Wife on Run From Pakistan Honor Killing Says No One Can Escape


JANUARY 15, 2015

On a freezing December night, Shehla Gul is in hiding from her husband in a squat brick house in Pakistan’s Sindh province. Sitting on a bamboo cot wearing a head-to-toe hijab, only her eyes are visible, and they stare at the floor.

Gul has barely been outdoors since escaping through the back door of her family’s house three months earlier, when her husband and three men tried to kill her with a pistol, says her brother, Ghulam Murtaza Chachar. Her spouse, Faiz Muhammad, accused her of having an affair, an offense that as many as 40 percent of Pakistanis believe would entitle him to execute her.

“My husband is still looking for me to kill me,” says Gul, who covers her face whenever she leaves the house in Ghotki district, about 540 kilometers northeast of Karachi. “Who can run away from this menace?”

Gul was lucky. Hundreds, possibly thousands of women are murdered every year in so-called honor killings, which are rarely prosecuted because they often are supported by the local community. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is the latest leader of the country to condemn the practice, after a pregnant 25-year- old woman was stoned to death in public last May.

“This is a very big issue and the existing laws do not protect women from this kind of crime,” said Khawar Mumtaz, chairwoman of the National Commission on the Status of Woman. “We have to struggle” for that legal protection if Pakistan is to build a modern Islamic state, she said.


There were an estimated 869 honor killings in 2013 in the country, according to the Lahore-based advocacy group Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. The victims, mostly women, often were hacked, beaten or stoned to death for going against the will of their families. They included 359 cases of “karo-kari,” or blackened man-blackened woman, in which executions are carried out by the family.

In about half of honor-killing cases in the Muslim world, victims are tortured, including being raped, stabbed or bludgeoned to death, according to a 2010 report by the Middle East Forum.

The actual number of deaths is anyone’s guess as the crime often is kept quiet, said Paryal Marri, a coordinator for the rights commission in Shikarpur, one of the worst cities in Sindh for violence against women. The family, local community and politicians wary of losing votes by opposing traditional values collude to hide the deaths.

“About 75 percent of honor killings aren’t reported,” Marri said. Even in cases where the murderer is prosecuted, he’s usually released after being pardoned by the family or on payment of blood money.

Sindh killings

The total number of women and girls who died between 2008-12 due to murder, honor killings or suicide was 13,583, according to the Aurat Foundation, a women’s rights group based in Islamabad. Five of the 10 districts with the highest incidence of honor killings are in Sindh, the group said in a report published in 2013.

“A man convicted in the name of honor is appreciated and applauded, not only among his community people but also by those who see him in jail,” Marri said. “They tell him he’s done the right thing. The politicians don’t condemn this so that they keep votes.”

People use karo-kari as a way to settle disputes, said Zia Ahmed Awan, a human-rights lawyer and member of the Pakistan Bar Council, the nation’s top legal entity.

“A man kills his wife in their own house and then kills his adversary, saying he was having an illicit relationship with her,” said Awan, who runs Madadgaar, a nationwide helpline for women and children. “That way the enemy dies and the property dispute he had is settled. If you have six sisters, you sacrifice one. Even mothers are killed.”

Other woman

Gul, hiding in the house in Ghotki, said she found pictures of another woman in her husband’s mobile phone in September and confronted him. A week later, Muhammad came home and grabbed her hair and beat her, accusing her of having an affair with a man called Ghulam Sarwar, she said.

“My husband accused me of having an affair with someone I know he has a feud with, over some property,” Gul said. “I haven’t met him or his family, but I know my husband knows him. He’d scream at him on the phone every time they spoke.”

After her husband threw her out of their home, Gul took refuge with her family. Muhammad came the next day with three men to try to kill her, said Murtaza, one of her three brothers.

“I filed a police complaint against Muhammad and the three men, whom I recognized as his cousins and brother,” Murtaza said.

Village elders

Gul’s husband then appealed to the local landowner, Rais Abid Hussain Chachar, who convened a jirga — a traditional council of village elders — Murtaza said. He said it found Gul and her alleged lover guilty of karo-kari, ordered Murtaza and his siblings to pay 100,000 rupees as compensation for filing the police report, and gave them a choice on Gul: Either hand her over or pay 200,000 rupees more for her life.

Her husband, Muhammad, answered a call to his mobile phone, but hung up when asked to comment on the dispute. Another call to the same number was answered by a man calling himself Nooruddin who said that there was no attack, that he “was nothing to” Shehla Gul and that this was a wrong number.

Abid Hussain Chachar, the landlord named in Murtaza’s police complaint as the head of the village council, denied that he was involved.

“I didn’t give this decision and I don’t know anything about it,” he said by phone. “This is a fight between relatives. I have nothing to do with it.”

No guard

Police are investigating the council meeting, Aftab Farooqi, a local police chief, said on Dec. 22. He said Gul’s accusations against her husband have been referred to the local court.

“We haven’t given her a police guard,” said Farooqi, adding that police patrols check on her regularly. “Our force isn’t big enough to send a policeman to every home.”

Murtaza said their relatives are telling them to do as the jirga says. “For them the landlord’s word is the final word, not the safety of our sister.”

Karo-kari has been going on for at least a century. After British General Sir Charles James Napier conquered Sindh in 1843, he reportedly tried to discourage the killings, even threatening to burn down villages and crops where the practice was found.

Karo-kari “was practiced in ancient Rome,” said Anis Haroon, former chairwoman of the National Commission on the Status of Women in Pakistan, which was set up by the government in 2000 to improve gender equality. “By no means is this a Muslim tradition.”

European killings

Nor are honor killings unique to Pakistan. Cases have been reported from India, the Middle East and Africa, as well as Europe and North America. While European police forces treat such cases as murder, in Pakistan law enforcement is “very, very weak,” said Awan, the human-rights lawyer.

“There’s no protection from the government,” Awan said. “There have been cases where women have been killed after being given shelter in state-run women’s welfare centers.”

It wasn’t until 2004 that Pakistan’s Criminal Law Amendment Act categorized karo-kari as murder in the nation’s penal code, elevating it from a crime of passion, said Haroon, who has spent more than three decades advocating for the rights of women in the country. Since then, Parliament has passed at least six other laws aimed at improving conditions for women, according to the Aurat Foundation.

That is “a great achievement for a country like Pakistan that’s shackled in debt, has a dearth of democracy, militancy, influence of the military, terrorism, political Islam and religious extremism,” the Aurat report says.

School massacre

Taliban militants murdered 152 people, including 134 children, in an army-run school in Peshawar on Dec. 16 in one of the country’s most brutal terrorist strikes. While the government has stepped up its war on the Taliban, a spate of widely publicized honor killings in the past few years shows that some murderers have become more brazen.

In May, 25-year-old Farzana Parveen was stoned to death in broad daylight by her family outside the gates of the Lahore High Court. Prime Minister Sharif condemned the killing, his public-relations officer, Khawaja Maaz Tariq, said on Oct. 27.

A Lahore court on Nov. 19 sentenced Parveen’s father, a brother and two cousins to death for the killing. Mansoor Afridi, a lawyer for the four men, called the sentence “politically motivated.” They have appealed the verdict, he said this week.

While Parveen’s case made headlines around the world, most killings in Pakistan receive little attention.

Public support

Even when a case gets to court, a legal loophole gives discretion to the presiding judge, and the offense is compoundable with Islamic Sharia law, which allows for families to settle matters out of court on payment of compensation, Haroon said. A 2011 survey by Pew Research showed that four out of 10 Pakistanis believe honor killings are often or sometimes justified.

So the killings go on, especially in Sindh, where feudalism is commonplace and many people are illiterate, said Marri, at the Human Rights Commission. Despite a rapid improvement in national education in recent years, literacy in Sindh is only 45 percent, according to the provincial government’s website.

Among the worst places, according to Marri, is Shikarpur, a city near the Indus River that was once so famous for its culture, gardens and beautiful buildings that it was called the Paris of Sindh.

Since Pakistan’s partition from India in 1947, the city has declined. In a house in its maze of garbage-strewn alleys one November morning in 2011, 19-year-old Saddam Hussain was sleeping on his cot when gunmen entered and shot his mother, his wife and his sister Amina, Hussain said.

Second wife

One of the group was Amina’s husband, Abdul Qadir Jamali, who had come to take revenge on his spouse for refusing to allow him to take a second wife, Hussain said.

“He came, asked for my mother who was asleep in the room next door,” said Hussain, who is now 22 and a policeman. “He took out a gun and fired. My three-year-old brother was sleeping next to her but the bullets didn’t hit him.”

Jamali then turned the gun on Hussain’s wife, Naghma, who was cooking lunch, and then on Amina, who was reciting the Koran, Hussain said. Both the younger women were pregnant. All three died within hours.

Hussain said Amina had fled from her husband because she was being abused.

“They used to beat her up, even burned her hands once,” he said in an interview in August. “Jamali used to come to our home and threaten us if we didn’t return his wife.”

Wedding day

Amina, a year older than her brother, had a master’s degree in commerce from the local Shah Abdul Latif University and had been very happy on her wedding day, two years before her death, Hussain said.

“She was laughing and cracking jokes with me,” he said. “She really, really felt lucky getting married.”

Jamali and the other men were never arrested for the crime even though Hussain’s house is opposite a police compound that was full of police at the time, Hussain said.

Two witnesses, Asif Ali Bhutto and Aftab Memon, say they heard the shots and saw Jamali run from the house waving a gun.

“I saw Abdul Qadir Jamali dashing out of Saddam’s house and he had three to four people with him,” said Bhutto, 22, a hairdresser who lives nearby. “I gave chase but he started shooting at me while running, so I stopped.”

Hussain said his wife identified Jamali as the killer before she died in a hospital.

Police case

A police official from the New Faujdari station in Shikarpur said that a case was filed by Hussain’s father, Aurangzeb Pathan, accusing Jamali of the killings and identifying eight others involved in the attack.

“We raided their house in Benazirabad district and then made three to four raids in different areas of Baluchistan but we just couldn’t find them,” said the officer, who would only give his last name, Jalaldin.

Jamali said he was at home when contacted by mobile phone on Oct. 29.

“I didn’t do it,” he said, declining to explain what happened. “Why did you call me? Is there a problem? The issue has been settled now.”

By settled, Jamali means that the matter was handled by a jirga.

In this case, the council was headed by Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, the country’s prime minister from 2002 to 2004, who comes from the same clan as the suspect but isn’t directly related to him. The meeting was held in April at a farmhouse outside Shikarpur belonging to Maqbool Shaikh, a veteran politician and an old friend of the former premier.

Hunting farm

“Mr. Zafarullah Jamali normally comes to these parts for hunting and my farm house is always open to host him,” said Shaikh, who was not present at the meeting. “It was a case involving the killing of three women, two of whom were expecting babies, and the killer was apparently a member of the Jamali tribe. From what I know, an understanding has been reached.”

The jirga agreed on a blood-money payment of 1.2 million rupees ($11,920) for each of the murdered women, 600,000 rupees for each unborn child and 500,000 rupees for damage to the house, Hussain said. The total, 5.3 million rupees, is about 24 times Hussain’s annual salary.

Zafarullah Khan Jamali didn’t respond to requests for comment. His son, Omar Jamali, said honor killings happen everywhere in Pakistan and in some places “a couple of times a week.”

“We try our best to help the courts and police to bring the families to a settlement so that they can have a peaceful life in the future,” he said.

Buying land

Hussain said he’s received 2.5 million rupees, which he has used to buy a strip of land. If the rest is paid, he’ll build a house.

Soon after the murders, Hussain’s father remarried and moved out to live with his new wife, leaving Hussain to care for his five younger brothers. Amina was his only sister.

Despite the massacre, Hussain said he doesn’t think Jamali was crazy.

“His great grandfather had two wives, his grandfather had two wives, his father has two wives, all his brothers have two wives, so he basically felt left out,” said Hussain, who had been married nine months before his wife was gunned down. They were going to name their son Zulqarnain Haider.

Village councils continue to judge karo-kari cases even though the Sindh High Court banned them from doing so in 2004, said Awan, the human-rights lawyer. There are more than 200 cases registered against feudal landlords and members of these councils in Sindh for holding such assemblies, yet not one person has been arrested, he said on Aug. 8.

Victim flees

“This is a community-sanctioned crime,” Awan said. “The perpetrator is not the one on the run. It is the victim who must flee” if they escape attack. “The man holds his chest high when he goes back into the community saying: ‘I killed in the name of my family’s honor.’”

Last year, a group of campaigners for women’s rights made a discovery that shows how ingrained the murders are in Pakistan.

Around a lone tree in the desert, about 10 kilometers from the town of Ratodero, is “Karrioyoon ka qabristaan,” Urdu for the “Graveyard of Dishonored Women.”

Beneath patches of low scrub and clumps of sewan grass the height of a man are the remains of as many as 50 murdered mothers, sisters, wives and daughters in unmarked graves, according to Mazhar Ali Abro, coordinator for the NGOs Development Society, a group that supports women’s rights in the district in southern Sindh. No one knows for sure how many victims are here, he said.

‘All murders’

“These are all murders, and it was only recently we found out” where the graveyard is, Abro said at the site, which is surrounded by a sandy wasteland.

Abro said local people had told him that some of the bodies were dumped one on top of another. Many of the murders date back decades, he said, though two raised mounds of earth suggest that some were more recent.

“We have to be careful,” Abro said, standing by the overgrown mounds. “The locals don’t like visitors.”

Ratodero, the nearest town, was the political seat of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who ruled the country twice, from 1988-90 and 1993-96, and was assassinated after returning from exile in 2007. Her son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, announced in September that he will contest the seat in the next general election, said Saeed Ghani, a party spokesman. Bilawal and party representatives didn’t respond to requests for an interview.

Abro said the area was once a lush green pasture before people moved away and the desert claimed the land. The graveyard was a way to hide the bodies when such killings had to be done in secret, said Murad Abro, district coordinator in Ratodero for the Human Rights Commission.

A hidden burial site is no longer necessary for the murderers, he said. “Now every house is a safe place for honor killing.”