On February 14, 2022, a court acquitted Muhammad Waseem, the brother of Qandeel Baloch, of her murder. Waseem had strangulated her sister Qandeel after giving her poison in their family home in Multan, Pakistan on July 15, 2016.
After asphyxiating Qandeel, whose real name was Fauzia Azeem, Waseem fled their home; he was found some 100 kilometres from Multan in Dera Ghazi Khan and arrested. When he was presented by the Punjab Police at a press conference, his face was covered and he said he “killed for honour” and had “no regrets”. Nabila Ghazzanfar, a Punjab Police spokeswoman, had said that the initial post mortem showed that the 26-year-old’s nose and mouth had been pinned shut before she died, blocking off her airways.
This reminds me, among several other similar cases, of the ‘honour’ killing of Haryana’s Manoj and Babli in June 2007 and the subsequent commutation of the death sentence of the four convicts in that case.
Manoj and Babli, who belonged to the Karora village in Kaithal district, were brutally murdered by Babli’s relatives in June 2007, on the diktats of a khap panchayat for marrying in the same gotra. According to reports, the couple was asked to accept each other as brother and sister. When they refused, they were forcefully fed pesticides and then strangled to death. Later, their bodies were thrown into a canal, from which they were recovered. In March 2010, a Karnal district court announced the death sentence for five of Babli’s family members — her brother Suresh, uncles Rajender and Baru Ram and cousins Satish and Gurdev — for killing the couple. The leader of Banawala khap, Ganga Raj, was awarded life sentence for hatching the conspiracy. The seventh accused, Mandeep Singh, the driver of the vehicle used in the crime, was sentenced to seven years’ jail for kidnapping and conspiracy.
The Manoj and Babli case was historic on two counts. It was the first honour killing case in which the verdict of capital punishment was announced. It was also the first case that resulted in the conviction of khap panchayats for ordering extra-judicial killings. On March 11, 2011, the Punjab and Haryana High Court commuted the death sentence awarded to four convicts in this honour killing case to life imprisonment. Ganga Raj, the prime conspirator, and another convict Satish were acquitted.
Just as in the case of Qandeel Baloch, this verdict dealt a huge blow to efforts to secure justice for the deceased Manoj and Babli and also to set a deterrent against those contemplating such criminal acts in future.
While the historic sentence had brought hope to Chandrapati, Manoj’s mother, who was ostracised by her village, the commutation verdict shattered her faith. In 2011, Lal Bahadur Khowal, Ms Chandrapati’s lawyer, had said they would appeal against the verdict in the Supreme Court.
“She is devastated by the verdict and the fact that Ganga Raj will be released from jail adds to her worry,” Jagmati Sangwan, the president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), Haryana unit was quoted as saying by The Hindu. “Apart from the fact that two innocent children were killed mercilessly and brutally, it was a crime against society and hence was ‘rarest of rare’ in nature. Unfortunately, very few cases of honour killings come to light and even fewer reach a courtroom. But if justice is curbed like this; the message is very clear — khap panchayats are above law,” Sangwan had said immediately after the verdict, according to the same The Hindu report.
While it is not this writer’s intention, even remotely, to comment on the veracity of the evidence/claims accepted by the courts, based on which they pronounced the two verdicts, it is definitely her contention that justice should not only be done but also “seen to have been done.” And yes, the medieval concept of women’s bodies being unwitting repositories of ‘honour’, thus necessitating the need to avenge that honour, needs to be confined to the dustbin of history, once and for all.