Shanthie Mariet D’Souza: Shakila had to Die: Restoring family honor in Afghanistan


In the wee hours of a certain day in June 2009, Haji Gulbuddin, resident of a village in North Afghanistan’s Samangan province, took out a knife from his kitchen, went to his daughter’s room and stabbed her repeatedly till she fell dead. Gulbuddin then called the police and surrendered accepting that he is responsible for the killing of his daughter, who he suspected was having an affair with a boy. Doctors conducting post-mortem counted about 60 stab wounds on Shakila’s face, head and body.

Shakila’s story ran almost similar to that of Mujahedeh, who ran from her home in 2006, to escape daily beating for not agreeing to undergo a marriage to a man, old enough to be her grandfather. She took shelter in the facility provided by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. Few days later, as she returned to her home after being comforted by relatives, her father murdered her.

The stories of Shakila and Mujahedeh are the few lucky ones to have found their way into the reports of organisations working for the empowerment of women around the world. Hundreds of other such cases are never reported, and even if complaint is lodged with the police, the perpetrators are never punished.

The belief system that guided the respective fathers of Shakila and Mujahedeh works according to pretty simple principles. Honour of the family revolves around the sexual conduct of its women, which in a patriarchal set up remains dictated by the men folk. It combines a system of trust and responsibility and any violation, the women know better, can bring about fatal results.

The Taliban has also made it a point to punish the “wayward” women. In August 2010, a man and a woman who allegedly had an adulterous affair were brought to a crowded bazaar and stoned to death in the northern province of Kunduz.

Obviously, this system is not typical to Afghanistan or Islam. Countries like Iran, Pakistan and Jordan have their share in honour killings. In 2008 three teenage girls were buried alive by their tribe in a remote village in Pakistan as punishment for damaging the honor of their families after they refused to enter forced marriages. In several states of India, honor killings are rampant and the law and order mechanism has failed to punish the perpetrators in many of the cases.

Afghanistan is certainly changing for the better. I have written my earlier blog posts about the women Members of Parliament (MP), activities of the women rights group, the high attendance of girls in schools and colleges etc. Former woman MP Malalai Joya is known for her work in the area and she even got one of her bodyguards marry a rape victim in July 2010.

Giving up practices that are entrenched into the belief system of thousand of Afghans in the vast expanse of the country is never going to be easy. Work of grass roots organisations, awareness programs and an efficient education system is as important as allowing women to take up leadership roles in the government and non-government sectors.

As I wrote this piece, I read an Indian newspaper reporting the 3 July killing of a 17-year old Hindu girl by her own parents after she refused to be with her middle-aged husband. In Haryana, one of the states in north of India, adjoining national capital New Delhi, the girl Mukesh Kumari had been given away in marriage to her uncle, under an age-old barter system.

(Shanthie Mariet D’Souza, Ph.D., is Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), National University of Singapore (NUS) in Singapore. She can be reached at: [email protected])