Honour in Ghairatabad

Zubair Torwali
Monday, Jan 02, 2023

Get together a group of young girls and boys, sit with them, and shed your cloak of narcissism for a while. Establish a long association with them, trust them so they can trust you and give them space.

In this suffocating environment, provide such a space in which they can express themselves to you, and among themselves, without any fear, shame, and feelings of inferiority or superiority; and they can believe that someone of their age or knowledge will not judge them because of their different experiences and values.

Take the group to a space where no one is judging anyone, where nothing is being talked down to, where no one is being berated, and where no one is discriminated against based on their gender identity. Facilitate this group in a safe physical and mental place and encourage them to tell the stories of their past life or the moral, social, economic, sexual, marital, and domestic stumbling blocks they have faced. Listen to their stories, instead of sitting with them and judging them. They could share their feelings and experiences with you and among themselves. Then listen to what happens to each of them.

In this stifling environment of ours, you will hardly find people who are not sexually, economically or socially harassed. These stories of harassment are found in almost every household.

Someone has been harassed by his/her peers and teachers in school, and someone has been harassed in madrassah. Someone has been harassed by someone at home and someone in the neighbourhood. Some have been sexually abused or harassed by the elders of their neighbourhood or village. Some have been harassed because of their gender, colour, race, profession, language or family; and some because of their profession. Someone has been harassed because of their social status or because of their bragging, seniority, and sanctity.

Not only this, but people are also constantly harassed because of their thoughts, behaviour and ideas in these stifling hypocritical societies. In these societies, a person does not have his/her individuality, but is considered a part of a cannibalistic cultural whole where his/her freedom, identity, personality and values do not exist. The individuals are simply part of a herd and are forced to behave as a herd would. In such a case, if you are a woman, a child or a girl, you do not exist or have an identity either. All your decisions are made by elders, and they become masters of your body and soul.

Among the people living on the outskirts and peripheries of societies like ours, every day there are reports of the murder of a girl or a boy. In these cultures, it is happening with such frequency that no one is even remotely surprised by such horrific incidents.

Let us take a socio-cultural tour of one such area, Ghairatabad. I know the area well but have avoided its original toponym because of the wrath of the people living there. Ghairatabad, literally means a place built around the archaic misogynistic notion of ‘honour’. It is a beautiful valley in the northwest of Pakistan, but is entrenched in traditions due to which I would call it a cannibalistic society.

I have so far received 10 stories from this valley where younger girls and women were killed in the past few years, and these cases were not recorded in any report by the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) which otherwise have recorded scores of similar cases from the rest of Pakistan and has given the details of these cases in its 2017 report titled, ‘Women, violence and jirgas: Consensus in Impunity in Pakistan’.

At least one woman or man is killed in Ghairatabad every week. There are massacres of men and women in the name of honour.

I happened to visit this valley last year. I dared to ask the elders why people kill those young girls and boys who run away and get married. The answer was that they do so to prevent such immoral incidents. When asked why these young boys and girls run away and get married despite knowing that the act will cost their lives, I did not get a decent answer. I asked an elderly pious man why these incidents continued to increase and saw anger on his face. The man said I was being disrespectful and stopped me from talking more.

It is a common practice in this area that a 70- or 80-year-old man can marry a girl aged 17 or 18 years, and surprisingly nobody gets startled at this for it is very normal for them. And in a majority of such cases, the grooms are often village headmen/sardars as well as clerics.

In the last one or two years, dozens of such stories have come to me from this area; a young girl was married to a 70- or 80-year-old man. She ran away from his house after some time, and then the family of this chieftain looked for the couple. The ‘honourable men; often spies on the runaways in cities, and to do so, they even disguise themselves like hawkers who sell clothes door to door. When they find the couple, they kill them, often cut their bodies into pieces, so that it would be a lesson to others. But, no boy or girl takes a lesson; instead, such cases increase.

In Ghairatabad, if a woman is seen in a non-traditional dress, men call the woman immoral and obscene. Once, a woman from the entertainment industry went to the area as a tourist with her colleagues. She was caught by the villagers and forced into marriage with her colleague. A cleric led the ceremony and the entire village, including children, gathered.

Many young men and women of Ghairatabad are fighting as proxies outside the borders of the country. From here every banned organization receives donations and recruits youth into its ranks.

A foreign ethnographer depicted a fierce image of the area in his research in the 1990s. It is now 2022, but the practice of honour killing, tribal enmity and family feuds have not ended yet. Perhaps these practices are in the interests of some powerful corners because such areas can provide them with proxy fighters. The only major cultural change seen here is the ‘language shift’ as the majority of the population is abandoning their native languages and identities and adopting the languages and identities of the dominant communities.

Ghairatabad is a pseudonym for this area, but if people look at any village – Pind, Kaley, Ghot, Gam, Lam, Kot – they will observe that each of them presents the same picture as that of Ghairatabad.

The writer heads an independent organisation dealing with education and development in Swat. He can be reached at: