In 2012, five women were allegedly killed by their family members. This was followed by the killing of three of their brothers. All this because of a viral video in which the women were seen clapping and two boys were dancing at a wedding function. This happened in Kohistan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The incident wouldn’t have come to light if Afzal Kohistani, the brother of the boys, had not made the murder of the women public. He did it to save the lives of his family members. Unfortunately, three of his brothers were murdered in 2013 and he, too, was murdered in 2019. Yet, those five women, Afzal and his family are still awaiting justice because the convictions of those who had been arrested for these crimes were set aside.
Last month, the Peshawar High Court set aside the conviction of the three people accused of murdering the five women. They had been given life sentences back in 2019. On the heels of this came another devastating news this month of a video going viral — once again, in the Kohistan area — after which one girl was allegedly murdered by her family on the orders of a local jirga while another girl was rescued by the local police. The boys featured in the video and photos have gone into hiding, fearing for their lives. Reports indicate that the videos and photos have been edited and tampered with. But an innocent woman’s life has been lost despite the video being fake. Many are thus rightly criticising our justice system for failing our women by not punishing those who perpetrated violent crimes against the women and men in Kohistan a decade ago.
When the news of the murder of five women surfaced after the video went viral, people around the country were shocked at the brutality of the crime. The bodies of those women were never found and it was reported that they were dumped in a stream. The callousness of this crime angered many but, unfortunately, our judiciary could not dispense justice. Now, when another such case has emerged, people are asking whether the girl who has lost her life will ever find justice after what we witnessed recently in the 2012 Kohistan case.
It is not only the justice system that has let our women down over the decades but our ruling elite are also culprits as they have not done enough to ensure that such practices in the name of ‘honour’ are not tolerated. All governments should be held responsible for not doing their duty of providing justice to those who have been killed in the name of ‘honour’ or in other such horrible crimes against women. When such practices become a norm, it is the responsibility of all political parties to ensure that they put their foot down and make policies that lead to justice.
Despite there being laws against ‘honour killings’, the implementation has been almost non-existent. When the message for the perpetrators is that they will get away with murder, literally, they will keep committing these crimes owing to the impunity. When the local jirgas run as a parallel judicial system in a country where we have a judiciary, it is the responsibility of the State to ensure that these systems do not flourish. As an editorial in The News puts it: “It is also important for all political parties to make sure that their stance on these issues should be made clear. With elections just around the corner, the public has a right to know what their political representatives have done when they were in power and what is their stance on issues related to violence against women. Where do political parties manifestoes stand on this issue?”
Pakistan ranked 142 out of 146 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2023. It was no surprise given the status of women’s rights in the country. As long as we keep failing our women, letting their murderers roam free, encouraging violence against women and turning a blind eye to such horrific crimes, we will remain at the bottom of the barrel.
Mehmal Sarfraz is a journalist based in Lahore; email@example.com