Honor Killing – An Overview

honor killing

Of all the evils spawned by the tribal/feudal society, honor killing is arguably the most heinous.

Apologists try to equate it with “crime of passion” but crimes of passion are abrupt, unmediated, and impulsive acts of violence committed by persons who, in their own lights, have come face to face with an incident wholly repulsive and unacceptable, and who technically and for the duration of the act, are insane and incapable of self-control. One well known and illustrative example is that of an Indian Naval officer, Commander Nanavati who some thirty years ago went to his apartment, found his wife and her paramour in conjugal embrace, shot both of them, went out, accosted a traffic policeman, confessed to the killing and demanded to be arrested. The policeman demurred, he could not arrest an officer, so he took over directing the traffic, sent the policeman to fetch a police inspector who arrived in due course, and arrested him.

I have not been able to find a striking or so well documented example of such Honor killing in Pakistan as this one, though stories of enraged, out of control, husbands, fathers, and brothers abound. Murder of a “guilty” female is reported about once a month in Pakistani newspapers, though according to reliable statistics it occurs, on the average three times a day.

The usual honor killings in the tribe and clan ridden Pakistan, on the other hand are in most cases deliberate, well planned and premeditated acts, when a relative of a female kills her ostensibly to uphold his honor, though it is well established that in most cases the overriding motive is monetary/property loss entailed in giving away a female out of tribe, biraderi etc.

The practice is a relic of the times when law and order was a matter of tribal code (A recent variant is sanctioning gang rape of a woman for alleged insult to a member of a powerful family by a member of “low” family, for example the Mukhtaran Mai case in Pakistan) and the British on assuming control, and with a view to pacifying the natives and minimizing opposition to their over lordship, incorporated honor killing in their jurisprudence, even though it was repugnant to their code of justice and fair play. But they imposed very stringent conditions viz sexual activity was actually observed, the perpetrator confessed, had an otherwise upright character, had blood/marriage relation with the girl and reported to the police immediately.

Under the British rule it was a rare incident. The perpetrator would not be sentenced to death but there would be a long jail sentence and social sanctions as well.

But above all, the crime was deemed to have been committed against the state in contravention of law and not a simple private affair.

Qisas (eye for an eye) and Diyat (blood money) as part of Hudood laws were promulgated as Presidential Ordnance, not requiring parliamentary assent, by General Zia, the military dictator of Pakistan from 1977 to 1988, are closely related relics of pre Islamic societies, where the concept of these offences being family affairs, was accepted. Islam made these violations of law crimes against the state (though clerics in their role of props of the ruling class generally look the other way or even support the practice).

Since the departure of the British and with them fear of the law and judicial procedures and especially since the dark days of Zia Ul Haq, women have been relegated of to a third class status.

This intolerant theology was invented over a hundred of years after the prophet of Islam (PBUH) at the behest of Abbasid Caliphs, and revived in the eighteenth century by a person by the name of Abdul Wahab, with whom the progenitor of the Saudi royal clan had signed a compact that the clan chief would look after the worldly affairs and Godly ones would be assigned to Wahab.

It did not get any where till the successors of the clan chief on the one hand and those of Wahab on the other got together to fight with the “infidel” British and the French against fellow Muslims, the Turks. The house of Ibn e Saud utilized the fanatics as a weapon against their local rival, Shareef the ruler of Mecca who claimed descent from the prophet of Islam; wholly repugnant to the spirit and word of Islam.

The British had promised Hejaz to Shareef but gave it instead to Saud and left the former with consolation prizes of Iraq and Jordan.

Pakistan inherited a tolerant version of Islam. I recall from my childhood that we shunned extremists and socialized with non-Muslims. Over the following several decades, as the leaders failed to come up to expectations, social services deteriorated, the ruling clique led the country down the disastrous path of wars, military rule, subservience to foreign interests, curtailment of expenditure on nation building, widening divide between the rich and the poor and finally civil war and loss of half of the country. Orthodoxy took hold of the imagination of people in the country.

Bhutto pledged an egalitarian society, but ended up by rejuvenating his feudal class. Ziaul Haq hammered the final nail into the coffin of liberal Pakistan.

Feudal lords have ruled Pakistan even since its inception; all levers of power, Army, Civil service, Mullahs and Press have been under their control.

Army is the most effective tool of feudal society as it has brute power and can ignore with contempt the law of the land. Other components of the Evil Quad (Feudals, Army, Civil service, and Mullah) willingly cooperate. Civil servants and judges supinely obey the army. (The stand taken by CJ Iftikhar Choudhury is the sole exception; he was letdown by the lawyer’s movement leader Aitzaz Ahsan, but that is another discussion). Expression of opinion is prohibited and all coercive apparatus of state is used to crush opposition.

Education is discouraged and whatever little is allowed, is subverted by distortion of curricula. Honor killing is a made to measure cover for them.

If Pakistan were encumbered only with the problem of fanaticism and relics of the colonial times, it would not be so bad. To compound the misery uncontrolled growth of population was allowed in the name of religion. West Pakistan (now the only Pakistan) had a population of 35 million in 1941. Now it is 200 million and growing at over three percent per year.

Even if the government functioned honestly, sincerely and efficiently (which admittedly it does not) no innovation in methods of production could cope with the immense increase in the number of mouths to feed.

Health, education, nutrition, physical and mental development continue to deteriorate. A Human sub-species incapable of protest is being created.

In any case, few in Pakistan have the time, inclination, means or education to think, read books, and analyze the machinations of the “Evil Quad”. Zia literally ignored unfavorable articles in “Dawn” and is believed to have said that the reader ship of the newspaper was only 40,000 (45,000 on Friday).

There are no doubt valiant voices in the country and among expatriates and in Pakistan), but they are akin to straws in the wind. All conferences, seminars, resolutions and press notes in effect and in substance are irrelevant. They look to the west specially U.S.A for putting pressure on Pakistani authorities to respect human rights and law.

But the west is not interested in human rights in third world countries. They supported Taliban in Afghanistan where the fanatics were perpetrating the worst crimes against the Afghans.

A total structural change in society is needed. It would be tantamount to a revolution. Revolutions are historically indigenous and cannot be imported or imposed from outside.

Following is a summary of the report of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International recommendations, and The Protection and Empowerment of Women act 2003, presented to Pakistan National Assembly, with a fond hope that it will stimulate some minds and goad them to initiate the struggle against the Evil Quad.

Human Rights Commission Of Pakistan:

Honor killings 1998 to 2002 1464 (married 659- unmarried 534)

Amnesty International Recommendations

Review criminal laws to ensure equality before law and equal protection of law to women.

Make domestic violence in all its manifestations a criminal offence.

Make sale of women and girls or giving women in marriage against financial considerations a criminal offence.

Under take wide-ranging awareness programs.

Provide gender-sensitization training to law enforcement and judicial personnel.

Ensure that human rights activists, lawyers, and women’s rights activists can pursue their legitimate activities with out harassment

The 2003 “Act”:

Government to ensure equal participation of women in all walks of life

Discrimination in pay on basis of gender is prohibited.

Domestic violence and honor killing be punishable in the same manner as personal injury or culpable homicide.

Every woman shall be entitled to marry a person of her choice.

At least one third of seats on Islamic Ideology Council and other government commissions be reserved for women.

Separate/independent enclosures in jail for women controlled by female police.


I was born in Dewa Sharif, UP, India in 1939.

I went to school from the fourth to eighth class in Gonda, UP and the 9th grade in Jhansi, UP, India.

We moved to Quetta, Pakistan and went to school for the 10th grade and intermediate college in the same town.

I was in Karachi University 1954-57, then Dow Medical College 1957-62. I Was in the National Students Federation from 1954 to 1962, trained in surgery in the Civil Hospital Karachi 1962-65, proceeded to England 1965 and trained in General surgery and orthopedic surgery till 73, when I left for Canada 1973-74, USA 1974-83, back to Karachi 1983 and built a hospital and went back to the USA in 1991, been in the USA since.

I retired from surgery in 2005.

I have worked in various HR and Socialist groups in the USA.

I have Published two books ,:”A Medical Doctor Examines Life on Three Continents,” and ,”God, Government and Globalization”, and am working on the third one, “An Analysis of the Sources and Derivation of Religions”.



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