Back home, Z and N saw their siblings dragged outside, shot in broad daylight, and buried at night without a funeral—so that their family could continue to live with ‘honour’ in the village and amid the clan.
Now in Karachi, the couple hides in a one-room house in a wholly unfamiliar neighbourhood. They fear a similar fate.
“My family declared us karo kari just because I married of my own choice,” said 23-year-old Z, bursting into tears. “We have come to Karachi for protection.”
Couples who choose to marry of their own free will and in return are declared untouchables for ‘defaming’ the family name, are leaving their hometowns in rural Sindh to seek refuge in the metropolis. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan states that during the last two months, around five married couples have fled to Karachi from Jacobabad, Larkana and Sukkur. Z who hails from Naudero, and her husband from Shikarpur, are the fifth couple, who came here earlier this month.
Their tale is not a typical love story. They did not fall in love in lush green fields but met only at family gatherings and talked occasionally on the phone. However, the decision to spend their lives together came abruptly when Z’s father decided to marry her to a 60-year-old man in exchange for a hefty amount.
On the night of January 12, Z escaped from home, boarded a bus and got married to N in Sukkur the next morning. “We sent our marriage certificate to our families hoping that they would be happy for us,” N says. “While my family reluctantly accepted, Z’s family called a jirga and declared us karo kari.” They wanted them to be brought back and killed.
Years ago, Z’s pregnant sister met a similar fate after she overslept on her train and missed her stop. The family accused her of running away from home with a lover. On the other hand, N’s brother, who was in the army, was killed only because he liked a girl from another clan.
Thus, for Z and N, the only choice they had was to come to Karachi, and file a petition in the Sindh High Court, seeking protection. But the danger is not over. They do not go outside as the people hunting for them have reached the city.
“It’s not a crime to marry the person we want to. But back home, our elders think women are their property. We can’t do things we want to do. At least in the city, we can breathe freely,” said Z from behind her burqa, perhaps the thinnest protection she has for now.
Taranum Khan of the HRCP says that almost all of such killings, which took place in the city last year, were of couples who had fled their villages. “If people think that they can be safe in Karachi, they are wrong. Their families hunt them down here and kill them,” she said.
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, in 2011, around eight men and five women were killed in Karachi for these very reasons. In Sindh, 227 people, 136 women, 125 men, and 13 children faced this rough form of tribal justice.
In some respects, it is almost better for the couple to be killed together, for as Aisha (not her real name) discovered, the murder of a loved one strips life of all meaning and joy. Her husband became a victim to tribal compulsions in 2001.
She fell in love with Saif – who his relatives describe as one of the most handsome in the family – and eloped with him in 1998. Saif was axed to death by Aisha’s relative Ghulam Muhammad. His parents died soon after his murder and the family structure collapsed under the financial burden of his case. For his widow, Aisha, there can be no other. “Saif was my husband and first love and now I live for our son.”
The men who kill
So much ink has been spilled on the karo kari killings and their victims. But aside from those who lose their lives, there are the perpetrators of the violence, who become victims in another sense: they have to live with their crime.
Akan Nohrio managed to ‘avenge’ his honour, even though it cost him everything he owned and everyone he loved. The now destitute 65 year old murdered a man called Ali Mohammad Chang and has been in prison for three years for the crime.
A father of 15 children born to two wives, Nohrio now understands the futility of the deep-seated perception of slight to honour. “I did not think about the consequences but it was an unbearable situation at that time,” he told The Express Tribune. “Our women are above everything. We can do anything for them – even [commit] murder.”
Nohrio never disclosed who was the subject of Chang’s affections in his family.
After the karo-kari killing, Nohrio lost his 40 acres of land and the support of his loved ones. “A notable man from our community paid Rs150,000 to Chang’s family [as blood money] but my brothers and other relatives sold my land. The Changs took whatever was in my home soon after the murder,” he added.
None of the women in his family visited him in the three years he has spent in jail. Sameer Mandhro
Published in The Express Tribune, February 2nd, 2012.
Update: An earlier version of this article ran a graphic that has been removed following reader feedback.