Unfortunately, waking up to the news of an honour killing in Pakistan does not seem bizarre. With lives falling like flies, the numbers spiral at the cost of a dangerous disregard and abstraction of human lives.

At the turn of the decade, Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission reported at least 790 honour killings in a year and the number maintained itself around 700 the following year. While these numbers, that average around two killings per day, paint a horrifying picture, the broader truth is that most honour killings go unreported. The fragility that surrounds notions of ‘honour’, ‘respect’, and ‘morality’ establish a net of hesitancy around the act of reporting such incidents. As it is widely agreed that the majority of honour killings take place in the rural landscapes of Pakistani society, where ideas of constitutional justice are often ignored, striving for statistical accuracy becomes increasingly difficult.

To quote a few examples; in April 1999, Samia Sarwar was murdered by her family in Lahore for her willingness to acquire divorce. In March 2008, Tasleem Khatoon Solangi, who was 17 at the time, married and eight months’ pregnant, was killed by the members of her village upon the accusations that the child was conceived out of wedlock. In May 2014, Farzana Iqbal was stoned to death by her family in broad daylight for eloping with the man she loved. Her father proudly stated:

"I killed my daughter as she had insulted all of our family by marrying a man without our consent, and I have no regret over it.”

And most recently, Qandeel Baloch , an Internet celebrity, was strangled to death by her brother. Although the actual reason for Qandeel’s murder is still unclear, there is substantial evidence that it was committed in the name of honour.

What commonality sealed the fate of these four and numerous other individuals? If it can be brought under a single term, it is ‘deviance.’

To borrow from Giddens, ‘deviance’ may be defined as a non-conformity towards a given set of norms accepted by a significant number of people in a community or society. These norms do not come about expeditiously but rather form an intangible reservoir through the establishment, evolution, and extirpation of social conventions over a long period of time.

In our case; the parochial views and excessive luxury of the Mughals, the timidness and ethnic divides under the British Raj, the religious fervour during the struggle for independence, the power struggle and elitism of the early years, the excitement and unrealised havocs up till the late 70s, the state-sponsored Islamisation under Zia, the ideological incursions from Saudi Arabia, the fluctuations of civil governments, military coups, escalating material and ideological differences amongst the citizenry, and many other sociopolitical developments have added to what we can today define as the norms of Pakistani society.

It can be safely assumed that the interaction between all these developments has led to a society ruled by threatening conservatism, ideological restraints, and overarching patriarchy. Intellectual xenophobia has become a crucial characteristic preventing the social evolution towards progressive terrains. The mystifying and relentless cocktail of traditions, customs, and religion has established a sense of terrible moral confusion in the society. And in the midst of this pandemonium, those who suffer the most are the deviants. While most of us do, and are expected to, transgress notions of accepted behaviour on some occasion; the society unleashes its outrage on the ones who are easy to target.

Examining deviance solely in a negative light is a terrible mistake. If we do so, we insult the very idea of individualism that societies have strived for and dismiss any capacity for human agency. How terribly naive it will be to overlook the intrinsic diversity among human beings and punish those who do not conform.

Emile Durkheim, a major advocate of structural functionalism, argued that deviance is necessary for society as it serves a crucial adaptive function. Deviance introduces the society to new ideas and beliefs, and therefore plays an important role in bringing about social change. By resisting the shackles of orthodoxy, deviants strive for an evolution of the culture they are part of. I feel it is also important to mention here that we can find countless examples throughout the course of history where deviant behaviours have resulted in great social, cultural, political, scientific, and artistic developments. Ranging from Copernicus’ theory of heliocentricism to the pursuit of equality and individual liberty, deviant thought has always faced fierce opposition from the people and yet managed to change the world we live in.

To borrow from another school of thought, Left Realism, that is inspired by the Conflict Theory of the 1970s and contributes towards the study of criminology; deviance often results from sociopolitical marginalisation and relative deprivation. The experience of being deprived of things that the rest of the society is entitled to leads social groups towards deviant behaviour. This idea overlaps with the notion of social exclusion, where a social group is denied its rights or if any other part of its citizenship is compromised.

Bringing these theories home and appropriating them in the light of honour killings , provides a chilling perspective to the state of our social order. Women, who have existed at the margins of our society for the longest time, face a perpetual battle for equal rights and participation. We have constructed a vulgar relationship between a woman’s freedom and a man’s honour, which has led to a ceaseless check on their agency. Different codes of morality exist and are expected of the two sexes, a behavioural hypocrisy that goes unchecked. Although there has been considerable improvement in regards to gender equality, there are still countless mountains to be climbed. We, as a society, owe a multitude of apologies to our women, our rebels, our minorities, our innovators, to those who question, to those who challenge, to those who dream, to those who deviate. Let’s start today.

In the words of Albert Camus, a fascinating absurdist:

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”