Honor killing has become a serious issue in Pakistan even though strict laws have been introduced to stop this medieval tradition. an example of this horrifying practice is the killing of an 11-years old girl, Gul Sama Rind who was brutally killed on November 21 on the orders of a local jirga.
A very tragic incident that shocked the civil society in Pakistan is the killing of Afzal Kohistani whose only mistake was to bring into the public notice the incident of an honor killing in Kohistan.
Mr. Afzal Kohistani, the man who was the whistle blower of the Kohistan video was killed on March 6, 2019 in Abbottabad along with two other passerby injured. According to the Abbottabad police Mr. Afzal Kohistani was attacked by unidentified armed men near Gami Adda on the Children’s Hospital Road. Mr. Afzal died on the spot while the other two passerby injured were rushed to the District Headquarters Hospital (DHQ) for treatment.
Mr. Afzal Kohistani spearheaded Kohistan’s fight against ‘choar’ custom and he feared he will be punished for raising his voice against this. Just a few days before his murder, he asked Hazara Deputy Inspector General and Mansehra District Police Officer to provide him police security due to the threats to his life. He also criticized many times the behavior of the local police in a video message and asked for the security.
Mr. Afzal was the sole witness and complainant of the murder of five girls as a result of honor killing. The Abbotabad police has arrested a suspect identified as Masoom Ali from the Palas district of Kohistan. The DPO Abbotabad Mr. Abbas Majeed Marwat has confirmed that the weapon through which Mr. Afzal was killed has also been recovered from the arrested accused.
Background of the Kohistan video scandal
In 2012, a video was recorded in a mobile in which five girls could be seen clapping while two boys were dancing in a marriage ceremony. Afzal Kohistani was the whistle blower to bring to the public notice that the girls shown in the video were killed on the directives of the local jarga as a matter of honor killing. These were the shocking news for the society and the Supreme Court took a suo moto notice of it. However, Mr. Afzal had to pay the price of this and just a year later; his three brothers were allegedly killed by the families of the five girls.
The death of Afzal Kohistani opens a new debate among the civil society about the role of ‘choar’ custom — a form of ‘honour’ killings peculiar to the area. Under the choar customer any man or woman having interacted with the opposite sex is liable to death. Mr. Afzal was declared choar among other four brothers on the allegations of bringing the video scandal to the public notice until it went viral. This video scandal has taken nine lives Mr. Afzal being the last one.
“I am being punished because I stood up against the evil of the choar custom in our society. People kill their women in the name of honour and such deaths are not even taken to court,”
Kohistani had expressed these views a year before.
Kohistan is divided into Upper Kohistan, Lower Kohistan and the Kolai-Palas districts. This area is infamous for killings local men and women in the name of ‘honour’.
Unfortunately, many of the honour related deaths are not reported nor anybody is ready to raise his voice to end this centuries-old practice. Afzal Kohistani was the strong voice in this area to spearhead the fight against ‘choar’ custom which has been silenced leaving the civil society disappointed.
Media’s role in Choar Custom
The proactive role of media is very critical which paved the way for raising voice against honour-related killings in Kohistan. It was the media that highlighted the murder of five women and three men in connection with the video scandal and finally the death Afzal Kohistani. These deaths have shocked the society and under the media pressure and for fearing the suo motu notices, the local police is now registering the choar cases.
The future of choar custom in Kohistan
Although the Kohistan video scandal has taken nine precious lives, it has also opened the minds of local people. People are now realizing that choar custom is not only a crime according to the law of the country but also a sin according to the religion. The role of media is very helpful in bringing a positive change in the society and a significant drop of honour killing cases has been witnessed.
“I have witnessed drastic changes in our society. In the past, a married woman who mixed with strangers was liable to death along with those she mingled with. But now the situation has changed and one of the reasons is effective preaching by the Tableeghi Jamaat” said Mr. Mohammad Khabab, a local of the area.