Family values

A horror out of Karachi: a pair of teenage neighbors tried to run away together from their poor neighborhood of Ali Brohi Goth, and were murdered by their male relatives. First the 15-year-old girl, Bakhtaja, was tied down and electrocuted, and the next day it was 18-year-old Ghani’s turn.

His father finished dinner, then returned. With the help of an uncle, he strapped his son to a rope bed, tying one arm and one leg to the frame with uncovered electrical wires.

Bakhtaja had endured 10 minutes of searing electrical jolts before she died. The boy took longer, and eventually the uncle stepped in and strangled him. The couple were buried in the dead of night.

You’d think parental love would be a lot stronger than whatever brew of religion and custom and fear of the neighbors inspired that family holocaust, but there it is. Two fathers tortured their children to death for unlicensed sex.

“There are pockets in Karachi where tribal culture is being followed but we had no idea it was to this extent,” said Mahnaz Rahman, resident director of Auraf Foundation, a women’s rights group. Outside a secularised middle class, some communities are becoming more entrenched in their conservative values, she said.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has reported an average of 650 “honour” killings annually over the past decade. But since most go unreported, the real number is likely to be much higher.

Ghani had tried several times to get permission to marry her, but was rebuffed. Eventually, the pair fled, with cash and jewellery she had stashed away.

They had made it to Hyderabad, three hours west, when Bakhtaja’s father called and said the families had agreed to the marriage and would let them return safely. It was a trick.

The fathers had, in fact, come to a settlement. Muhammad Afzal, Ghani’s father, had pledged to give Hikmat Khan, Bakhtaja’s father, two of his own daughters, a cow, and PKR 500,000 (£3,538) for the wedding. They meant to keep the agreement a secret.

But an older relative, Sirtaj Khan, got wind of the deal and exposed it to the community, insisting that the couple be put to death. Instead of braving the supposed public embarrassment, the fathers agreed with Khan to make an example of their children.

I wonder what the lives of those two daughters, the ones who weren’t “given” to Hikmat Khan after all, will be like.

Bakhtaja and Ghani are buried 10 metres apart in the local cemetery, their graves dug between shrubs and covered with red cloth still not faded by the sun and dust. Ataullah, a gravedigger, said the bodies were charred from burns when they were lowered into the ground.

Female relatives of the couple, who were not available for interviews, were “removed” from their houses when punishments were meted out, neighbours said. After the murder, Bakhtaja’s mother told human rights defenders: “I forgive him,” meaning her husband.

“The women are vulnerable and scared. They want their men back,” said Rahman, of Aurat Foundation. The arrest of the culprits left the women without financial support. Yet they don’t seem to condone the actions of their husbands.

I guess that answers my question.

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