Almost every day, there are horrific tales in the print and electronic media about Karo Kari - Honour Killings. What I fail to understand is, why call it ‘Honour Killing’, as to call killing a person, usually a defenseless woman in cold blood, as ‘Honour Killing’ is a desecration of this word, which is usually associated with noble acts of bravery and those that deserve respect and admiration.
In many cases, ‘Honour Killings’ stem from a family or father's outrage over a daughter's adoption of Western values or of having committed some act that is deemed to be a violation of the ‘honour’ of the family or tribe. Such acts include marrying someone without the consent of the family, sex before marriage, demanding a divorce, a woman being raped or even things as innocent as a girl seen talking to a boy.
Although honour killings are typically associated with Muslim countries like Turkey, Iraq and especially Pakistan, but the practice has nothing to do with Islam. Rather, it is rooted in ancient tribal customs, whereby the honour of a family or a whole village is represented by the morality, chastity and proper behavior of its women. Any perceived violation of that sense of honour often leads to deadly consequences.
Honour killings also include the wish of a woman to choose her own marriage partner or seek a divorce without the consent or the approval of the elders. Women, victims of rape, are also seen to have ‘dishonoured’ their male relatives and some have been killed on that account. In many cases, these killings are misused by men, who wish to get rid of their wives.
Honour crimes are also widespread among Sikhs and Hindus in India, across North Africa, and have even been reported in Eastern Europe and Brazil. It is also on the increase in Western Europe and North America.
Most of the honour killings are rarely prosecuted and result in relatively light sentences. When such a killing occurs in the West, many people including the police shy away from calling it an ‘Honour killing’. In the West, both Islamist and feminist groups, including domestic violence activists, continue to insist that honour killings are an extreme form of Western-style domestic violence.
According to human rights organisations, this grisly violence against women are on the rise in Sindh and Punjab, due to illiteracy and poverty. In almost 90 per cent of Karo Kari cases, personal rivalries and enmities are involved and it is the downtrodden women, who are the victims of these heinous crimes and have to pay the price with their lives.
A recent survey conducted by Online News Network, reveals that it is usually the husband, brother or father, who kills his wife, sister or daughter, along with their alleged acquaintances, on the charges of Karo Kari.
An inquiry report of a recent Karo Kari incident, which occurred on the premises of the Punjab High Court, revealed that the man who clubbed his wife to death, together with other members of the family, had also killed his previous wife in October 2009.
According to surveys, only those cases that are either published by the newspapers or which take place in the vicinity of cities are reported. But many cases are unreported due to financial restraints of the deceased's heirs, family pressures and more importantly, the lack of interest by the police, the government and civil society.
The report also describes how the temptation of compensation and the lenient treatment of honour killings by courts have led to abuse of the system in which women are killed supposedly on grounds of ‘Honour’, but in reality for ulterior motives.
The violence against women include setting ferocious dogs on them, burying them alive, burning them with acid, etc. and sadly, most tribal leaders and feudals claim that these are time old customs and traditions and must be respected as their community's culture and should not be compared with Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Unfortunately, if women begin to assert these rights, they often face more repression and punishment. With the increase of awareness of women’s rights, honour killings have also risen. Government’s indifference, discriminatory laws and the gender bias of much of the country's police force and judiciary have ensured immunity for perpetrators of honour killings.
Honour killings and physical injury of women due to violence are crimes under our criminal law, however, systematic failure by the government to investigate and to punish the perpetrators, has encouraged ‘Honour killers’ to act without any fear.
This un-Islamic and inhuman act has therefore increased in the last 10 years, in which almost five thousand women, including minor girls, have lost their lives and our government has done very little about it.
The lives of millions of women in Pakistan are restricted by traditions, which enforce isolation and obedience to men, many of whom impose their control over women through violence. But media, International attention and the work of women's rights groups have seen the beginnings of women's rights awareness in the country.
The United Nations has recognised violence against women, as a human rights issue, involving state responsibility. It states: "As domestic violence exists as a powerful tool of oppression, violence against women also serves as an essential component in societies which oppress women.
However, the significance of national and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind, before drafting a law against ‘Honour killing’. But it is the duty of states, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms."
Honour killings have tarnished the image of Pakistan in the International arena and have smeared Pakistan, as being a liberal, modern and tolerant Islamic state. To discuss this sensitive issue, Helpline Trust had organised a day long panel discussion on ‘Honour Killings’ in collaboration with a Pakistani daily newspaper, in 2004.
The panel had included Justice Majida Rizvi, Nafisa Shah, Nazim Khairpur, Mir Manzoor Ali Khan Panhwar, Sindh minister for Livestock Forests and Fisheries, and the late Iqbal Haider.
The discussions had examined the prevailing situation in Pakistan at that time, with a lively interaction with the audience. Unfortunately, seven years later, the situation remains unchanged and women are still helpless victims of these murders most foul, called Honour Killings.
 The writer can be reached at  trust@helplinetrust.org.pk