Shame of 'honour killings' in deeply divided nation (Pakistan)

More Honour Killings:

PAKISTAN: Activists begin campaign to halt 'traditional' rural areajustice

by Waheed Khan in Karachi

Ayesha Baloch was dragged to a field, her brother-in-law held the 18-year-old down, her husband sat astride her legs and slit her upper lip and nostril with a knife.

They call such assaults on women a matter of "honour" in some areas, but for the majority it is a source of national shame.

Married less than two months ago in Dera Ghazi Khan district, Baloch was accused of having sex with another man out of wedlock.

"First they tortured me and beat me. I started screaming. Akbar then caught my hands and pulled me to the ground. Essa sat on my legs and cut my nose and lips," Baloch mumbled through bandages at hospital in the city of Multan.

"I was bleeding and started screaming after they fled."

At least she wasn't killed. More than 1000 women are reported slain in "honour killings" by husbands or relatives each year. The actual fgure is likely to be much higher.

Many killings are planned rather than acts of rage and the motive often has more to do with money or settling scores.

The same week, a world away from Baloch's village, activists and parliamentarians gathered in Islamabad to launch a campaign- "We Can End Honour Killing".

Oxfam's Farhana Stocker said 10,000 people had joined, but added that the national mindset would change only if religious leaders were enlisted to tackle the problem.

She is aware that there are many remote rural areas of Pakistan where clerics exert more influence than local and federal law.

"In order to bring change, we have to engage with clerics."

Pakistan is a country living in many centuries at once. Its small, Westernised elite embrace the 21st, conservative clerics preach centuries-old interpretations of Islam, while many of its rural areas are governed by tribal customs.

Honour killings are known as "karo-kari" killings. A woman is deemed a "black woman" a kari, once she is accused of having sex outside wedlock and is liable to be killed. "Karo" is the male version.

The custom originates in tribalism, although a strict interpretation of Islam's hudood penal code also rules that adulterers should be stoned to death.

A former President of Pakistan, Farooq Ahmed Leghari, comes from Dera Ghazi Khan. He says it will take more than laws to change society there. "To fight this menace you need movements involving people from all segments of society," he said.

A law last year set a minimum 10 year jail sentence for honour killings, but such sentences are rare.

Mukhtaran Mai, herself the victim of a gang rape, said police should enforce the law without bias, but getting more girls into school was crucial, too.

"Until women are educated ... these crimes will continue," said Mai whose rape was ordered by village elders after her l2-year-old brother was accused of having sex with a woman of another tribe.

Nur Jehan died in Karachi last week, a month after being shot four times by relatives who accused her of "loose morals".

They tracked her down in the city, having travelled from Baluchistan, seized her, shot her and left her for dead in a ditch. She survived for a month in hospital, until a stomach wound became infected. She was 14. -REUTERS