Pakistan is one of those countries where the notion of “honor” is directly linked to a woman’s character and her actions. This practice is quite widespread in South Asia where women are even killed in the name of honour. According to the United Nations Population Fund, approximately 5,000 women are killed each year worldwide for bringing shame on their family’s honor. A recent debate on the sensitivity of this issue in Pakistan began when the murderer of Qandeel Baloch was acquitted by the High Court in Lahore.
Qandeel Baloch was a social media influencer who was murdered by her brother in 2016 for uploading culturally unacceptable photos of herself to social media sites. The law against honor killings was passed in 2004, but these practices persist due to cultural norms that prioritize abstract concepts over a person’s life. But after the death of Qandeel Baloch, under immense international pressure, Pakistan passed an honor killings bill to fill the loopholes in the existing law. This bill removed the previous loopholes of acquitting the killer if the victim’s family members pardon his offence.
An appeals court session on Monday acquitted the murderer of criminal charges. Earlier in 2016, Waseem Baloch confessed to strangling his sister to death for posting lewd photos on Facebook. Despite the legislation against such an offense and the prior confession of the culprit, he was able to escape the shackles of the law. So, is there something wrong with the Pakistani justice system?
Patriarchal societies have a distinct power structure in which men are the ultimate decision makers and power holders. Gender discrimination is a prominent feature of these societies where almost all decisions regarding a woman’s life are made by the male members of her family. Such socio-cultural practices have given rise to the idea of ’honor’ which is linked to a woman’s actions and when she becomes deviant she is expected to bear the brunt of cultural norms which may even inflict the death penalty on her. .
This explanation of honor has nothing to do with religious paradigms and is totally a cultural practice. As women are the marginalized and vulnerable segment of society, they receive negative sanctions for their actions.
According to statistics obtained by Express News, only 2% of defendants have been convicted of honor killings so far. The reason behind such an abysmal rate of punishments is that the aggrieved families have no intention of pursuing such a case as it may shame their name. Moreover, they reconcile with the perpetrator out of court and the case is closed. The inefficiency of the police in gathering substantial evidence is another obstacle to the conviction of the offender by the trial court.
Legislation regarding a crime proves less effective, especially when it does not conform to societal norms. William Graham Sumner, a classical liberal sociologist, reiterated in his theory that social norms are converted into laws in modern societies and that laws function more effectively in societies where they are in full compliance with the norms. Therefore, the question of the productivity of legislation regarding honor killings cases can be addressed by initiating a public discourse at the macro level. Furthermore, reforms are needed for the police sector to compel them to act impartially keeping their personal interests and ideologies aside, for the timely completion of a trial.