Swat: In view of the alarming spike in honour killing in Swat over the last couple of years and families colluding to hush up these cases, the state has been filing and following-up on cases of honour related murders in the district in northern Pakistan.

District Police Officer (DPO) Ijaz khan told News Lens in Swat that honour killing had become a major issue and the Swat police had decided to tackle it by filing cases of murder in the name of honour on behalf of the state now.

“We hope this would deter the evil practice and bring the perpetrators of the crime to justice,” he said. “When the case is filed by the state, the chance of nexus between perpetrators will be eliminated and criminals will not escape with impunity.”

According to a women’s rights group in Swat that monitors cases of honour killing, nearly four women were killed in the name of honour every month in 2017 in Swat, the district in northern Pakistan that saw violent Taliban insurgency from 2007 to 2009.

“There has been a sharp increase in the number of women murdered in the name of honour,” says Irfan Hussain Babak, Director of the non-government organization Awakening that works on women right’s in Swat and . “Some of them have been labelled as suicide to evade legal action against honour killing.”

Babak said in 2016, 53 women were killed in the name of Honour. But Swat police contests the reliability of these reports, however.  Figures made available by the Superintendent Police’s Investigation Office in Mingora, the district’s capital, says 11 women were killed in the name of honour in different areas of Swat from January 1, 2017 till date. In 2016, 6 women were killed.

Of the cases filed by the state, DPO Babak said 3 cases had been filed do far. These cases were reported in the localities of Tehsil Kabal, Shah Dehri and Kalam. These cases are currently under trial in the district courts.

As for the factors contributing to the rise in honour killings, he said during the years of militancy in Swat, such cases had decreased but after the restoration of peace and life returning to normal, crime and domestic violence is increasing.  “Use of mobile phone is a major cause of such incidents [because it gives people access to communication with each other in a closed society, resulting in affairs that are viewed harshly by a conservative, honour-bound milieu.]

He said to make sure that death cases were not actually honour killings, the police did not just register deaths as accidental but investigated the causes. “Recently three cases were reported in which deaths of three women were reported as accidental or suicide. The police exhumed the body for forensic tests and found out that the women were actually poisoned.”

Deputy Superintendent Police Habib Ullah told News Lens that most murders are committed by family members and in order to avoid blame and murder charges, they do not report such cases to police. “They just prefer a local Jirga that helps families reconcile and hush the matter. Even if police arrest criminals in such cases, nobody appears in the court for testimony. For this reason, perpetrators easily escape justice.”

Sohail Sultan, a senior lawyer who is a member of the local bar council, observed that Swat came under the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) where many laws that  safeguarded women’s rights in mainstream Pakistan did not exist. He said due to lack of extension of these laws to PATA, honour killings were on the rise in Swat.

Ms Tabassum Adnan, head of the Women Jirga in Swat that holds reconciliatory jirgas to resolve domestic disputes in the area said last year, they came across four cases where victims were murdered but were reported as suicides. “Such incidents are on rise due to absence of effective legislation. This absence of laws benefit perpetrators who get away with murder.”

However, social worker Iqbal Jehan said culture and traditions in Swat encouraged honour killing. She said cultural taboos in Swat restrict higher education to boys and girls are not allowed to exercise the right to marry of their own accord. “Whenever a girl refuses to get married to someone of her family’s choice or seeks to marry someone she likes, she becomes a victim of honour killing because it is considered repudiation of the Pushtun tradition where only parents can decide that matter.”

She said such incidents have happened in the rural-tribal Swat before but were not widely reported because of lack of awareness about women rights. “Women did not know about their legal rights. They could not raise their voice. But media has played a very active role in creating awareness about their rights. Locally, some women have been struggling for realizing women rights.”

Rehmat Shah, a member of local Jirga, said that they used to resolve cases of honour killings but now that the police takes action in such cases, the jirga’s role has ended. “Such cases do not come to the attention of local Jirga anymore.”

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