“Honor killings” persist in Pakistan. Almost always, the victim is a woman; the killer a man. The woman’s offense is invariably refusing to bend to the will of her family.
“She is a sister who falls in love with a man not of her family’s choosing,” as the AP’s Kathy Gannon wrote in a remarkable story this week. “She is a daughter who refuses to agree to an arranged marriage, sometimes to a man old enough to be her father. She is a wife who can no longer stay in an abusive marriage and divorces her husband.”
Though honor killings “seem like a relic of a far-ago time,” as The Washington Post’s Jessica Contrera wrote in July, in a story about the strangling death of a Pakistani social media star at the hands of her brother, they “are still rampant” in Pakistan. “An estimated 1,000 Pakistani women are killed this way every year,” wrote Contrera,” citing, among other recent killings, a father who lit his daughter on fire because she eloped and a 19-year-old schoolteacher burned alive for refusing to marry a man twice her age.
But rarely do those accused of committing such crimes, and those urging them on, talk to a reporter so openly as Mubeen Rajhu did in an interview with Gannon in September from behind bars, as he discussed how he shot his sister to death because she defied her family and married a man who had been a Christian.
Gannon, a prizewinning veteran foreign correspondent, has just returned to work after recovering from an April 2014 attack by an Afghan policeman while she was on assignment near Khost in eastern Afghanistan. Gannon took six bullets in her arm and has yet to recover full use, she said in an interview with The Post.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer accompanying her, Anja Niedringhaus, died in the attack.
But that has not deterred Gannon from continuing her persistent reporting on honor killings.
Mubeen Rajhu’s sister, Tasleem, was only 18 when she fell in love with a Christian man. He loved her too, so much so that he was willing to, and in fact did, convert to Islam in hopes that he could marry her.
In the meantime, the two were seen in public by co-workers of Rajhu at a steel mill where he worked in Lahore. They taunted him mercilessly.
Gannon visited the mill. Going from worker to worker, she managed to find those who had worked with Rajhu.
“They would say, ‘Can’t you do anything? What is the matter with you? You are not a man,'” Ali Raza, a co-worker told Gannon. “The guys here told him . . . ‘It would be better to kill your sister. It is better than letting her have this relationship.'”
Rajhu pleaded with his sister.
“I told her I would have no face to show at the mill, to show to my neighbors,” he told Gannon, “so don’t do it. Don’t do it. But she wouldn’t listen.”
One day, she and a younger brother slipped out of the house, saying they were going to buy some medicine. Instead, they went to court, where he served as a witness to her marriage with the former Christian.
Because they had been gone from the home a long time, Rajhu got suspicious and beat his brother until he confessed to what he, and she, had done.
Despite all this, the newlyweds returned to her parents home with the hope that they would find acceptance.
Instead, Rajhu walked up to her and put a bullet in her head.
Gannon, in an interview, said that while honor killings are still tolerated and even accepted by many in Pakistan, some younger people in particular are beginning to harbor reservations about them.
Such was the case with a local police superintendent, who allowed Gannon and a videographer to visit Rajhu in jail and talk with him alone for several hours.
He said he loved his sister. And he had urged her not to defy the family’s wishes. And she had sworn on the Koran that she would not.
“I could not let it go,” he told Gannon from his jail cell. “It was all I could think about. I had to kill her. There was no choice.”
As her story reported:
On Aug. 14, Rajhu got his gun. Tasleem was sitting with her mother and her sister on the cracked concrete floor of their family kitchen.
“There was no yelling, no shouting,” he says. “I just shot her dead . . .
“If it was the devil in my head such a thing could not be forgiven. I was left with no option.”
Gannon said of her interview with Rajhu: “At times he was calm. At one point, I thought maybe he was going to cry, when he was talking about her as a child. But then he’s talking about the guys at the mill. And her swearing on the Koran. And then he’s getting angry. And then it’s like ‘what else could I do.'”
Gannon tracked down the family’s neighbors.
Many agreed that he had “done the right thing.”
“I am proud of this man,” said one. “He has done the right thing to kill her. When the news spreads they will praise this man.”
Said another, Babar Ali: “I am proud of this man that he has done the right thing, to kill her. We cannot allow anyone to marry outside our religion. He did the right thing.”
As for the father, Gannon said, he was the most reluctant to talk of all. When she showed up at his doorstep, he was preparing to leave Lahore for the village from whence he had come. He told Gannon his big regret was no longer having the small amount of money Rajhu brought in from his job and the notoriety, now, of his son and the family.
He had this to say: “My family is destroyed. Everything is destroyed only because of this shameful girl. Even after death I am destroyed because of her.”
You can read Kathy Gannon’s story in full here.