BY AFIYA S. ZIA
THE 2016 Amendment to Offences in the Name/ Pretext of Honour Act has had mixed reactions. Some celebrate the reforms while others consider these to be a mere ‘smokescreen’. For decades, legal and rights activists have campaigned against this specialised form of murder of women for suspected sexual transgression and violating male ‘honour’. They have protested how culprits often secure legal forgiveness. So why are activists disappointed over the reform of a law for this gender-specific crime?
Critics say the definition of ‘honour crime’ remains vague in this law. They maintain that the compoundability provision is still available for pardoning such crimes. They also suggest that, by denying honour as his motive, the culprit may be able to invoke the pardon provision.
The anti-honour killing campaign in Pakistan has always been plagued by a conceptual dilemma and grammatical debate. One camp of activists has argued that the positive associations of the noun ‘honour’ should be expunged from the understanding and definition of such crimes against women. Under the slogan, ‘there-is-no-honour-in-honour killing’ they suggest these killings should be treated as common murder and punished accordingly.
Another camp feels that honour crimes signify very specific gendered dynamics. These crimes are a combination of domestic/ community violence, state collusion and laws that allow forgiveness. Removing the term ‘honour’ would erase the adjective that describes the act/ motive for controlling women’s choice and agency — usually sexual or marital.
Not everyone is happy with the amended law.
Accepting honour claims allows us to understand that men do not try and hide their act of killing but, in fact, claim, confess and own it. The price for lost honour is paid by sacrificing/ killing the ‘dishonourable’ woman. Honour is thus recovered and social balance restored.
This camp believes laws should not just punish but amputate the honour code shared by the state, police and communities that practise it. We must isolate the murderer and his act by taking away any moral, religious, customary or legal impunity.
Both camps agree that compoundability under the Qisas and Diyat laws has allowed murderers to be forgiven by their legal heirs for killing their sisters/ wives/ female family members.