From last week, the BBC reports another political murder in northwest Pakistan.
On a hot and humid night in late August, a small group quietly scales the wall of a mud-brick house in a village near Pakistan’s north-western town of Akora Khatak.
In the dim, starlit courtyard, they make out the figures of a man and a woman lying in two separate charpoy cots, sleeping. About 15 minutes later, they walk out through the main door, leaving the couple in pools of blood.
So we know roughly what’s coming. The two were of the “wrong” family or ethnic group or caste for each other; or the woman had been ordered to marry someone else; or the woman’s younger brother had been accused of something or other.
The code is simple: Any contact, even just communication between a man and a woman outside of customary wedlock is considered a breach of the honour of the woman’s family, and gives it the right to seek bloody revenge.
The woman’s family must first kill her and then go after the man.
The mere expression of suspicion by the woman’s family is enough evidence and the community demands no further proof.
The mere expression of suspicion is enough to justify murder of two people, no questions asked. So if a woman’s brother or father gets irritated with her, he can simply express suspicion and wham, she’s gone. (I’m betting it doesn’t work if a woman’s sister or mother tries to use that trick, because obviously a woman’s claim is worth less than nothing.)
One person who hopes to change that is Rukhsana Bibi, now a widow, who claims that she survived an “honour killing” in a village near Akora Khatak and has taken the unusual step of publicly speaking out, trying to seek justice through the legal system.
Ms Bibi suffered horrific chest and leg injuries when she and husband, Mohammad Yunus, were victims of a brutal attack while they lay sleeping in the courtyard in Akora Khatak. Her husband was murdered, but Ms Bibi survived with seven bullets in her body: two in the chest, three in the left leg and two in the left hip.
And then we get to what happened. I called it – it was the one about the woman being promised to some other man, as if she were a piece of furniture boxed up ready for shipment.
Ms Bibi tells me that she met Mr Yunus – a student of medical technology – at a village wedding in the summer of 2011. They fell in love with each other at first sight.
Although their meetings were rare, they frequently spoke to each other on their mobile phones.
She describes how their relationship went on like this until April, when her family arranged her marriage to a distant relative, an uneducated cattle tender in her village.
Unhappy and frustrated, she and Mr Yunus decided to run away.
They married in the north-west before going into hiding in the Akora Khatak area.
Well pieces of furniture aren’t allowed to decide for themselves whom to marry.