36 James Schafnit – Honor For Blood: Pakistan’s Patriarchy

James Schafnit

Honor For Blood: Pakistan’s Patriarchy

Some people consider marriage to be a brutality all on its own, but could you imagine a scenario in the modern world where the act of getting married incurs the wrath of public execution? Or how about being raped as a punishment for being a rape victim? These graphic atrocities I have described to you are a very real and archaic problem still occurring in the modern world of Pakistan today, and are more popularly known as crimes of honor or honor crimes. Honor crimes are generally defined as a crime committed against a member of the same family unit or community with the intention of restoring the loss of honor to the family or community by punishing victim publicly and violently. These types of crimes are 99% of the time directed at women for the sole purpose of promoting fear, control, and power over the fairer sex (Hussain et al). The most common types of punishable offenses that qualify as being an afront against honor include, everything related to controlling a woman’s sexuality, violating the concept of the typical Pakistani Islamic family unit and its virtue, religious renouncement, and general embarrassment brought upon a family. The belief is that the act of publicly punishing the person that has brought shame or dishonor upon the family, that it will restore the honor to the family from within the community. However, it is also important to note that honor crimes are not a new fad, they have been loosely traced all the way back to the time of Ancient Rome and early Aztec and Inca civilizations (“Honor Killing”). Although this sort of brutal act of domination may seem contextually appropriate for an ancient civilization, we are not in an ancient society nor do we live by the standards of days past. In today’s modern society we have rights, more specifically we have human rights as defined by the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights. The Pakistani patriarchal oppression of its citizens with the use of honor crimes is a violation of those human rights because of the denial of a fair trial process, the destruction of choice in founding a family unit, and the wide spread use of cruel and unusual punishment.

The human right, as outlined in article 11 of the United Nations Declaration of human rights, for the right to a fair trial and guarantee of defense is being taken for granted in a major way in Pakistan. This is due to the implementation of Caste Panchayats. A Caste Panchayat is an informal governing body that runs parallel with, but unendorsed by the official state law, and is used to “self-regulate” problems with in a community (Baxi). However, these Caste Panchayats have a medieval structure and patriarchal logic to them. For instance, the typical Caste Panchayat version of a trial involves an accuser stepping forward with a claim against a member of the community for which the Caste Panchayat has domain. After the claim is made to the Caste Panchayat it is known that the accused will suffer punishment at the hands of the victim of her wrong doing or by the accuser himself (Baxi). The lack of due process and ability to defend yourself against an accusation from within your own community, via due trial process, is not only criminally negligent, according to Pakistan’s state law and constitution, it is also morally reprehensible and an obvious violation of article 11 of the Human Rights Declaration. To make matters worse the intensity for which the punishments are handed out also go unregulated. Some of the most common types of honor crimes committed against people found to be guilty by Caste Panchayat are beatings, acid burns, revenge rapes, brutalization, and lynching (Kanchan, Tanuj, et al.). To summarize, all three common branches of the judicial system that we associate with a fair trial process here in America are being violated. The ‘judge’ is the accuser, the ‘jury’ is a patriarchal “honor for blood” group known as Caste Panchayat, and finally the ‘executioner’ is anyone needing to reclaim some honor (Chesler). Giving control to members of the community has ultimately caused the human rights of the people for which they were intended to protect become askew. This has been found to be true in the absence of a fair trial processed as I had pointed out, but has also extended even further into a male dominant need for control over the family unit as a whole.

Much like the right to a fair trial, this complex issue of honor crimes and the patriarchal ruling forces located within Pakistan have created another violation in human rights as outline by the United Nations Declarations of Human Rights article 16. This article states that Men and women are entitled to equal rights with respect to founding marriage, family, and if necessary, the equal right to dissolution of marriage (“Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”).  Unfortunately, Pakistani cultural practices are antiquated in a sense that arranged marriages are still prevalent to this day and are considered to be the business of the Caste Panchayats; thus they are enforced by these brutal communal regimes (Baxi). It has been reported in the International Research Journal of Interdisciplinary & Multidisciplinary Studies that one of the leading causes for a crime committed in the name of honor to result in the death of the victim is when a young woman marries a man for the virtue of love against the families predetermined plans for her (Hussain et al). Not only does this obviously violate article 16 of the Human Rights Declaration directly, it also is a signal that the Caste Panchayat system has been cultivated in such a way as to control the reproductive power of the society by denying the peoples within it the choice of family or procreation outside what has been chosen for them. The situation could also turn much more complicated than just being murdered for making your own marriage choices. In Baxi’s research of legal precedence of Pakistan, she discovered that it is possible for a young woman to be charged with her own rape if she were to have pre-marital sex, even if she has already married a man that was not of her arranged marriage (Baxi). She would go on to explain that “A consensual sexual relationship in a marriage of choice can be converted into a Zina offence by establishing that a marriage of choice is invalid… then produces unchaste women, sullies their reputations, imprisons them and makes ‘rehabilitation’ a near impossibility… sexual intercourse outside marriage has become a cognizable offence.” (Baxi). Not only are Pakistani women not allowed to choose whom they marry, they are also liable to be incriminated for any deviation outside of what has been predetermined for them by their respective families and communities. Take for example a Pakistani woman named Usma, she was imprisoned for more than a year because she attempted to divorce her husband whom had been having an affair (Constable). The imprisonment has been a coordinated effort by her parents, husband, and Caste Panchayat. Usma said “My parents say it is shameful for me to want a divorce, they say it will ruin their reputation and that no one will marry me if I am second-hand. I don’t want to go home. I don’t want to get remarried. I just want to be free.”(Constable). This is a major violation of the sanctity of marriage, and the right to establish and found a family unit without oppression or retribution as stated in article 16 of the Declaration of Human Rights. This minimalization of the peoples of Pakistan has been enforced through the power of fear that has an alarmingly loud presence due to the sheer force of violence and cruelty that is used to secure the power structure.

The alarming nature of punishments surrounding honor crimes in Pakistan is more often than not cruel and inhumane, which is a signifying characteristic of a violation of human rights . Amnesty International has reported cases where victims of honor crimes were “brutally beaten to death with bricks” right on the courthouse steps of the second largest city in Pakistan (Qadri). This type of brazen effort to make a public display serves no other purpose than to attempt to exert control and empower the Islamic male ego (Hussain et al). Boosting the male Islamic ego through these brutalities has become the norm in the crimes of honor situation. However satisfying it may be, it is a prime example of why the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights includes article 5, which states, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” (“Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”). It has also been reported that in the case of Humaria Mehmood vs the State of Pakistan that Humaria, a 30 yr old woman married to Mahmood Butt, was kidnapped by local officials and returned to her father against her will, because she married a man by choice as opposed to following her arranged marriage obligation (Baxi). Cruel and unusual punishment can come in many forms, it does not always have to be so obvious as a brutality. Rather, sometimes degrading treatment can come in the form of being returned home to your father against your will, in an effort to prevent you from living the life you have chosen for yourself. All in all the use of cruel and degrading punishments as noted in article 5 of the Declaration of Human Rights is always prevalent when it comes to honor crimes. The cruel and unusual punishments implemented by the Caste Panchayat and the troubled cultural patriarchy are not always brutal but are always about exercising control over the community and minimalizing the people, thus violating the human right bestowed upon all peoples.

Establishing the premise of and comprising the argument of honor crimes as an afront to human rights has been seemingly smooth to this point. The western culture mixed with the very modern era we live in makes it easier for you to agree with me thus far. However, I want to offer an unpopular view point that is more relevant to the community I have been analyzing thus far. Pratiksha Baxi, author of Legacies of Common Law: ‘Crimes of Honour’ in India and Pakistan, has quoted Rhotak Haryana, the inspector general of police in Pakistan as saying “Caste (panchayat) has played an important role in village life.”, he would also go on to explain that he thought, “’that the state hadn’t any business meddling in their (caste panchayats) activities.”(Baxi). I can respect that he has a certain nationalism founded in the tradition of village life, and that the idea of having the government in your business is unsettling to an extent. However, being the inspector general for police, Haryana must be well aware of the Constitution of Pakistan of which he is sworn to uphold. To make the magnitude of the insolence to which this particular situation deserves, take note of some of my favorite passages of the first chapter of the Pakistani constitution; Article 25 section 1 “All citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of law.”, Article 10A “Right to a fair trial”, and Article 12 “Protection from retrospective punishment”.(“The Constitution of Pakistan: Chapter 1”). I would venture to argue that by allowing members of the community such as Mr. Haryana to continue to operate under his belief of caste panchayat that he is directly negatively impacting the possibility of a fair trial process, which is due to the citizens of Pakistan by way of the constitution. Furthermore, that his position of power is a form of cruel and unusual punishment, in the way that his beliefs are being unwillingly bestowed upon the people he is entrusted with serving. How can a Man in such a powerful position have such views as to where he is in agreement, either directly or indirectly, with the violation of human rights as outlined by the United Nations? These types of questions and challenges to the status quo are what we need to keep in the backs of our minds as we try to search for solutions.

The major catalysts for honor crimes in Pakistan seem to be derived from a lack of a moral narrative between social and judicial issues and much like a teenager that has been unsupervised for too long, they are going to get into trouble. The parents in this context would be the state government of Pakistan and the teenagers would be the localized patriarchal community leaders that form Caste Panchayat. The state government of Pakistan at its core is trying its best to correct the course that has caused these Caste Panchayats to come about, however, in the post-colonial state of Pakistan, the Islamisation of criminal laws by the Caste Panchayats has grown much faster than the government has (Baxi). So how do we correct this action? The solution to Pakistan’s violations of human rights will come in the form of judicial reform, social activism, and the criminalization and replacement of Caste Panchayat.

Strengthening the Pakistani government is a key to finding a solution to these flagrant abuses of human rights. Pakistan passed a new law in 2016 that was directly targeted at stopping honor crimes. The initiative was sparked by the death of a young woman named Qandeel Baloh who was an activist in the community for women’s rights and a social media star (Kelly and Saifi). The act itself is called the “Criminal Law (amendment) (Offences in the name or pretext of Honour) Act, 2016.” (Kelly and Saifi). Through some analysis I have determined that this law has already begun to produce data to show its effectiveness. In a report made in 2014 by Mustafa Qadri of Amnesty International titled “Shocking: Surge of Honor Killings in Pakistan” it was reported that between 900 and 1000 honor crimes were being perpetrated each year in Pakistan (Qadri). However, since the law had passed be unanimous decision in 2016, CNN reports that only 300 honor crimes were reported for all of 2016 (Kelly and Saifi). This estimated 67%-70% decrease in honor crimes shows that with support from the state centralized government, the proper laws can be enforced and have a positive effect all across Pakistan. The prime minister of Pakistan has also been quoted as saying “Women are the most essential part of our society and I believe in their empowerment.” (Kelly and Saifi). The alignment of the new law passing and the shift in attitude from the leaders of Pakistan will be the strength of this methodology in restoring human rights to Pakistan. The only weakness I can see of this is that the government is slow, and its reach is limited by its resources. It is not a top down only problem though, as we have discussed the root of the problem lies in old ideas embedded within communities; for example, Caste Panchayat. So how do we start to make changes on a local level that will meet the government’s efforts somewhere in the middle? The answer, social activism.

Creating localized human rights advocacy groups and supplying education to those that would commit transgressions against human rights via honor crimes is a steadfast way to implement a positive change from the inside out. Take for instance the first record of an all-women’s council as reported by USA Today. This all women’s council was formed specifically to counter the Caste Panchayat, founded by Pakistani woman Tabassum Adnan (Inayat). Formed in 2013 the sisters council acts on behalf of women to prevent honor crimes from running rampant through out areas which are under full control of the Caste Panchayat (Inayat). This is wildly important as Caste Panchayats are exclusively comprised of males, and only serve to continue the patriarchy that they themselves have built. This type of defiance of social norms can have a significant impact on the surrounding communities by leading as an example. The movement Adnan started is having an effect on the area. In the years since she has started this sisters council she claims to have helped over 1000 women from persecution of the Caste Panchayat. Despite the progress she is making I would say the weakness in this type of intervention of cultural behaviors is that the violations of human rights that she aims to dismantle are deeply embedded in the society she is so desperately fighting to change, and at any moment the tension could erupt in violence as the old ways clash with new. However, since achieving great success in her area, I believe the strength of this type of movement is that the Pakistani government is now morally aligned with the work Adnan is doing in the community. Having an ally as powerful as the government is always a good boost of momentum.

The most effective way to rid Pakistan of the injustice beholden by honor crimes and restore the human right narrative, the Caste Panchayat must be outlawed by prime minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and replaced with state law enforcement. The centralized judicial system of Pakistan is creating the change in the law that will give the newly established law enforcement the power they need to protect the citizens equally. This will give hope to the  citizens that the government is looking out for them instead of not being able to reach them. Even Tahira Abdullah, a member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, has her own doubts that the government can supply adequate protection to its people. She was quoted in the USA Today article titled “Pakistani Women form Council to Prevent More Honor Killings” as saying that “the existing laws are not being implemented properly.”, and that “Until Caste Panchayats are abolished by law, Pakistan will not see an end to honor killings and other barbaric violent crimes,”(Inayat).  Additionally the people of Pakistan have already spoken on a communal level by having brave women like Adnan creating change from within the communities themselves. These two existing forces of change happening with in the government and the community combined with the replacement of Caste Panchayat will surely be the catalyst needed to establish permanent change. The strength in my proposal is that I am uniting the coexisting forces from both socio-political ends of the spectrum, the highest government office and the rural social activist, and providing a solution to fill the gap in the middle in the form of providing localized state officials in suburban and rural areas; whilst removing the source of much of the human rights scourge that comes from Caste Panchayat. However, to accomplish this it will take a massive amount of resources and support from groups such as the United Nations, Amnesty International, and similar organizations. In conclusion, it is more than possible to restore the rights of a fair trial, founding a family unit, and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment by implementing a system of state law enforcement to replace the abusers currently in power at a local level.

The significance of creating changes in Pakistan are far reaching and something that everybody can see importance in, as human rights are universal. Even if we live in the ‘best country in the world’ and don’t have too much to worry about, on the other side of the world these men and women are brutalized for things that we take for granted every day. What if your grandmother was never able to found a family with your grandfather because it was not approved? You would even exist here today to be reading this paper of mine, and that would be a real travesty. This type of honor crimes are not the kind that can be swept under the rug with a couple doses of apathy, a beer, and a new episode of Game of Thrones. These are real people being belittled and massacred by the thousand! Only our support of their government and continued support of Pakistani women’s suffrage can we really make a change and bring equality to all peoples of the world so that one day even the rural people of Pakistan can have their own beer and episode of Game of Thrones in peace and free from persecution.

Works Cited

Baxi, Pratiksha, et al. “Legacies of Common Law: ‘Crimes of Honour’ in India and Pakistan.” Third World Quarterly, vol. 27, no. 7, Oct. 2006, p. 1239. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/01436590600933404.

Chen, Kelly, and Sophia Saifi. “Pakistan passes milestone law for women.” CNN. 08 Oct. 2016. Cable News Network. 13 Apr. 2019 <https://www.cnn.com/2016/10/06/asia/pakistan-anti-honor-killing-law/index.html>.

Chesler, Phyllis. “Are Honor Killings Simply Domestic Violence?” Middle East Quarterly, vol. 16, no. 2, Spring 2009, pp. 61–69. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.scottsdalecc.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=37198489&site=ehost-live.

Constable, Pamela. “In Pakistan, Women Pay The Price of ‘Honor’.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 8 May 2000, www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/2000/05/08/in-pakistan-women-pay-the-price-of-honor/0a37735d-0f7e-4cf1-b230-2743e89a13af/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.194d26d61eb0.

Hussain, Mazher & Aftab, Hussain & , Gillani & Fatima, Almas & Ahmad, Saeed. (2016). “Honor Killing in Pakistan: Socio-Legal Implications from Mid- 1990s to the Dawn of 21 st Century-A Critical Analysis.” International Research Journal of Interdisciplinary & Multidisciplinary Studies, Volume-II, Issue-II, March 2016, Page No. 18-31, Scholar Publications, Karimganj, Assam, India, 788711.

Inayat, Naila. “Pakistani women form council to prevent more honor killings.” USA Today. 16 June 2016. Gannett Satellite Information Network. 20 Mar. 2019 <https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2016/06/16/pakistani-women-council-honor-killings/85975036/>.

Kanchan, Tanuj, et al. “Honor Killing: Where Pride Defeats Reason.” Science & Engineering Ethics, vol. 22, no. 6, Dec. 2016, pp. 1861–1862. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s11948-015-9694-5.

Qadri, Mustafa. “SHOCKING: Surge of Honor Killings in Pakistan.” Amnesty International USA. 02 July 2014. 13 Apr. 2019 <https://www.amnestyusa.org/shocking-surge-of-honor-killings-in-pakistan/>.

“The Constitution of Pakistan: Chapter 1” Chapter 1: “Fundamental Rights” of Part II: “Fundamental Rights and Principles of Policy”. 12 Apr. 2019 <http://www.pakistani.org/pakistan/constitution/part2.ch1.html>.

“Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” United Nations, United Nations, www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html.



Two Waters Review, Volume One - 2016 to 2019 Copyright © by Matthew Bloom. All Rights Reserved.

Share This Book