Die They Must: A brutal tribal code for women
Pashtuns from different parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have a tradition of taking bodies of their deceased family members to their native places for burial, though the practice has been reduced in recent years. They have now acquired lands for cemeteries in Karachi on the basis of their tribes or association to a particular region. Burial places separated by walls and named after different tribes or regions can be seen in the suburbs of Karachi, such as Mawach Goth, Baldia Town or Janjal Goth near Gulshan-e-Maymar.
But there is another practice, which is common among many of these tribes, especially those from FATA. They have been taking their girls, accused of breaching the tribal code of honour, to their native places only to be murdered and buried there in unmarked graves.
“If girls are accused of bringing dishonour to the family by having an illicit affair, they are taken along by one of the family elders to the village, killed and buried there. It prevents publicity about an incident of dishonour and is aimed at avoiding legal complications and questioning by the police,” says Irfanullah Afridi.
In some of these cases, if girls are involved with boys belonging to other regions or ethnic communities, then both are killed. When the issue goes to court, often families of the boys are also reluctant to pursue the proceedings and the issue gets settled out of court.
In one such case, Haji Fazal Mohmand fired bullets at his granddaughter and a boy from the neighbourhood, accusing them of having illicit relations. The boy succumbed to the bullet wounds and died on the spot, but the girl survived. The police got involved; Haji Fazal was arrested and confessed to the killing in the name of saving the family honour. The girl was taken to hospital, where she recovered after weeks of treatment.
Later, the family of the deceased boy and the girl reached a settlement and Haji Fazal was released. The first thing he did after his release was to take his granddaughter to his native village and kill her. He said, “Now, I will die in peace.” Though he went through a long period of illness and eventually died, some of his family members said that he had later confessed that he was haunted by the last cries and the bloodied face of his granddaughter.
Haji Khalil Khan, a Malik of his own tribe, has been living in Karachi for the last four decades. He has five daughters and a physically challenged son. Unlike most of his relatives, he enrolled his daughters in private schools as he lived in a middle-class locality of SITE town. He got four of his daughters married in good families, but his fifth daughter, Noreen, was recently married to a widower, father of four children and double her age.
When his daughter was departing, Haji Khalil’s wife cried and said to her husband, “It was better, if instead of marrying her to this man, you had killed my daughter like all the other girls, who brought dishonour to the family by eloping with someone.” Haji Khalil said. “It was indeed very difficult for me as well, but it was far better to keep her alive than to kill her.”
Noreen, his 17-year-old daughter, had left home and had taken a bus to Peshawar to elope with a distant relative who had promised to accompany her from Hyderabad. But he did not show up and Noreen was taken off the bus by her relatives after being informed by her father.
The relatives offered to take her to the village and kill and bury her there. But the father refused and asked them to bring Noreen back to Karachi. This was a very difficult decision, as letting her live with that act was a matter of shame for the family. But the father defied the pressure from his male relatives and the entreaties from the women of his family that letting her live would make the lives of her sisters and other relatives very difficult because her behaviour had shamed them all.
However, after a few months, the behaviour of the relatives started changing, and Haji Khalil started receiving marriage proposals for Noreen, as everyone was aware of her beauty. The strange thing about all these proposals was that they were from much older men wanting to marry a second time, and none of them was from a boy close to her age. Haji Khalil said, “When I asked my daughter if she was willing to accept one of these proposals, she said, she was.” He continued in a tearful voice, “I was speechless. It was not worth it to hand over my daughter to a widower to raise his kids, but nothing could be worse than digging her grave and burying her with my own hands.”
Ali Arqam main domain is Karachi: Its politics, security and law and order