He watched her laughing on the phone, ignoring their mother’s pleas to leave the man.
For generations now in Pakistan, they’ve called it “honor” killing, carried out in the name of a family’s reputation.
It doesn’t matter: In slums and far-off villages, away from the cosmopolitan city centers, people live in a world where religion is inextricably tied to culture and tradition, where tribal councils can order women publicly punished, and a family can decide to kill one of its own, even to avenge a wrongdoing committed by someone else.
In the vast majority of cases, the “honor” killer is a man and the victim is a woman.
He is a brother, like Rajhu, who cannot bear the taunts of other men brought up as he was, believing that women are subservient and must be kept in the shadows, their worth often measured by the number of sons they can produce. He is a neighbor, like Raza at the plant, who doesn’t think his friend did anything wrong in taking his sister’s life. He is a father, like Tasleem’s, who is angry about her killing not because she is dead, but because her death will reveal her “shame” to other members of the family and beyond.
As modernity pushes against tradition, Pakistan has seen an increase in the number of women and girls killed in the name of honor: Last year, 1,184 people died, only 88 of them men. The year before, the figure was 1,005, and in 2013 it was 869, according to the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. The true numbers are believed to be higher, because many cases go unreported.
The killings have fueled a growing public outrage at the practice, and a chorus of voices saying that there is no honor in killing — only dishonor. They are working to close the legal loophole that lets killers go free.
or shot in the head out of the secrecy of the home and into the public eye.
The shackles that Rajhu wears look too heavy for his slender wrists. They make the harsh sound of metal clanking against metal, reverberating in the silence that punctuates his conversation.
For more than a month, he has been held at police headquarters in Lahore. He tells his story in a sparsely furnished office. His minders have left; he is behind closed doors, out of sight and earshot of police.
“I told her I would have no face to show at the mill, to show to my neighbors, so don’t do it. Don’t do it. But she wouldn’t listen,” he says.
Rajhu, who thinks he’s 24 but isn’t sure, occasionally wavers when he tells his story, revealing a hint of remorse. It is brief, however; only when he speaks of her as a child is his voice soft and his gaze somewhere in the distance. He helped raise her, he says, fleetingly seeming to wonder at how things had gotten so out of control.
Toying with the chains that bind his hands, he fidgets as he remembers the taunts. Then his eyes harden and his voice becomes steely. His anger grows as he talks about the day his sister married the Christian. It was the same day their grandmother died.