It has been over three years since Qandeel Baloch-nee Fouzia Azeem- was killed in the name of honor and yet the fate of her killers remains to be determined by court. In a latest development Qandeel’s parents filed a plea seeking acquittal of her brothers who are nominated as suspects in the murder case. An affidavit was submitted by the parents stating that they had pardoned their son for the crime. Thankfully, the court dismissed their plea and remarked that a judgment in the honor killing case would be given after statements of all the witnesses are recorded. While traditionally forgiveness is a good deed, in Qandeel’s murder case the impulse is a dangerous one.
The legal framework currently in place- since 2016 – stipulates a mandatory punishment of twelve and a half years for the crime of honor killing. Two decades prior to this, honor killing was not even an offence officially punishable under law. It was only in 2004, after international and domestic pressure, that the law sanctioned a term of seven years in prison or the death penalty in extreme cases, for those found guilty of killing in the name of honor. Nonetheless, it allowed the victim’s family to forgive the imprisoned perpetrator by taking bloody money, thus failing to curb the practice of honor killing in our society.
After Qandeel’s death the issue of honor killings once again garnered attention. The anti-honor killing bill was passed by a joint session of the Parliament in October 2016- three months after the murder. However, this 2016 anti-honor killing bill, currently in place, also allows the convict to be pardoned by the victim’s family members if they are subject to capital punishment; death still evades the killer. Instead of facing the gallows he can go straight home and live as a free man with no sin upon his soul. Thus despite the pomp and circumstance which followed the bill’s enactment, the legislation has done little to safeguard women from being killed in the name of honor.
The law in allowing family members to forgive convicts on death row for murdering in the name of honor sets a highly problematic precedent. It renders honoring killing as a socially acceptable act instead of a heinous crime. Senator Farhatullah Babar in moving the 2016 anti-honor killing bill played his cards very well. With a single stroke he managed to placate local activists, international media, as well as the misogynistic men/fellow lawmakers who use religion to justify their oppressive and barbaric behavior towards women in our society.
When the issue of honor killings was under discussion in the parliament on 6thOctober 2016, Senator Hafiz Hamdullah chose to suggest that the house should address elopements by women instead, claiming that over 17,000 women have eloped since 2014. “Why don’t we see what are the reasons behind such killings? Why are girls eloping from their homes?” he asked. He went on to add that the law was bringing Western-style independence for women: “They are trying to impose Western culture over here. We will not allow it.” A member of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, Senator Hafiz Hamdullah became the voice of a toxic ideology far too prevalent in our society today: victim blaming.
In a culture that expects women to be meek and submissive, Qandeel was bold and unapologetic. For this, she was punished. Despite hailing from a little-known village called Shah Saddardin (Punjab) and being raised in a working class rural family, Qandeel chose to determine her own fate. She rose to fame as a result of her proactive videos and gathered over 750,000 followers on Facebook. I do not condone Qandeel’s use of her sexuality to garner attention. But her behavior was the product of our society’s warped mentality that fails to see women beyond their body.
Many will recall Qandeel’s desire to strip for cricketer Shahid Afridi. Few will remember that she bought her parents a house in Multan and financed her younger sister’s wedding. Qandeel exposed the hypocrisy of religious preachers like Mufti Qavi. The woman single-handedly was ready to take on the world but was murdered on 15th July 2016 for being herself. She was allegedly drugged and asphyxiated by her brother Waseem while asleep at her parents’ home in Multan. The parents in their earlier statement described Qandeel’s murder as an honor killing. In their most recent plea- seeking to pardon their sons- they have altered their claim.
After 3 years, 55 hearings and 4 different investigation officers, the loud and boisterous Qandeel Baloch still awaits justice in silence. And her killers do not deserve forgiveness. I do not know what sufferings compelled Qandeel’s parents to submit a plea for forgiveness. Perhaps having already lost a daughter, the pain of losing a son would be too great to bear. But Qandeel’s case is much bigger than one murder. It is about preventing hundreds of other murders. According to the Honour Based Violence Awareness Network, over 1000 women are killed in Pakistan annually in the name of honor.
If the court fails to punish Qandeel’s killers they will fail every honour killing victim in the country. There is no room for forgiveness. Given Qandeel’s popularity the judgment in her case is bound to make waves. It is finally an opportunity to tell men the consequences of murdering women to appease their egos; Qandeel’s final victory against the very society which tried to suppress her. On the other hand, if the court forgives her killers, I doubt Qandeel will forgive us.