On The Side Ideograph

The evolution of honour killing

Updated 25 Jul, 2016 11:31am
Illustration by Danish Munir
Illustration by Danish Munir

On the night of July 15, 2016, social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch was drugged and then strangled to death in her parent's home in Multan. Baloch's brother confessed to her murder in the name of their family's "honour". He allegedly acted in response to the "shameful” pictures and risque videos the 26-year-old had been posting on her social media pages.

On June 8, 2016, Zeenat Rafiq was set ablaze in Lahore and left to die, allegedly by her own mother. The 18-year-old was killed for marrying the man of her choice against her family’s will.

These two instances make up one of nearly 1,000 women killed in the name of ‘honour’ every year in Pakistan, according to the Honour Based Violence Awareness website. Honour killing predates modern society and is not unique to any religion. Here, the Herald looks through the annals of time to understand the evolution of this inhumane practice.

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1780 BCE

Babylon (modern-day Iraq) is governed by the Code of Hammurabi, a set of rules enacted by King Hammurabi which later become a way of life. Under the code, the sexuality of women is made the property of her husband. If caught in the act of adultery, she is tied to her lover and cast into water to drown. A husband can save his wife but has to save her lover as well.

17 BCE

Augustus, known as the first Emperor of Rome, introduces the Leges Juliae (Julian Laws) under which the Lex Julia de Adulteriis (adultery as a public and private crime) is enforced. Under this law, the male head of the family can legally kill his wife or daughter on the allegation of adultery.

510 CE

Sati, the practice of self-immolation by widows, is first attributed to the city of Eran, the area now known as Madhya Pradesh in Central India. Widows are encouraged to die alongside their husbands’ funeral pyre to purge themselves of their ‘sins’ and ensure their husbands’ salvation.

Pre-7th Century

Prior to the Islamic civilisation in the Arabian Peninsula, the proverb ‘the burial of daughters is a noble deed’ resonates throughout the nomadic tribes. Newborn females are often buried alive so that they don’t grow up to become a potential source of disgrace to the clan.

17th Century

Karo kari is the practice of killing, under the pretext of sexual transgression, those who have disgraced the clan. Its etymology is traced to Sindh, and its first-ever recorded incident is one during the Talpur reign, but instances of karo kari have been recorded in areas across the country.

20th Century

Pursuant to Article 111 of the Iraqi Penal Code, introduced in the 1990s by Saddam Hussein, the law exempts men who kill their female relatives in defense of their family’s honour from prosecution and punishment. Simultaneously, India sees an increase in female foeticide, especially in states like Haryana and Punjab.


The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2004 is introduced to the Pakistan Penal Code, preventing a person accused of honour killing from availing the provisions of ‘pardon’ and ‘blood money’. Yet, this results in no decrease in documented incidents of honour killings in the following years. Later in 2014 , the Anti-Honour Killings Laws are introduced to address the gaps within previous legislation and to bring more culprits to justice.

This was originally published in the Herald's July 2016 issue under the headline "Pride and Patriarchy". To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.