When a Pakistani woman gets raped, not only is she held responsible, but any attempt to have the rapists prosecuted by the government is met with resistance. The only retribution allowed is something called an “honor killing” and amounts to vigilantism. When a woman is raped, she is designated “kari” or “black female” by the tribal elders, meaning a woman who has had sex outside of marriage. Women are supposed to accept the abuse under the guise that they somehow deserved it by tempting the male. Furthermore, the family who raised such a shameful female is also shunned. And in many cases, unless they also shun their family member who was raped, the family is also subject to further abuse or even murder.
Several of my Pakistani students came to America for this very reason. In fact, there are several countries from which a woman can seek asylum for this reason. Pakistan is not alone in this type of abuse. And I am very very grateful that I am not the family who had to send my daughter to a foreign country to keep both her and the rest of my family safe. The stories of being Kari are horrific and I have read so many personal biographies about this that I weep whenever I hear of it.
Kainet Soomro’s story is particularly bad. It has been going on for four years now. When she was 13 she was in a store, had a cloth pressed to her mouth and was kidnapped, held captive and raped by four men. She was held for days and finally escaped, whereupon the elders branded her Kari. Her family was then pressured to kill her in the name of honor. They refused and came under fire themselves.
“It is the tradition, but if the family doesn’t permit it, then it won’t happen. My father, my brother, my mom didn’t allow it,” says Kainat.
Because the family refused, and instead attempted to prosecute the parties responsible, their eldest son was killed instead. In March 2010, 23-year-old Sabir Soomro went missing from the court’s premises when he was going to attend the hearing of his sister’s gang-rape case. The family alleged that the culprits, who were involved in the gang rape, kidnapped him with the help of local police in order to get the family to drop the case. They brought the body to where Kainat and her family have been living since the rape.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan noted that in 2009, roughly 46 percent of all female murders in Pakistan that year were in the name of “honor.” The report noted that a total of 647 incidences of “honor killings” were reported by the Pakistani press. However, experts say that actual incidences of “honor killings” in Pakistan are much higher and never get reported to the police because they are passed off by the families as suicides.
In June of 2010, all of the accused men in Soomro’s case were acquitted, even after the kidnapping and killing of her brother. Even after the beatings of her father and second brother. It seems like the rape never stops simply because Kainet is pursuing justice.
This family has suffered enough. The women of Pakistan have suffered enough. Honor killings are anything but.
Photo credit: Brajashwar