For generations now in Pakistan, they've called it ''honor'' killing, carried out in the name of a family's reputation.
Even now, the men at the steel mill where Mubeen Rajhu worked laugh at how easy it was to make him lose his temper. Some people had seen his sister, Tasleem, in their Lahore slum with a Christian man. She was 18, a good Muslim girl. This couldn’t be allowed. Ali Raza, a co-worker at the mill, can barely contain a smile as he talks about the hours spent taunting Rajhu about his sister. It went on for months. ”He used to tell us, If you don’t stop, I will kill myself. Stop!”’ Raza says.
He raises his voice to compete with the sounds of the mill, and other workers gather to listen. They too smile. A few laugh at the memory of Rajhu’s outbursts. ”The guys here told him . It would be better to kill your sister,” Raza says.
Rajhu told them he had bought a pistol, and one day in August he stopped coming to work. Rajhu discovered that his sister had defied the family and married the Christian. For six days he paced. His rage grew. How could she? On the seventh day, on Aug. 14, he retrieved the pistol from where he had hidden it and walked up to his sister and with one bullet to the head he killed her.
For generations now in Pakistan, they’ve called it ”honor” killing, carried out in the name of a family’s reputation. The killers routinely invoke Islam, but rarely can they cite anything other than their belief that Islam doesn’t allow the mixing of sexes. Even Pakistan’s hard-line Islamic Ideology Council says the practice defies Islamic tenets.
It doesn’t matter: in slums and far-off villages, away from the cosmopolitan city centers, people live in a world where religion is inextricably tied to culture and tradition.
As modernity pushes against tradition, Pakistan has seen an increase in the number of women and girls killed in the name of honor: last year, 1,184 people died, only 88 of them men. The year before that the figure was 1005, and in 2013 it was 869, according to the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. The true numbers are believed to be higher, because many cases go unreported.
The killings have fueled a growing public outrage at the practice. Activists are working to close the legal loophole that lets killers go free.
But for many who have been fighting this practice, it is the mindset of the boy who could kill his sister, or the parent who could kill a daughter, that has to be understood, and changed.
The shackles that Rajhu wears look too heavy for his slender wrists. They make the harsh sound of metal clanking against metal, reverberating in the silence that punctuates his conversation.
For more than a month, he has been held at the police headquarters in Lahore. He tells his story behind closed doors, out of sight and earshot of police.
Rajhu says he loved his sister, a quiet young woman who had never before rebelled against her family. He gave her a chance, he says; he demanded that she swear on Islam’s holy book, the Quran, that she would never marry the man. Frightened, she swore she wouldn’t.
”I told her I would have no face to show at the mill, to show to my neighbors, so don’t do it. Don’t do it. But she wouldn’t listen,” he says.
Rajhu, who thinks he’s 24 but isn’t sure, occasionally wavers when he tells his story, revealing a hint of remorse. It is brief, however; only when he speaks of her as a child is his voice soft and his gaze somewhere in the distance. Then his eyes harden and his voice becomes steely.
”I could not let it go. It was all I could think about. I had to kill her,” he says. ”There was no choice.” 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.”
The Rajhu family lives in a dirt-poor neighborhood on the northern edge of Lahore where water buffalo compete with cars for space on mud-clogged roads.
In the kitchen of the home, Tasleem’s blood still stains the rough wall. In the cramped room next to it, the siblings’ father, Mohammed Naseer Rajhu, talks about the killing.
His outrage grows – all of it directed at his daughter. He is angry that his son killed his sister for two reasons only: The young man is in jail and no longer earning nearly $200 a month, and his family, spread throughout Pakistan, will soon learn of Tasleem’s indiscretions.
”My family is destroyed,” he says, his voice rising. ”Everything is destroyed only because of this shameful girl. Even after death I am destroyed because of her.” After his son killed Tasleem, the elder Rajhu went to the police and filed a complaint. In Pakistan, parents often do so not to see the killer punished, but to lay the legal groundwork so they can forgive the culprit – the legal loophole that activists are fighting.
He wouldn’t explicitly say he forgives his son, but it is clear that he thinks the young man had every right to kill his sister.
At the Lahore police station, Rajhu’s jailors return. It is time. He must return to his cell to prepare to be taken the next day to Lahore’s Kot Lakput prison, where he will await trial.
Darkness has settled on the sprawling station that was humming with activity when Rajhu began his story. A policeman grabs hold of Rajhu’s chains to lead him down the concrete stairs. His father is hanging behind in the shadows. He has been waiting. He comes to his son’s side.