We may as well be living in a different time and age. It seems that life has not moved forward at all. We continue to carry out acts so gory it is hard to believe that human beings in this day and age would be capable of even considering them.
The latest such incident has taken place in a village near Chakwal in Punjab, where a couple was murdered for marrying of their own free will. In our country, many such stories have been heard of before. In this case, Almas Khan, an employee of Mazhar Hussain, eloped with his employer’s daughter Shamim Akhter and fled to Khan’s native Nowshera. Clearly, differences in class, perceived ‘status’ and Khan’s situation as a servant in the house left them convinced they would never get the consent of Shamim’s parents to marry. A kidnapping case was lodged against Khan. However, before anything came of it, the couple was lured back to Chakwal on Eidul Fitr on the pretext that they had been forgiven and then murdered. Sole responsibility for this act has been claimed by Shamim’s brother.
Courts have, of course, given repeated rulings permitting adults free choice in marriage. A landmark judgment in this respect came in the 1990s from the Supreme Court. But more than a decade on, people remain unwilling to accept such rulings. Further complications stem from the Qisas and Diyat laws, which allow the heirs of a victim to accept blood money rather than seek punishment for murder.
This factor explains why, in the case of women killed for ‘honour’, their brothers so often take the blame, permitting fathers to accept a ‘payment’ to compensate for physical hurt. The money never actually changes hands, allowing the perpetrators of the crime to, in fact, go scot free. As human rights groups have pointed out, this flaw needs to be plugged. But we also need a change in social attitudes so that such incidents do not occur and the kind of tragedy that was witnessed in Chakwal can be averted.