Fighting The Surge Of Honour Killings In Swat

District Police Officer Shafiullah Khan Gandapur says that this year, 16 victims have been arrested during search operations and 4 had been arrested at the crime scene along with weapons

Fighting The Surge Of Honour Killings In Swat

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.

Kalsoom told The Friday Times - NayaDaur that Shah Bano was a bright student of matriculation and wanted to become a doctor in the future, but unfortunately, our family took her life before to fulfil their wishes. She used to share everything with me, a village boy of the university she loved. They used to talk on the cell phone sometime in the day, but no one knew about the conversation with his boyfriend except me, but our family members became suspicious of Bano. They felt that if one day she ran away with a university friend and got married in a court, their honour would be tarnished. And so she was killed, allegedly, by poisoning.

The family spread the claim that Shah Bano died of a severe heart attack. She had respiratory problems for a long time. Therefore, no legal action could be taken by district police against the brothers and fathers. A case of the murder of Shah Bano was not registered so far.

"In Pashtun society, it is a crime to talk about one's choice or life partner in front of parents. They think that the daughter or sister is committing some serious scene. They have only two options: honour killing or getting the girl married to someone else soon.”

According to data from The Awakening, a non-governmental organisation of Pakistan, in district Swat, 263 women were killed in the name of "honour" in Swat in the last twelve decades. Moreover, as per information provided by The Awakening, 16 women were killed 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 2020, 18 in 2021, 2022 16 in 2023 and 32 people have been killed in the name of honour.

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

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

Tabassum emphasises the significance of the Khwendo 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. In this Jirga, we guided the affected women about the law and their rights because the Constitution of Pakistan gives these rights. We work to convince them to fight for their rights and those of their children. During such cases, it is our responsibility to provide financial support and security to the affected woman."

Advocate Saif Ul Islam told TFT-ND that most of the accused involved in killing men and women in the name of 'honour' are relatives. This is the reason why such cases are reported only and not proponents, and even if a registered police station is then no one agrees to give evidence. The reason behind this is why the accused escaped punishment.

According to Saiful Islam, the domestic violence bill was passed by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Assembly in 2021. Protection committees were also formed in other districts, but after that, these committees were not notified. Saiful Islam advises that if women are victims of violence at home, they should report it.

Psychologist Dr Mian Nizam Ali told TFT-ND that some men have mental illnesses due to which they suspect their wives, sisters, and daughters, when the illness increases with time, they can go to the point of killing their wives, sisters, and daughters.

Regarding cases of murder based on "honour" 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 banner 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."

According to the data obtained under Right To Information (RTI) from the District Police Office (DPO), 37 cases have been reported from 2012 to 2017, 5 in 2018, 9 in 2019, 7 in 2020, 8 in 2021, 6 in 2022, and 9 in 2023, According to police figures, 80 people were killed in the name of honour in the last twelve years. Out of these, 27 cases are pending in the court, while 81 people were arrested

Police data reveals a disturbing trend of honour killings, with cases spanning years.

District Police Officer Shafiullah Khan Gandapur told TFT-ND that in his view, 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 police data, nine cases have been reported this year. District Police Officer Shafiullah Khan Gandapur told TFT-ND that 16 victims have been arrested during search operations and 4 had been arrested at the crime scene along with weapons. The police say that 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.

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