HONOUR KILLINGS: Revolution against ‘mind-boggling’ acts will have to start at home

Published: November 8, 2012

Arrested Pakistani couple Mohammad Zafar and wife Zaheen Akhtar sit their respective cells at a police station in Khoi Ratta, 140 kilometres north of Pakistani Kashmir’s main city Muzaffarabad, on Nov. 6, 2012. Sajjad Qayyum/AFP/Getty Images


The western mind boggles. It simply cannot fathom the rationale for Anusha Zafar’s death.

Anusha, 15, died late last month after her parents poured acid on her. The reason? A boy went by on a motorcycle and she happened to glance his way.

That casual glance, her parents decided, was enough to dishonour their family.

Her father, Mohammad Zafar, reprimanded her. He told the BBC: “There was a boy who came by on a motorcycle. She turned to look at him twice. I told her before not to do that, it’s wrong. People talk about us because our older daughter was the same way.”

Then, as Anusha’s mother, Zaheen, also told the BBC from her jail cell: “She said, ‘I didn’t do it on purpose. I won’t look again.’ By then I had already thrown the acid. It was her destiny to die this way.”

The family lives in the Khotli district of Pakistan, where police officer Tahir Ayub told Agence France-Presse that “Zafar beat her up and then poured acid over her with the help of his wife. She was badly burnt but they did not take her to hospital until the next morning.” This poor girl suffered absolute agony from her burns until she died.

Who carries acid around with them so that it’s at the ready in case a daughter, sister or other female relative suddenly “dishonours” the family? Who kills their own child on a whim for the “crime” of glancing at a passing boy on a motorcycle? Never mind how preposterous it is to think of killing someone for looking at a passerby, but what if Anusha had merely turned her head away because the sun was in her eyes, and her glance then fell on the motorcyclist?

According to Wikipedia, “perpetrators of these attacks throw acid at their victims, usually at their faces, burning them, and damaging skin tissue, often exposing and sometimes dissolving the bones … The acid can rapidly eat away skin, the layer of fat beneath the skin, and in some cases even the underlying bone. Eyelids and lips may be completely destroyed, the nose and ears severely damaged.”

Who routinely keeps acid this powerful – something along the strength of sulphuric acid – around the house?

Again, the western mind boggles.

Statistics released by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (thankfully, there is one) reveal in that country alone, 943 women and girls die each year from honour killings. That works out to approximately two a day. This column was written on Tuesday. It will be read on Wednesday. By that time, four more girls will have been killed in Pakistan alone, two on each of those two days. Of those 943, by the way, reports are that 38 were victims of acid attacks, 47 others were set afire, 98 were tortured to death in some fashion and nine had their noses hacked off.

All the western mind can do is feel utterly sickened by it.

Tuesday morning we talked about Anusha’s death. What can be done? We in the West can condemn honour killings. But that really won’t stop them. The West has been issuing condemnations for years.

Nearly 13 years ago, a United Nations study estimated the annual toll worldwide of honour killings at about 5,000 annually.

There have been some faint signs of hope that governments are starting to take women’s deaths seriously. For example, last January, the Supreme Court of India sentenced to death a man named Bagawan Dass, who six years earlier, had murdered his daughter for marrying someone the family didn’t approve of.

The CBC reported that in handing down its ruling, the court stated that honour killings “come within the category of the rarest of rare cases deserving death punishment,” adding that it’s time “to stamp out these barbaric, feudal practices which are a slur on our nation.”

And last March, Pakistan made honour killings a crime for which a perpetrator can be sentenced to life in prison. The western mind is cynical enough to believe the reality of a life sentence was what made Anusha’s parents suddenly repent during the BBC interview.

Zaheen wailed that no one but Allah was left to take care of her six other children, all aged 10 and under, and said, “I shouldn’t have done this.”

It’s all very well for the West to issue condemnations, but that’s pretty futile. It would be more effective if Muslims all over the world spoke out vehemently against it, but except for women’s rights organizations in the various countries where these things occur, and some remarks from state officials, no other Muslim condemnation is reported.

If condemnation could come from directly within those cultures where honour killings take place, that would be best. What those cultures need are some enlightened men to start a movement within their societies, so that the paradigm begins to shift. Revolutions always begin at home, and this one should have started long ago.

Naomi Lakritz is a Calgary Herald columnist.



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