April issue 2019
Graveyard of Honour
At night, they would come in stealth, to bury the bodies of their women. The next morning, local shepherds would stumble upon freshly dug graves. The Mounds of the Jagiranis, or Graves of the Jagiranis (Jagiranin jo Kabrustan), as they have come to be known, are located in Larkana district’s remote union council of Jummo Agham. Up until the year 2001, according to locals, the desolate spot was frequented by only three kinds of people: shepherds, bandits on the run and men who had killed their wives, daughters and sisters, in the name of honour.
Today, 14-year-old Shahid Hussain Lolai, a shepherd from the neighbouring village of Lashkari Lolai, roams the graveyard with a friend. His goats graze on wild shrubs growing around the graves. This picnic spot for cattle hides beneath its surface layers of dark histories, of women who are now history. It is no secret among residents of the surrounding villages, who are hesitant to talk about a subject inextricably linked to the honour and izzat of their community. Even the children are well-versed in the ways of honour. “Women who committed zina were buried here,” Shahid tells me. Under Sharia law, the term implies illicit sexual relations – including adultery and intercourse between unmarried couples.
The graves are scattered across approximately 100 acres of saline terrain that has the outward appearance of a wasteland, large parts of which are now being prepared for cultivation by local Lolai, Brohi and Rajpar tribesmen. Soon, all the graves will vanish, as if they never existed, and all that will remain are skeletons of the past. “Many karis are buried in this graveyard, which is roughly 50 years old,” says Habib Rahman Abro, a retired district superintendent of police and a resident of the neighbouring village of Jummo Agham. “A Brohi settlement lies to the west of the graveyard, a Lolai village to its south-west and a Lohar village to its north,” he says.
Most victims of honour-killings buried at the site belong to various Baloch tribes settled within a 10-kilometre radius, according to former journalist Ubed Buledi, whose village, Morio Khan Lolai, is located three kilometres from the graveyard. Ubed wrote about the graves in 2001 for The Mirror – an English language daily circulated in rural Sindh – and a publication called The Orbit.
Due to UC Jummo Agham’s relative proximity to the Sindh-Balochistan border, men have travelled from Balochistan’s Dera Murad Jamali, Usta Muhammad, Gandhaka and Kachi Pul, to bury their women in this spot, according to Habib Buledi, another journalist who wrote about the graveyard in a Sindhi language daily called Tehreek-e-Sindh. Whenever he, or other reporters wrote about the site, they “had to censor certain information, such as the names of the tribes to which the women belonged, owing to local sensitivities,” he tells me.
But why was this specific area chosen for the burials? Convenience, suggests Habib. “The idea was to leave no trace of the murdered women,” he says. “Therefore, they would not be buried in their own localities.” The further away the better, for it reduced the chances of evidence being dug up. “Parts of this area are being brought under cultivation today, but up until 2006, we saw with our own eyes that it was a densely wooded expanse of land that had graves,” he adds. For many, it was the nearest spot that provided the cover to commit a murder and carry out a burial, all in pitch darkness. Another reason why this became the designated burial spot for karis, according to Ubed, is because they were considered “na-paak” (impure) and therefore deemed unworthy of being buried in a regular cemetery.
“Those who came from Balochistan had local contacts – relatives or fellow tribesmen in the surrounding villages from whom they learnt of this graveyard,” says Ubed. “They would come in advance and survey the location,” he continues. “The practice itself always happened at night; they would come in cars.”
The graves are unnamed and kaccha (earthen), bearing all the hallmarks of a clear case of ‘bury and run.’ There was, however, one brick grave, according to Habib. “Hurmat Jagirani had a grave built out of brick for her daughter, who had been killed in a case of karo-kari (honour killing),” he says. “But she too was killed and buried in the same graveyard.” The Graves of the Jagiranis happened to get their name from a Jagirani village that existed in the area up until 1973, after which the residents moved away. The burials of the karis, according to Ubed, started thereafter and continued up until 2001. He adds that some of the land currently under cultivation belonged to one influential local zamindar of the Rajpar tribe and was sold by family members after his death.
According to locals, the graves include those of Brohi women. Pir Bux Brohi is one of the villages nearest to the site and visible from the graveyard. A single-lane metalled road – the only one in the immediate vicinity – runs past the hamlet, which is a cluster of a few houses surrounded by a thick cover of tamarisk, babur and neem trees. The village is dead silent and gives the impression of a ghost town. Only three children and a donkey cart can be seen outside one walled compound, before a woman carrying a baby emerges and makes her way down the road.
Among the locally settled Baloch tribes, if an unmarried girl is suspected of having sexual liaisons, her father and brothers take matters into their own hands, says Ubed. “They tell the mother and relatives that they are taking the girl to a distant village to get her married,” he adds. Instead, she is murdered and buried. In the case of adulterous married women, he says “if their husbands do not kill them, the girls’ fathers and brothers will.” They are all usually on the same page when it comes to this decision, he says, adding, “if an FIR is lodged against the husband, the girl’s father and brothers say he is innocent as they already have a prior arrangement.
“In local tribal society, even if there is the slightest suspicion of a married woman being unfaithful, it leads to immense social pressure on not only the husband, but the woman’s own family as well,” says Ubed. “Word spreads in the marketplace and autaaqs and people say things like, ‘look at your woman, she’s been accused, yet you have done nothing,’” he adds, referring to the psychology behind the concept of ghairat, or honour. In traditional Sindhi culture, for a female to be seen interacting with a male who is not a member of her household, is enough to cast a shadow of doubt over her character.
When ascertaining the guilt of the woman in question, the sardars of the Baloch tribes of Upper Sindh, such as Buledi, Jagirani and Brohi, take the man’s word as the final say in the matter and there is no further investigation. In other words, if the husband, father or brother says the woman is guilty, then she must be, even if there is no evidence to back up the claim.
In such faislas, usually one of two punishments is imposed on an unfaithful woman: vadhee – which literally translates into ‘axed’ or ‘cut’ and means to kill – or kadhee, which means to expel from the home, according to Ubed. The boy involved in the illicit liaison, on the other hand, is fined. “The boy’s family have to give cash, or a piece of land, as compensation” says Ubed. “And if they are unable to do so, then a girl from their house [usually the boy’s sister] must be married off to the man whose wife the boy had had an affair with.” The girl’s life would be miserable in the home of her new husband, as she would be mistreated. “She would be married off, even if underage,” he adds.
With the land in and around the graveyard now under cultivation, chances are that the area will no longer serve as the location of choice for secret burials. Yet it is unlikely that this will, in any way, curb the custom of honour killings.
The writer is an Assistant Editor at Newsline (www.alibhutto.com)