Amid Calls To End 'Honor Killings' In Pakistan, More Women Murdered

Aug 1, 2016
Originally published on August 1, 2016 2:57 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And every year in Pakistan, hundreds of women are killed in what's known as honor killings. Now a high-profile honor killing has people in Pakistan focusing on how to end this practice. A social media star there called Qandeel Baloch was strangled by her brother because he was upset by her sexually provocative and very popular videos and selfies. NPR's Philip Reeves traveled to the region where she's from.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: It's a summer's day in south Punjab. Village boys frolic in a muddy canal. We're in the middle of Pakistan in the countryside. Amid the mango trees and sugarcane, there are mud hovels and Sufi shrines. In cyberspace, Qandeel Baloch was about mischief and glamour. The performer, using girl power to champion women's rights in a new age. Yet she came from the old world, a place of poverty and illiteracy, where feudal tradition often supersedes the law of the land. When Qandeel's brother appeared unrepentantly before the TV cameras and said he had murdered her, there was an international outcry.

UNIDENTIFIED MEN: (Speaking Urdu).

REEVES: Around here, men see things a little differently.

SHABBIR AHMED: (Through interpreter) Here, old customs and traditions rule.

REEVES: Shabbir Ahmed, a small time landowner, is sheltering from the sun in a village tea shop.

AHMED: (Through interpreter) We think this murder is justified. The point is we're Muslims, and she crossed a line.

REEVES: "That's right," says Ghulam Yassin, a carpenter.

GHULAM YASSIN: (Speaking Urdu).

REEVES: Do you think that would be the view of most people here?

YASSIN: (Through interpreter) Yes.

REEVES: And everybody's nodding.

Qandeel Baloch was the victim of an age old tradition that has nothing to do with the official legal system and isn't really about Islam either. It enables men to exercise sovereign rights over their families and to kill those who they think have violated family honor. After her death, Pakistan's government announced a long-delayed law aimed at curbing honor killings would likely be passed by parliament within weeks. Many here question if government promises mean anything.

MUKHTAR MAI: (Through interpreter) I do not believe in an iota of what they say.

REEVES: Mukhtar Mai lives in a south Punjab village, some 50 miles from where Qandeel died. Mai runs a school and a women's shelter.

MAI: (Through interpreter) They often say they've made a new law on this or on that, but this is just for the books. They're not actually implemented.

REEVES: In 2002, Mukhtar Mai was gang-raped as a punishment ordered by jirga, a council of male elders, because her kid brother was accused of dishonoring a local family. Instead of committing suicide, as many victims do, she filed charges. Her campaign for justice won international acclaim, but her case is still in the courts. So far, only one of her 14 attackers has been convicted.

MAI: (Through interpreter) It is very difficult to get justice. Very difficult.

REEVES: Mai says what she calls feudal lords, big hereditary landowners, are a major part of the problem. They enjoy immense power in south Punjab, unofficially controlling the police and the jirga system, says Mai.

MAI: (Through interpreter) Feudals here are the government.

REEVES: In cases of honor-related violence against women, they usually side with the abusers, Mai says.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHICKEN CLUCKING)

REEVES: This is where Qandeel Baloch was murdered by her brother. It's a small, rented house in a narrow alley outside south Punjab's main city, Multan. Qandeel came here to celebrate the Muslim holiday of Eid with her family.

There's peeling paint. There are wires hanging off the balcony. There are pools of water. There's mud, and there are chickens wandering around.

Saba Munir lives opposite the house in which Qandeel was killed along with her pet parrots. She rarely goes outside and only ever in a burqa. Speaking through a grill in her window so she's not seen, Munir says she raised the alarm when Qandeel was murdered.

SABA MUNIR: (Through interpreter) Her mother came to tell me about it at 9:45 in the morning. They were obviously very upset. Her father was crying.

REEVES: Munir was stunned. She sometimes saw Qandeel through her window.

MUNIR: (Through interpreter) She seemed happy.

REEVES: Munir wants Qandeel's brother jailed for life. She also wants an end to honor killings, though she thinks that'll be very difficult to achieve.

MUNIR: (Through interpreter) Our family and caste rules means people don't give the government information. People sort out matters in jirgas and cover things up. What can the government do?

REEVES: Pakistan's human rights commission keeps count of honor killings. It says since Qandeel Baloch's murder, just over two weeks ago, there have been 20. And those are the ones we know about. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Multan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.