murder cases are promptly arrested and punished, while some cases are still being heard in court.

He further stated that rumors are circulating that the police are labeling most incidents as accidental deaths, which is entirely baseless and misleading. If any police officer is found to be involved in such incidents, they will be legally removed from their position, and proper procedures will be followed in court.

If anyone has been falsely accused, they can appeal to the court, and we stand with them shoulder to shoulder.

According to SP Arshad Khan, “we have taken action against all suspects involved in all cases and 20 cases are currently being heard in court, and they will be punished by the court as soon as possible.”

In Swat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, political and social figures, religious scholars, doctors, psychologists, and security agencies are unanimous in their efforts to prevent the killing of men and women in the name of honor. Everyone should be united in preventing such incidents and the perpetrators involved in such incidents should be severely punished. In most cases, innocent people are targeted without evidence and based on personal differences, which is extremely regrettable and unforgivable.

The author has been a correspondent for national & international broadcasters in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for the past five years.