Honor killing: Is it justifiable?

“Qandeel Baloch murdered in Multan for honor” (Gabol et al). The news about putting Qandeel Baloch forcefully to eternal sleep by her brother and family was aired on television with the reason given by her brother that girls are born to stay at home. He also said that she brought dishonor to the name of her family by going against the social norms. Such honor killings are locally known as Karo-Kari. It can be defined as the murder of an individual by members of the same family or social group, on the premise that the victim has turned into a wellspring of disrespect for the household or the community. Suspects believe the only way to restore their family reputation is through ending the cause of the stain permanently. “Due to the high similarity, it can be assumed that this barbaric act has evolved out of Sati, which is commonly known as widow burning” (Sanyal).

Generally, the act of Sati was practiced in the Sub-continent by Hindus where the widow was buried alive with the dead body of her husband. It appears that this practice was not constrained by borders as Pakistan came into being. Within Pakistan, women became the casualties in the majority of such actions while the suspects may be of either gender. In a short interview with Mr. Atta Rehman – a station house officer at Thana Mochiwala, it was discovered that honor killings are increasing at a rapid rate in Pakistan. “Almost 869 women were murdered in Pakistan in 2013, followed by 1000 in 2014 and 1100 in 2015” (Faris). “Last year[2015], 1100 Pakistani women were killed in family murders whose alleged purpose was to restore the family’s honor” (Crous). This is just the number of filed cases while in most of the times, the majority of the cases go unreported and many are usually related to women who wanted to seek divorce or wanted to marry someone they like. Although people do honor killing to reclaim their lost honor it is the violation of the basic law of human rights, overshadows the purpose of law and leads to a patriarchal society. 


Honor killing is the violation of the basic law of human rights. Human beings as rational beings have certain and inalienable rights since their birth and these rights are known as human rights. They are entitled to these rights irrespective of their caste, color, gender, nationality, and religion. Women being humans also possess these rights on equal terms. At the point when the developed nations around the globe are occupied with drafting the resolutions to secure the free will of animals kept in cages, it is an opportunity to reevaluate the idea of subjective equality among humans of different genders in the underdeveloped countries like Pakistan. In this regard, it is sufficed to say that every citizen should enjoy liberty in the eyes of law.

Article 25 of the Pakistan Constitution states that all citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law (Constitution). As law prevails over all other man made institutions, so all human beings, including the women, have a birth right to make their own decisions regardless of society catalogs. However, honor killing is a violation of this law. Ironically, for the people in Pakistan, the gender equality has no meaning at all and this convention is deeply rooted in mentality. There is a continuous denial of this law by the various incidents in Pakistan one after another. This gives rise to the notion that women in Pakistan are only entitled to their rights that do not give an excuse for bringing shame to the family. This humiliation might even arise if the woman of the family steps out of her home without covering her head.


Furthermore, article 25 of Pakistan is extended to the liberty of women making their own decisions while in reality women are not only robbed of this right but also are made to pay its price with their lives. “A 25-year-old woman has been stoned to death by her family in front of a Pakistan high court for marrying a man she was in love with, police in Lahore have said” (Saul). Farzana was killed because she wanted a divorce from her husband for getting rid of domestic violence. After this, the offenders involved in her assassination were not ashamed of this act and her father proudly admitted that he had killed his daughter for the sake of his family. Other than this, honor killing becomes the reason of the death of many women who seek quality education. In certain areas of Pakistan, due to conventional stereotypes, women are considered to engage in household work only and it is also expected from them not to step outside of their house vestibule.

Thus, education is considered of no use to them and therefore, honor killing is used as an excuse to mold women away from it. For example, “Shafelia Ahmed, just 17 years of age was killed by her parents because she wanted to become an attorney” (Ridley). She was enthusiastic about her future career and wanted to pursue a law career as a western philosophy. Her parents considered it as a threat to their family honor that people will back stab them. Hence, she was not allowed to make the decision for herself and robbed of her life in the of honor. This situation can be backed up by “the statistics that show for 2012 to 2014, net attendance ratio for women in secondary education was only an alarming 28.9%” (report). Therefore, marriage and education are two basic rights any individual of the citizen should be entitled to. Any form of conduct that snatches away the rights of an individual cannot be justified.

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Honor killing promotes vigilantism within our society. Vigilant society is the society in which citizens take the law into their own hands and implement the punishment on an accused or an assumed victim whatever they find suitable. In the most cases, this punishment is only the execution of that person. Playing a role in endorsing a vigilante society is not just the breaking the law but it also stands for the failure of government in not providing the justice. There is also a fair share of such incidents in a third country like Pakistan in the form of honor killing and mob lynching etc where the death penalty was inevitable for the victim. For example: “PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Ayman Udas, a rising female vocalist in Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province, was shot at her home, allegedly by her own brothers” (Esmatullah).

Just like other human beings, Udas was full of dreams and wanted to chase them desperately. Music and singing were her passion and she wanted to pursue a career in this field. But she did not know that chasing her dreams would lead her to death and moreover, by the hands of her own brothers. In her case, any system of the judiciary was not involved and her brothers considered themselves as the absolute judge for her sister’s fate. Their vigilante justice was to put their sister to eternal sleep. This act undermines the judiciary system of the state. Moreover, one of the essential roles of the state is to provide security to its citizens and this act points towards the failure of the state in this regard. “The two most basic duties of governments in modern nation states are, firstly, to protect the country against foreign aggression and, secondly, to protect and secure inhabitants of the state and their property by the prevention, combating and investigation of crime and the maintenance of public order” (Hoffman).

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“The current surge in vigilantism would appear to be due not only to ignorance but to the perceived failure of the state to properly discharge its duty, through the efficient administration of the criminal justice system, to ensure that criminals are apprehended and convicted as necessary conditions precedent to their punishment. International comparisons reveal that vigilantism does not thrive in societies in which an appropriate amount of resources and skill are brought to bear upon the administration of criminal justice through the proper and adequate provision of policing, prosecution services, Courts of law and correctional facilities” (Hoffman). Thus, taking the law into one’s own hand and deciding the fate of the victim does not only undermine the authority of the state but also lead other civilians to insecurity. They live their lives in a constant fear that they are vulnerable to any maltreatment in the society. But this is not the only extension of vigilantism, it is also tied with the moral instincts of individuals.

For example: “Philosophers, like French (2001), equate vigilante justice with vengeance, and tie it into ethics – i.e. correcting a criminal wrong by wrongful means.  Clichéd as it may sound, two wrongs never made a right, and practicing vigilante justice only means a moral decline of the society at the end of the day” (Safire). Moral decline is characterized by a decline in the morality of the society in general which induces social evils in the society. It causes irrecoverable damage to the individuals of the society. This encourages the prevalence of a culture of complacency, selfishness, and narrow mindedness. The members of the community become intolerant towards the actions of others and this intolerance thrives them to take brutal and heinous actions. People like Udas brothers take such actions because they do not want to break free of old traditions. For a society to groom, ill practices like honor killing must come to an end.



Honor killing leads to a male dominant society where women are considered inferior compared to them. Men being the breadwinners are considered as the backbones of the house. In a conservative nation like Pakistan, women life is limited to the boundary of a circle set by the male members belonged to her. Firstly, the decisions in her early age are made by her father and when she married to her husband, he expects from her to live as he wants. As long as she obeys him, she is treated with care and love. But the moment she challenges this supremacy of males and tries to escape out of this boundary – to defy the expectations of her family and husband, and dares to be free, she is labeled as the stigma to her family. She is exposed to domestic violence and in the end, she is killed in the name of honor. All this hassle is done to suppress her voice raising for rights and freedom.

“‘Honor killing’ is particularly horrifying, but it’s connected to all other abuses against women, including domestic violence and sexual violence against women, child marriage, and forced marriage, employment discrimination, lack of reproductive freedom, and marginalization of women in public life and politics. All of these abuses have the same roots, and those roots are patriarchy, misogyny, and inequality” (Crous). In an article “Violence against Women” Parveen Azam and Maria Irma stated, “One of the major reasons that women of Pakistan have to face violence is due to male dominance in societies” (Ali et al). The oppression of women by male members in Pakistan is not a problem emerged in recent years but it has been an issue since its creation. Moreover, its ever-growing statistics is defacing Pakistan on International platform. “According to the global gender gap report 2016, Pakistan is ranked as the second worst country in the world for gender equality for the second year in a row” (http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2016/).

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“This is mainly because Pakistan is a heavily patriarchal society with a strong feudal value system, in which women are treated as domestic property. Increased urbanization and the concomitant fading of the joint family system have exposed women to further abuses” (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-35811180). On the other hand, some organizations are working hard to eliminate this problem from the society. “Non-Governmental Organizations such as Aurat Foundation and Women Rights organization are working tirelessly to spread awareness among the citizens of Pakistan of this ill practice” (http://www.jpma.org.pk/full_article_text.php?article_id=1372).

But such efforts of NGO’s occasionally went in vain due to the existence of patriarchy. The conservatives do not want women to work side by side with men. Punjab government passed women’s protection bill against violence after many incidents but this little hope for the preservation of women was soon lost when this bill got rejected. “Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) in its formal reply to the governments of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab has rejected the women rights bills of both the provinces saying the same is repugnant to the Islamic injunctions and would rip apart the strong family system in society” (http://nation.com.pk/newspaper-picks/06-Apr-2016/cii-rejects-bills-on-women-rights-protection).

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To hold the supremacy, they suppress women and maintain a certain degree of gender-based control. Within such society, the treatment of women would always be brutal and harsh. Men will keep on claiming women as their property. Keeping women from their rights on one hand but treating them like slaves is inhumane and intolerable. While the males are not accountable to any authority for their behavior with female members of their family.  They go through every hurdle proving they are the superiors in the family as well as in the whole society. They show that they hold the absolute power in their hands. Such supremacy leads to inequality, discrimination, hatred, and prejudice in the society.

Keeping in view the adverse effects of honor killing, there are people who justify honor killing. It is also necessary to analyze the story from both precepts. According to an online survey, “an alarming 14% of the people part of the sample was in favor that it is ethical to kill someone in the matter of honor” (http://www.debate.org/opinions/is-honor-killing-ethical ). They usually justify this heinous act all on this conservative thinking and the fact that they are forced to commit this act under societal pressure. Furthermore, an interview was done with the two members of janitor staff at Lahore University of Management Sciences about honor killing and this interview enforces the justification all about reclaiming the family honor and the janitor staff members even extended to justify this killing of a family member as a moral obligation if she defies certain rules.

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He said that women of any household are the pride of the house. He went on to add that if the reputation of the household is on the verge of stain, necessary and immediate action must be taken no matter what are the consequences. He linked this act to a moral obligation to a family for the salvation of their honor. But in real morality is a relative term which must be non-contradicting and universal for all human beings. If a person justifies his or her act as doable then it must also be justified by other people. “The law of Non-Contradiction, as stated by Aristotle: ‘One cannot say of something that it is and that it is not in the same respect and at the same time.’” ( http://bigthink.com/daylight-atheism/morality-is-relative-but-not-subjective).

Furthermore, there is a Kant’s theory of universalizability in this regard. According to this, “We can determine the worth of the motive behind any given moral action by asking whether we could turn that motive into a universally applicable maxim. The reason is the same at all times and for all people, so morality too should be universal. Therefore, an action is moral only if it embodies a maxim that we could to be a universal law” ( https://www.quora.com/Ethics-Is-vigilante-justice-ever-justified-legally-or-morally ). As this act is not approved by all people in society, so this cannot be linked to morality and assassination of a human cannot be justified in any case. The main problem lies in seeing women as the pride of the family. Considering women as the pride of the family lays no harm but perception about this loss of pride must be reformed. Women must be given liberty to choose her career or even the person that she has to spend her whole life with and giving her this right imitates no reputational damage what so ever. Instead, family members should be happy if they become the reason for her daughter’s happiness. In spite of everything, the pride of the family must be dealt with as the pride of the family.

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In conclusion, people give certain validations for carrying out honor killings. However, any form of killing is disapproved by any platform in the world whether it is religion or a constitution. At the same time, each person should enjoy his or her right of liberty and freedom, no individual has a right to clip the wings of an individual to seize his or her freedom and liberty. It is morally and ethically unwarranted to take someone’s life because of honor. Hence, this unjustifiable custom must be prevented. Moreover, it is not a problem itself but it also gives rise to other social problem and nourishes them in one way or another. Necessary measures must be taken in order to prevent the society from such drastic downfall.

Women empowerment policies implementation is one way to which sustainability and equivalence in society can be achieved. Besides this, education, NGOs’ empowerment and making laws to prevent women from violence will also be fruitful in dealing with this problem and such solutions have proved to be productive in certain areas.  The true picture of this heinous crime can be engraved in people’s minds by creating awareness among people. At the same time, education will create broad minded and tolerable society. To make sure, cases like Qandeel Baloch and Farzana do not occur in future, necessary steps should be taken to eliminate the menace of honor killing so that women are treated appropriately.

Works Cited

Sanyal, Satarupa. “Quote.” Honour Killings Are New Form of ‘Sati’ – Deccan Herald, m.deccanherald.com/articles.php?name=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.deccanherald.com%2Fcontent%2F21137%2Fhonour-killings-form-sati.html. Accessed 20 May 2017.

Saul, Heather. “Lahore Honour Killing: Farzana Parveen Stoned to Death by Her Family ‘for Marrying a Man She Loved’.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 27 May 2014, www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/lahore-honour-killing-woman-stoned-to-death-by-her-family-for-marrying-a-man-she-loved-9440678.html. Accessed 20 May 2017.

Subhani, Imran Gabol | Taser. “Qandeel Baloch Murdered by Brother in Multan: Police.”DAWN.COM, 23 July 2016, www.dawn.com/news/1271213. Accessed 20 May 2017.

Faris, Nick. “Man’s Throat Slit in Male ‘Honour Killing’ in Pakistan, Where Women Regularly Die for Angering Their Family.” National Post, 20 June 2016, news.nationalpost.com/news/world/mans-throat-slit-in-male-honour-killing-in-pakistan-where-women-regularly-die-for-angering-their-family. Accessed 20 May 2017.

Crous, Marisa. “Honour Killings: Why Men Kill Female Family Members.” Honour Killings: Why Men Kill Female Family Members, 25 July 2016, www.w24.co.za/Wellness/Mind/honour-killings-what-makes-men-proud-to-kill-female-family-members-20160725. Accessed 20 May 2017.

Ridley, Louise. “This Harrowing Photo Shows Why ‘Honour’ Killings Are Anything But.”HuffPost UK, The Huffington Post, 14 July 2015, www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/07/14/shafilea-ahmed-honour-killings-uk_n_7793128.html. Accessed 20 May 2017.

“Statistics.” UNICEF, 27 Dec. 2013, www.unicef.org/infobycountry/pakistan_pakistan_statistics.html. Accessed 20 May 2017.

Esmatullah, Sharifa. “Singer’s Slaying Shocks Peshawar.” RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, 19 May 2009, www.rferl.org/a/Female_Pakistani_Singer_Killed_In_Peshawar/1618412.html. Accessed 20 May 2017.

Hoffman, Paul. “Vigilantism: The Last Resort of the Unprotected.” World Justice Project, worldjusticeproject.org/news/vigilantism-last-resort-unprotected. Accessed 20 May 2017.

SaFire. “CAUSE AND EFFECT OF VIGILANTE JUSTICE, REF. THE SIALKOT LYNCHING TRAGEDY.” Safire Dreams, 25 Sept. 2012, sapphirical.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/cause-and-effect-of-vigilante-justice-ref-the-sialkot-lynching-tragedy/. Accessed 20 May 2017.

Ali, Parveen Azam, and Maria Irma. “Violence against Women in Pakistan: A Framework for Analysis.” Violence against Women in Pakistan: A Framework for Analysis, www.jpma.org.pk/full_article_text.php?article_id=1372. Accessed 20 May 2017.

Feature Image Credits: The AHA Foundation

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