The headline was “Five women buried alive.” Readers wondered if the victims had been felled by a natural disaster. As they read on, they discovered to their horror that it was not a mudslide or earthquake that was responsible for these tragic deaths. The women had been murdered!
But this was not the classic murder tale of the kind immortalized by Truman Capote in his book, In Cold Blood. Capote describes in chilling detail what happened on November 15, 1959 in a farmhouse in rural Kansas.
There, four members of the Clutter family were savagely killed by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. Two men had come looking for money that they believed was stored in the family safe. When they found that there no safe in the house, they proceeded to dispatch the Clutters one by one. Ultimately, they were caught, tried and hanged.
In the case of the five Pakistani women, the motive was very different. They had sought to marry without permission of the elders and in so doing had insulted the honor of the tribe. For this, they were destined to receive a punishment that many thought had vanished once Islam arrived in tribal Arabia.
What had enraged these gun-toting elders was that the women had intended to go through with their plans despite being denied permission by the Umrani tribe. What was particularly galling was that their intended husbands belonged to another tribe.
Details of what took place are still sketchy. But information gathered by the Human Rights Watch organization allows one to put together some of the major pieces of the jigsaw puzzle.
On July 14, three teenagers, Fatima, Fauzia and Jannat Bibi, hired a cab in Babakot, a small dusty village of farmers and sheepherders about 200 miles south of Quetta. They were going to meet up with their boyfriends in a neighboring village an hour’s drive away. During the ride, they discussed the details of their plans to get married at a civil court.
Unbeknownst to them, the taxi driver was eavesdropping on their conversation. He reported their plans to their male relatives. On getting the word, their fathers, uncles and brothers set out from Babakot on a deadly mission. They arrived in Jeeps bearing the imprimatur of the Balochistan government.
They forced the girls into the Jeeps and drove back to Babakot. There they beat the girls and interrogated them before announcing the blood-curdling verdict.
The girls were dragged into the same vehicles and taken to the end of a back road accompanied by two older female relatives. The men dug ditches and the leader ordered the girls to be thrown in. When the older females saw what was happening, they begged for the girls’ lives.
In a fit of rage, an elder male gave orders to shoot the two older women. They died immediately and were thrown into the make-shift grave. The three girls, who were wounded in the gunfire but still alive, were then thrown in and covered with sand and mud. The foul deed had been done. But it was not to be forgotten.
“This is a heinous criminal offence,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, of Human Rights Watch. “We have corroborated it and cross-corroborated it.”
But that is just the beginning of the tragedy. What makes this tale of woe even more depressing is how the country’s political elite has chosen to deal with it. Can anyone imagine Governor-General Jinnah or Prime Minister Liaquat taking a vow of silence if a crime of such savagery had occurred during their tenure?
Yet we have not heard a word, let alone a word of protest, from the lips of President Zardari or Prime Minister Gilani. The episode bears an eerie resemblance to the gang rape of Mukhtaran Mai during the Musharraf era which remained covered up for a long time.
To every one’s astonishment, when the story of the Balochi women reached Parliament, Senator Israrullah Zehri of Balochistan defended the killings, saying “This action was carried out according to tribal traditions.” His fatuous remark was backed up by other male lawmakers from the same province, who verbally attacked a woman senator who had raised the case. “These are centuries-old traditions and I will continue to defend them,” Zehri added defiantly.
Later, a Senate committee chaired by S. M. Zafar condemned the killings and gave the Inspector General of Police in Balochistan a month to investigate the crime. Other than that, little has happened.
No one has been arrested and there is every reason to sense a cover-up. One reason may be that the uncle of one of the girls is a minister in the Balochistan government and a deputy leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
Were it not for the fine investigative journalism carried out by a local newspaperman, Saarang Mastoi, no one would have even heard of the horrible deed. What should be done? Four things come to mind.
First, there is a need for honest and efficient police work. The suspects have to be apprehended and brought to trial.
Second, the suspects should get a fair trial. If convicted, they should be given the appropriate punishment under Pakistani law.
Third, an outreach program should be initiated through the length and breadth of the country. It should expose the barbaric nature of such “honor killing” traditions, bring out their inherent depravity and inhumanness and remove from them any trace of respect. It is time in the 21st century to finally end such repulsive traditions which are weighed down with the baggage of history.
And fourth, on an ongoing basis, a program of adult education should be pursued in the rural areas to eradicate a culture which equates killing with honor. “Never again” should be the watch-word.
The effect of such heinous crimes goes beyond the victims and their families. They besmirch the reputation of Pakistan as a moderate and civilized state.
And because such crimes are often wrongly associated with Islam, they further alienate the non-Muslim world from the Muslim world. This is the time to build bridges, not sow the seeds of a civilizational conflict.
It is time for Pakistan’s new leadership to condemn the crime. In addition, Parliament should ask all senators who spoke out in favor of the killings to resign.
Ahmad Faruqui is an associate of the Pakistan Security Research Unit at the University of Bradford. He can be reached at: Faruqui@Pacbell.Net