October 07, 2004
Honor Killing: No 'crime of passion'

Dr Syed Ehtisham writes on the violence of honor killings in Pakistan and the response of the inaction by the state. This article was first published for SadaTV (www.sadatv.com).

Of all the evils spawned by the feudal society, honor killing is arguably the most heinous.

Apologists try to equate it with “crime of passion” but crimes of passion are abrupt, unmeditated, and impulsive acts of violence committed by persons who, in their own lights, have come face to face with an incident wholly repulsive and unacceptable and who technically, for the duration of the act, are insane and incapable of self-control. One well known example is that of an Indian Naval officer, commander Nanavati who some thirty years ago went to his apartment, found his wife and her paramour in conjugal embrace, shot both of them, went out, accosted a traffic policeman, confessed to the killing and demanded to be arrested. The policeman demurred, he could not arrest an officer, so the officer took over directing traffic, sent the policeman to fetch a police inspector who arrived in due course and arrested him.

I have not been able to find as striking an example of genuine Honor killing as this one, though stories of an enraged, out of control ,husbands ,fathers, brothers.killing a “guilty female are reported about once a month in Pakistani news papers.

Honor killings on the other hand are in most cases deliberate, well planned and premeditated acts when a relative of a female kills her ostensibly to uphold his honor though it is well established that in most cases overriding motive is monetary/property loss entailed in giving away a female out of tribe, biraderi etc.

This is a relic of the times when law and order was a matter of tribal code and the British on assuming control and with a view to pacifying the natives, minimizing opposition to their over lordship incorporated honor killing in their jurisprudence even though it was repugnant to their code of justice and fairplay, but then imposed very stingnent conditions Viz sexual activity was actually observed, the perpretrator confessed, had an otherwise upright character, had blood/marriage relation with the girl and reported to the police immediately. Under British rule it was a rare occurrence. The perpetrator would not sentenced to death, there would be a long jail sentence and there would be social sanctions as well.

But above all, the crime was deemed to have been committed against the state in contravention of law and not a simple private affair.

Qisas (eye for an eye) and Diyat (blood money ) as part of Hudood laws were promulgated as Presidential Ordnance, not requiring parliamentary assent by General Zia, the military dictator of Pakistan from 1977 to 1988, are closely related relics of pre Islamic societies, where the concept of these offences being family affairs, was accepted. Islam made these violations of law crimes against the state. Since the departure of the British and with them fear of the law and judicial procedures and specially since the dark days of Zia Ul Haq, in clear disregard of the tolerance and fair play taught by Islam and relegation of women to a third class status per Intolerant theology invented over a hundred of years after the prophet of Islam (PBUH) in Abbasid period revived in eighteenth century by a person by the name of Abdul Wahab, patronized by the Saudi rulers as a weapon against Turkish Caliphate, and their local rivals, rulers of Mecca who claimed descendence from the prophrt of Islam (current standard beares of the family being King Abdulla of Jordan and the Agha Khan) wholly repugnant to the spirit and word of Islam.

Feudal lords have ruled Pakistan even since its inception, all levers of power, Army, Civil service, Mullahs and Press have been under their control. Army is the most effective tool of feudal society as it has the brute power and can ignore with contempt the law of the land. Other components of the evil quad (Feudals, Army, Civil service, and Mullah) willingly cooperate. Civil servants and judges supinely obey the army. Expression of opinion is prohibited and all coercive apparatus of state is used to crush opposition. Education is discouraged and whatever little is allowed, is subverted by distortion of curricula.

Uncontrolled growth of population is allowed in the name of. religion. West Pakistan (now the only Pakistan) had a population of 35 million in 1947. Now it is 150 million. Even if the government functioned honestly, sincerely and efficiently (which admittedly it does not) no innovation in methods of production could cope with the immense increase in the number of mouths to feed. Health, education, nutrition, physical and mental development continue to deteriorate. This further strengthens the hands of the “evil quad” a human sub-species incapable of protest is being created.

In any case, few in Pakistan have the time, inclination, means or education to think, read books, and analyze the machinations of the “evil quad”. Zia literally ignored unfavorable articles in “Dawn” and is believed to have said that the reader ship of the newspaper was only 40,000(45,000 on Friday) and these 40-45,000 had their interest linked with the ruling Junta.

There are not doubt valiant voices in the country but they are akin to straws in the wind. All conferences, seminars, resolutions and press notes in effect and in substance are irrelevant. They look to the west specially USA for putting pressure on Pakistani authorities to respect human rights and law. But the west is not interested in human rights in third world countries. They supported Taliban in Afghanistan where the fanatics were perpetrating the worst crimes against the Afghans.

A total structural change in society is needed. It would be tantamount to a revolution. Revolutions are historically indigenous and cannot be imported or imposed from outside.

Following is a summary of the report of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International recommendations, and the protection and empowerment of women act 2003, presented to Pakistan National Assembly, presented with a fond hope that it will stimulate some minds and goad them to initiate the struggle against the evil quad.

Human Rights Commission Of Pakistan

• Honor killings 1998 to 2002 1464 ( married 659- unmarried 534)

Amnesty International Recommendations

• Review criminal laws to ensure equality before law and equal protection of law to women.

• Make domestic violence in all its manifestations a criminal offence.

• Make sale of women and girls or giving women in marriage against financial considerations a criminal offence.

• Under take wide ranging awareness programs.

• Provide gender-sensitization training to law enforcement and judicial personnel.

• Ensure that human rights activists ,lawyers, and women’s rights activists can pursue their legitimate activities with out harassment

The 2003 “Act”

• Government to ensure equal participation of women in all walks of life
• Discrimination in pay on basis of gender be prohibited.

• Domestic violence and honor killing be punishable in the same manner as personal injury or culpable homicide.

• Every woman shall be entitled to marry a person of her choice.

• At least one third of seats on Islamic Ideology Council and other government commissions be reserved for women.

• Separate/independent enclosures in jail for women controlled by female police

Dr. Syed Ehtisham is an orthopaedic surgeon based in New York who was born in India and grew up in Pakistan and has been following South Asian politics closely.

Posted by collective at October 07, 2004 03:49 PM

Dear Mr. Syed Ehtisham

I read this page out of curiosity and I am totally taken aback by the misinterpretation of the Nanavati case!

Commander Kawas Rustomji Nanavati was a Parsi (meaning Zoroastrian) Naval officer.

Please allow me to point out the mistakes on this account.

1) Commander Kawas Nanavati's wife Sylvia confessed her love for Nanavati's old friend and that is how the Commander found out about his wife's love affair.
He did not catch them in any conjugal embrace (!)

2) Commander Nanavati did not kill Sylvia, he only killed Prem Ahuja, Sylvia's lover and his own friend of 15 years.

Sylvia is still alive and living in Toronto, Canada, with Nanavati's 3 children! (Nanavati died in Toronto in 2003).

3) Nanavati went from the scene of the crime which was the flat of Prem Ahuja to the Police Headquarters in Bombay and directly told the DGP of Police there, Mr. John Lobo that he had killed a man.
He never accosted any policeman outside his house (!).

I am sending you the link of the Nanavati case, on the Internet if you want to verify the facts.

I have been eagerly studying this case and was surprised to read a completely different version of the case in your article.

The Nanavati case was inspiration for a famous Hindi film of 1963 called "YEH RASTE HAIN PYAR KE".

The version of the Nanavati case you have written about matches the movie version of this case Sir!

The movie changed the original event and portrayed Nanavati as killing BOTH his wife and lover after catching them in an embrace.....etc.etc.

I hope you will correct this account in your article.

The rest of the article is well-written.

I am a 31 year old Indian woman from Pune city in India.

Thank you

Posted by: Ms. Indrani Bhattacharya on January 14, 2005 08:48 AM

Hello, I have another point to make about "Honour Killings".

The Nanavati case was certainly not an honour killing. It was "Pre-meditated murder" as proved by the prosecution. This is why the Commander was given a life-sentence.

Between the time that Nanavati heard from his wife that she was in love with his best friend and the murder, he remained calm and serene, according to witnesses.

Infact, directly after the confession, Nanavati had lunch, then dropped off his family at the Movie Theatre, drove down to the Naval Base and obtained a gun on false pretexts, drove down first to Ahuja's office, learning that the latter had left for lunch, he then drove down to Ahuja's apartment and confronted him with the question - ""Will you marry Slyvia and adopt the children?"". Prem replied - ""Should I marry every woman I sleep with?"". It was then that Nanavati shot Prem Ahuja thrice and killed him.

At the police station when he surrendered himself immediately after the crime, he was so collected that when the policeman misspelt his name as "Cawas", he corrected him and asked him to spell it with a k; "Kawas".

All of the above prove that the murder was a well-thought out plan and not commited in a hurry or in a "passion".

The article by Dr. Ehtesham is about "Crimes of Passion", whereas the Nanavati case is definitely not one.

It was only the Indian newspapers and magazines which portrayed the matter as a crime of passion which in reality it wasn't.

Thank you

Posted by: Indrani Bhattacharya on February 1, 2005 07:23 AM

Could Indrani Bhattacharya from Pune please e-mail me concerning the Nanavati case.

Thank you
Judi Chambers
Southampton, Ontario, Canada

Posted by: Judi Chambers on March 30, 2005 07:36 PM
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