India and Pakistan share a common shame: honour killings. In the past two weeks, two young women ─ one from India ─ another from across the border, met the same fate; brutal death at the hands of their parents. The unlucky victims were 19-year-olds, barely out of their teens, who had married men of their choice.
Their deaths have a striking resemblance. The girls, Sweety from Haryana, and Zeenat from Pakistan were killed in a similar fashion for an equally “grave crime”. They were strangulated by their parents and then set on fire, on returning to their homes barely two weeks after getting married.
While we might take pride in being “different” from our arch enemy Pakistan, when it comes to our age-old misogynist mindset, we are equals. A large section of our society still treats women as the pristine and untouched commodity to a family’s honour. And we don’t hesitate to shoot or bludgeon them to a bloody death if they dare set their hearts on a man.
In another horrific incident, a man shot his 9-month pregnant sister and her husband to preserve the family’s honour. The couple, Aqsa, 26, and Mohammad Shakil, 30, were married for four years and their baby was due in just four days. It is beyond any normal human perception how a brother can restore the family’s honour by wiping out his sister along with her unborn child and her spouse. The skewed outlook towards women in India, as well as Pakistan gives a strange confidence among the perpetrators.
A look at the data can send the chills down our spine. In 2015, on an average, three people a day were killed in “honour” crimes in Pakistan; a total of 1,096 women and 88 men, according to the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
“Honour killing” perpetrators are hardly ever punished in Pakistan. A Sharia-based law allows the family of a victim to forgive a killer, and in most cases, the killers are the family. Relatives would forgive the murderers, not wanting to send them off to prison. But change is slowly permeating in the state.
Earlier this year, in Pakistan’s Punjab, the country’s largest province, a landmark law was passed that criminalises all forms of violence against women. A group of Pakistani clerics issued a fatwa against “honour killing” citing this was against the teaching of Islam. Anyone who carries out such an attack would be termed a heretic. In a nation ruled by religion, such a law can act as a major deterrent.
Since there are no rules to punish honour killers, Zeenat’s mother and brother have been charged under Pakistan’s anti-terrorism law. Although there’s no terrorism in their act, police and prosecutors have started using the law as a way around the ‘forgiveness’ loophole.
At least when it comes to India, we are more assertive to condemn it and charge perpetrators with death penalties. With global pressure on Pakistan, the scenario is changing. Hopefully women across the border won’t have to die to marry a person they love. In India, sensitisation is the only way we can beat this atrocity against women.