November Issue 2003
Till Death do us Part
On October 8, 2003, Shazia Khaskheli and Mohammad Hassan Solangi, a young, recently married couple, were brutally murdered in Sanghar, Sindh. The murders followed hours of unimaginably inhuman torture inflicted on the victims, in full cognisance of thousands of townspeople — hundreds of whom were present at the scene — and the authorities. Shazia and Hasan were mowed down not for any crime, but simply because they had followed their hearts and married of their own choice. And their murder was not a crime of passion, but a premeditated execution.
Amazingly, in overwhelmingly feudal Sindh, the incident was not considered shocking, not even out of the ordinary. It was murder conducted in the name of karo kari — honour-killing. And according to the findings of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), just in the past nine months, more than 290 people have been murdered in Sindh in the name of karo kari. Of the victims, 176 were women.
The daughter of a bank officer and member of the Khaskheli tribe, Shazia, an intermediate student, left her Shah Latif Colony home on September 27 and eloped with Mohammad Hassan Solangi, the driver at a neighbour’s house. Says a resident of the locality, “After that, the elders and youths of the Khaskheli tribe held daily meetings to devise a mode of punishment for Shazia who had dared to dishonour the tribe by marrying a lowly driver from another tribe.” The Solangis, who are also called ‘Machi’ — fish traders — are perceived as a lower caste by the Khaskhelis. The latter are mostly disciples of the spiritual leader Pir Pagara, and many of them claim to be descended from the Hurs — the militant wing of his followers — who fought against the British.
When a notice appeared in a Karachi newspaper announcing Shazia’s marriage to Hassan Solangi, the tribesmen really got down to business. Although Shazia’s parents reportedly pleaded that their daughter’s life be spared, the tribesmen were determined that Shazia pay the price for her actions. A death squad was constituted by them and despatched to Karachi to hunt Shazia down.
The tribesmen also started to exert pressure on Abdullah Sariwal, Hassan Solangi’s employer, to locate and bring the couple back to Sanghar. Though Sariwal declined to talk to the press, his friends reveal that he was threatened with dire consequences by the tribesmen if he failed to meet their demands.
Meanwhile, Shazia’s father, Mir Hassan Khaskheli, an assistant vice president (AVP) at Muslim Commercial Bank’s regional office in Mirpurkhas, lodged an FIR at the Sanghar police station in which he declared that Mohammad Hassan Solangi had kidnapped his 19-year-old daughter. In the FIR he claimed Shazia was married to another man at the time of her abduction.
It is not clear why Shazia and Hassan returned to Sanghar. Some reports suggest that the conflicting stories about their marriage made the couple decide to voluntarily return to Sanghar to set the record straight. Others maintain they were told if they returned with valid marriage documents and issued statements to the effect, they would be forgiven.
According to sources, on October 7, Mohammad Hassan Solangi met the district police officer (DPO) investigations, Ali Sher Jakhrani, who advised him to come to his office the following day along with Shazia, so that they could record their statements and thereby have the case against them disposed off.
It was while they were en route to meet the DPO the next day, that a group of armed people intercepted their car barely 500 metres away from his office. The men dragged the couple out of the vehicle and then, in full view of several onlookers and in broad daylight, proceeded to beat them. Following this Shazia and Hassan were pushed into another vehicle and driven away.
According to eyewitnesses, the car stopped at Shazia’s house in Shah Latif Colony for a few minutes, but then proceeded onwards. News of the couples’ abduction spread like wildfire in the city. Later, some people claimed they had informed the police on the helpline about what was transpiring. While this cannot be verified, there is little doubt that the police were aware of what was happening and, by all accounts, they did nothing to prevent the murder.
According to sources, the couple were brought to a house in Nizamani Mohalla around 1:00 pm, and for three hours were subjected to severe torture.
A witness recounts: “The tribesmen cut Hassan with knives and poured salt and chilli powder into the wounds. Then they broke his arms and legs.” Reports indicate he was also sodomised by over a dozen men, and then petrol was poured over his genitals. Shazia meanwhile, was given a choice. She was told if she stated she had been kidnapped by Hassan, she would be allowed to go. However, she refused and was also tortured, as a result of which she was blinded in one eye. While the couple were being brutalised, a huge crowd had collected outside the house. Says one of those present at the scene, “It was like a big mela outside the house. Everyone knew what was happening, but no one dared to intervene.”
Eventually, a woman from the tribe, who presumably could no longer endure the shrieks emanating from the house, attempted to intervene and begged the tribesmen to spare the young woman. Instead, the men grabbed her and shaved her hair for “collaborating” with Shazia.
At about 4:00 pm, Shazia and Hassan, both barely alive, were taken to a nallah (drain) about three kilometres outside the city precincts and shot in the head. The police arrived at the scene only in time to collect the corpses.
To add insult to injury, nobody, even from her family, was willing to claim Shazia’s body. Usually, a kari is not considered worth burying. However, eventually, even though the couple’s murderers threatened that she should not be given a Muslim burial, Shazia’s mother managed, after prostrating herself before one of the area’s influentials, to have a few of her relatives collect the corpse from the police station and bury her daughter in the dark of the night.
According to sources, after Shazia’s murder, a group of her friends went to her house to offer their condolences. However, her family members refused to entertain them, saying there was to be no mourning for Shazia because she was a kari.
Hassan’s parents, meanwhile, only learnt of their son’s death through newspaper reports two days later. Subsequently they told the judge, who is conducting an enquiry into the incident on the orders of the Supreme Court, that the police refused to hand over their son’s body when they went to retrieve it and also refused to register a case against his murderers.
Although the postmortem reports on the murders have not yet been made public, there are apprehensions about how authentic the reports of the findings will be. Since Sanghar is a stronghold of Pir Pagara’s jamaat, and considering that not only are all the postings in the area made on the jamaat’s recommendations, but that even most of the officers themselves belong to the order — including the civil surgeon who has conducted the autopsies — it is highly unlikely that any members of the jamaat will be implicated in the murders.
While, in a welcome development, the Supreme Court on the basis of reports in Sindhi newspapers, took suo moto notice of the brutal incident and asked the area’s session judge to conduct an enquiry, there is a general belief the present administration will stymie such an investigation at every turn.
Interestingly, shortly after the murders, the police arrested Shazia’s father for involvement, but he was freed when 70-year-old Chutto Khaskheli, one of Shazia’s maternal uncles, voluntarily surrendered to the police claiming he had killed the couple. He maintained that Shazia had been officially betrothed to his son, and since a nikah had taken place, her marriage to Hassan Solangi was polygamous and illegal, in addition to being dishonourable. As such he said, he had killed the couple in a wild rage.
Significantly, it was only once the newspapers got wind of the incident and the Supreme Court took notice, that Shazia’s relatives, including her father, began to maintain that she was married to her maternal cousin when she was seduced by Solangi, a man twice her age who was already married and a father of two daughters.
However, in Sanghar it is commonly known that Shazia was not betrothed to anyone else at the time of her marriage to Solangi.
Subsequent to Chutto Khaskheli’s confession, Shazia’s father told reporters in Sanghar, “Though [Shazia] had taken the wrong step, I had forgiven her. But people from my tribe killed her because they could not.” He requested the press to desist from continuing reportage on the case since it hurt him and his family members.
Those close to Shazia’s family corroborate her father’s contention. They disclose that the girl’s immediately family members — i.e. her father, mother and brothers — did not agree with the decision taken by the tribesmen to kill the couple, but they were helpless in the face of the odds.
Interestingly, while local newspapers carried reports on the story as soon as it broke, and the initial newstories emanated from Sanghar, subsequent reports had different datelines. Reportedly local journalists following the story were threatened by Khaskheli tribesmen and either had to resort to pseudonyms or file stories from elsewhere. A local journalist disclosed how the tribesmen even objected to the use of words like premee joro (couple in love).
While karo kari murders are tragically commonplace in interior Sindh, this one came with some variations. “It is a new trend when people other than the immediate family declare a girl kari and kill her without the consent of her father,” says a retired teacher of the elementary college in Sanghar. He adds that since the incident there has been a pall of gloom in Sanghar and many people have stopped their girls from going to college. “This incident will have a negative impact on females who are already marginalised,” he contends.
Most of the residents of Sanghar district are mureeds (followers) of Pir Pagara, and female literacy is merely 17 per cent. Despite being the district headquarters, Sanghar remains one of Sindh’s more underdeveloped areas. In fact, according to locals, most disputes in the area are solved by Pir Pagara’s khalifas (lieutenants) through “faislas” (decisions) usually taken at jirgas, and it is only afterwards, and only sometimes, that there is recourse to the law of the land.
“This incident is one of the worst violations of human rights,” says Qasim Adil Leghari, president of the Sindhi Adabi Sangat Sanghar, a literary body. “Nobody has the right to brutalise and kill people just because they married of their own free will.”
Says Amar Leghari, an assistant professor at a local college and a writer, “This incident happened because of police negligence. Since the couple had intimated to the authorities that they wanted to appear before them, it was the duty of the police and the judiciary to provide them protection. Instead, through their silence they became accomplices to the crime.”
Others question why the DPO investigations, Ali Sher Jakhrani did not make any security arrangements for the couple given the situation. Many, in fact, maintain that Jakhrani leaked the news to the Khaskheli tribesmen that the couple would be appearing before him the next day, thereby providing them the opportunity to make their deadly plans.
Although the DPO generally enjoys a good reputation in the area, it is surmised that since he is himself the son of a Jakhrani sardar from Jacobabad — a feudal and tribal — his response to the situation was merely in keeping with his heredity. Certainly, he has solved most disputes and complaints that have come his way through an open kutchery or through the auspices of local influentials rather than following police procedure, or referring to the courts.
Despite several attempts to contact the DPO, he remains incommunicado. Another senior officer of the Sindh police, however, was quite willing to express his views. “I think Solangi deserved what happened to him,” he says. “The man was already married and the father of two daughters. He had no right to seduce that young girl. I don’t think it was love — he destroyed her life.”
Lawyers and human rights activists vehemently disagree. Under no circumstances has anyone the right to kill another. “Even if they had done something wrong, like an illegal marriage — even though there is no proof of this — no one had the right to kill them. There are laws to deal with such situations,” says Noor Naz Agha, a high court advocate and human rights activist.
According to her, murder in the name of honour is one of the worst kinds of crimes — and women are usually the greater victims due to certain laws that seem to provide the license to kill them. “Under the qisas and diyat law, the legal heirs of murder victims have the right to forgive the murderer. In this manner often those culpable of honour killings have gotten away.
“When more than 99 per cent of the culprits go free even after they have confessed, how do you expect any decline in these kinds of crimes?” she asks.
To date three men have been arrested by the police for Shazia and Mohammad Hassan Solangi’s murders. They include 70-year-old Chuthoo Khaskheli and two other tribesmen. However, it is commonly understood that these are the “fall” guys — chosen by the tribal chiefs to take the rap for those who “saved the honour of the tribe by executing the murders.”
Interestingly, instead of Hassan Solangi’s parents, the local SHO has become the complainant in his case. There are reports that his family members, who are extremely poor, are being pressurised and threatened not to come forward, so that the case is rendered weak.
Advocate Agha believes the fate of this case will be no different from that of earlier such cases. “It’s easy; the father of the girl will forgive the murderers, and since those responsible are influential, they will also manage to convince Solangi’s relatives to drop the charges so they will be free in no time,” she says.