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In commemoration International’s Women’s Day (or Month), I’m sharing one of the most horrifying,  barbaric ancient traditions that are still done to women in this modern age = Honor Killings. The following is a paper that I did for World History when I was still an Academic Consultant.

Just a little primer Honor Killings are done just in Muslim countries or by Muslims in general. It’s done around the world and in different labels.

Inspired by V-Day Rising and the women and men who continuously make sure that abuses and violence against women and children will be eradicated,  here’s my meager contribution to that noble cause where information would be a tool for change.

“Honor” murderers are nothing but self-righteous, religious supremacist savages. This young lady had a whole life ahead of her and now it’s been snuffed out.” (Lee. 2013)

Is family honor more important than a person’s life? Is being different too big a sin that killing women and children are just punishment for such a crime? Is social image more important than letting a person live and adapt to the changing times. In a world where technology and science had been advancing every day, there are still some backward social norms that plague modern societies among them is Honor Killings.

Scenario number one, at dawn last April 14, 2013 in Ruseifeh (East of Amman), Jordan, the police finds a woman dead. This was not a simple homicide, she was burned. Her whole body was burned. A more horrible fact is that this woman was pregnant. And not only was she burned, she had a slit throat, her belly cut open showing her four-month old fetus. Investigations are still on-going but the police believe that it was an honor crime. 

Scenario number two. Another horrible sight: Kolkata (Calcutta), India, a man enters the police station and places a decapitated head of woman along with butcher knife the beheaded her on the law enforcer’s table. The man’s name is Mehtab Alamand the said woman is 22-year old Nilofar Bibi, a married woman and his sister. Since age 14 Bibi left home and lived with her in-laws because of an arrange marriage. Allegedly tortured by her in-laws, Bibi left and returned to her home on November 28, 2012 but vanished days after.

Her brother Alam discovers her whereabouts at the house of Firoz, Bibi’s old boyfriend and an auto rickshaw driver. Storming Firoz’ house, Alam drags Bibi into the streets cuts-off her head and brings the head to the police station. He leaves her body in a pool of blood in broad daylight as passers-by looks on in horror after witnessing the crime. Instead of condemning Alam’s act of homicide, the siblings’ parents are proud of him saying that what he did brought back the family honor which Bibi shamelessly drags down with her infidelity.

Sounds like a horrifying political, social drama or plot of a book right? Yes, but the reality is, the story above is not a work of fiction. It’s a blatant reality that’s happening today. Such crime is known as Horror Killing.

A Good Topic and Bad Topic

While searching for a good topic and an example where women and children are killed by family members are seen as right legally and morally by society, was one of the hardest research project that the author has undertaken. While harassment, abuse and killing of women of children are practically seen in all forms of media and anti-crime advocate propaganda, finding a community or society simply accept such an act as justifiable was what made the thesis
draft difficult to do.

It was not easy to look for an example wherein a community would accept killing another person is right, my research and thoughts went to looking a tribal communities or to use Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” as a point of reference for this thesis, as per instructions any literary and fictional tale or movie can be a source for this paper.

“The Crucible” is a play by Arthur Miller about the Salem Witch Craft hunts and trials. It could have been a perfect inspiration for this assignment. However, while scouting the net an article from the Aljazeera, a news website, entitled “‘Honour Killings’ bring dishonour to India” with the subheading: The public beheading of a woman by her brother in Kolkota highlights a surge in so-called ‘honour killings’, caught this author’s attention. The article was done last December 27, 2012, and the said murder was done on December 7 of the same year.

History of Honor Killings

At first glance the said killings is condemned by the society but while searching further about honor killings, this said practice was done and accepted in ancient society and some parts of the world. The said crime was part of several cultures which include Assyrian, Babylonian and Egyptian people as old as 1200 BC.

This belief of Honor Killings most likely originated “from the belief that a woman’s chastity is the property of her families, a patriarchal culture…a women, who was considered by the tribes to be a machine for making men, was forced through honor killing for making men, was forced through honor killing to obey the husband’s family and not to reproduce outside of the tribe in extended family.” (Nasreen, 2012).

Killing a family member is often the last resort, most often it is a slow process. The victims are often tortured for a long time in their homes until various method of murders are used to end their life. Methods of Honor Killings include beheading the woman, stoning a person to death, death by electrocution, strangling the victim, burying the person alive, burning them to death.

In ancient times, Honor-killings are also done in such inhumane way. In ancient Babylon, women who commit adultery “were forced to throw themselves into a river” (Nasreen, 2012) to prove their innocence. In ancient Egyptian society, flogging, mutilation, imprisonment are the common punishment done to adulterous women. In China, husbands would cut off the hair of adulterous women and are by leading them to an elephant who was trained to kill. In the United States, Native American tribes cuts the limbs and mutilates the bodies of adulterous women while Persia pushes these women into a well until they die there.

Oftentimes, honor killings are done as a capital punishment for female family members that brought dishonour to the family by the following acts such as refusal to enter an arranged marriage, an abused wife seeking for an abusive husband, pre-marital sex, a person victim of sexual assault or rape, flirting and chatting with men on social media, falling for men who are not within their tribe.

Types of Honor

In some cultures there are distinct forms of honor – one is active and the other passive. These forms of honor are usually mapped onto the expectations of what society expects of an individual. Traditionally it is separated into male and female behaviour. Men are expected to be assertive and our response in violence to slights upon their own or against their family honor. Women on the other hand are expected to retain their own fragile honor by conforming with the social norms.

In such scenario, men’s active honor is symbiotically dependent on to the passive honor of the women in the family. He is expected to make sure that these women conforms with the norms of the community and their respective families. If not, men are expected to respond to these women violently if they do not follow what is expected of them. In other cultures, honor is conceptualized as a collective quality to the reputation of the family in entirety.” (HBV Faq).

Other factors that triggered ‘honor’ related crimes includes expression of personal autonomy such as Shafilea Ahmed, teenagers desire to live a western lifestyle and her unwillingness to refuse to marry to her first cousin was considered a dishonour to the family. (Hallowell, 2012).

Other factors include choice of sexual/marital partner, their fashion preferences, their behaviour and contact with other men, their sexuality, education and employment and the over-all conformity to the family and community’s expectations and cultural beliefs.

In these societies women are expected to guard their honor and virginity before they tie the knot. In doing so, parents must use a certain level of gender segregation in order to restrict the relationships of their daughters among members of their own family. Common expectations of the society regarding women include keeping their virginity and not develop any relationship with a person that the family did not approve.

Women are expected to accept the demands by their family especially when it comes to arranged marriages. Women are not supposed to air their problem and concerns outside the family especially to authorities especially when it comes to reporting domestic violence. Women are also not expected to initiate any divorce plans and not  seek the custody of her children.

Misconceptions about Honor Killings

Some misconception of honor killings include that it only happens in Muslim communities, it only happens to women. Generally, women and girls are victims, but men can also be a victim of this. Men who are suspected to be homosexuals are victimized by the families of the relatives of women. Homosexuality in most culture is a situation that dishonours the family.

The practices of these honor-related crimes are across religions and culture. Most honor killings are done in countries such as the Middle East, South Asia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Often times, honor killings in America and Europe are within the diasporic immigrant circles. There are times that some students in the Universities do not return after a trip back to their countries.

This had been done in several countries including Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, India, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, Turkey, Uganda, Yemen. Shocking at it may seem such killing of female family members is not considered a crime. Other countries consider honor-related murders as a crime of passion and are often not punishable by law. A good example of this are countries like Pakistan, Syria and Jordan.

Different Treatment of Honor Killings

Technically and legally, this type of murder is supposed to consider as ordinary killing and suspects, in this case, the family members are supposed to be prosecuted. What happens is what police and prosecutors do is that they simply ignore this. Oftentimes, a man just claims that the killing is for honor, the suspect is set free. Also in another middle-east country such as Syria, Syrian men can kill female family members as long as they say it’s a “crime of passion” and it is not premeditated. Other countries that considers this so-called “crime of passion” as either a full or partial defense in Argentina, Egypt, Guatemala, Iran, Israel, Peru etc.

In the country of Jordan, the husband can legally kill his wife when he personally catches her in an adulterous relationship. Annually, young women age 15-20 dies in these so-called “honor” murders in the said Arab kingdom. The Jordan overnment had at least tried to curb such horrible crimes, unfortunately the sad reality is that eventhough murder is punishable by law, “honor killings” are of a different league. Courts in Jordan commute or reduce the murderer’s sentences if the leniency is asked by the family.

Currently, Turkey is an important focal point in battling honor killings. Being in-between two great continents, Turkey is currently enjoying the growth of its economic situation and has established itself as a dominant regional power. With its continuous efforts to modernize itself and hoping to join the European Union, an ancient tradition such as honor killing is a huge “blot in their country.”

According to Bingul Durbas, a doctoral researcher who was interviewed by International Business Time, in Turkey alone it is difficult to estimate how many honor killings there are.  Despite the resurgence and attention against honor killings, Durbas said that there is not enough reliable information and accurate data regarding this because some, as mentioned, were made to look like accidents or suicide. In the General Directorate of National Security from 2000-2005, an estimated 1092 honor crimes were done in Turkey alone. The sad part of it not all cities were covered and rural areas. Some of them were legitimate suicides but these were mere escape from the brutality they have suffered and will be suffering from their families due to honor killings.

Horrifying Truth

Killing one’s child or sibling is really a reality that is hard to swallow. While some families can be reluctant to do kill their children, some of them are a result of community pressure. In closely knit communities, social ties are important and this adds pressure to the unwilling parents to sacrifice their kid as part of the so-called greater good of the family as a whole. It is just sad because despite the fact that we are already in the modern age, we still tend to succumb to barbaric and inhumane cultural traditions and pressure. Honor killings no matter how one looks at it can never be justified. A person’s worth, life, happiness and freedom and basic rights of the individual. For families to resort to this is a power play for the heartless.


Lee Cundangan is a blogger,  wedding coordinator / events coordinator  for an online Events Coordination Group Ouine’s Events and freelance theatre facilitator.


Al Arabiya. Police: Pregnant woman’s throat slit in ‘honor’ killing in Jordan (2013). Retrieved


Arjunpuri, C., “Honour Killings” Bring dishonour to India (2012). Retrieved from

Ghosh, P., Honor Killings: An Ancient Ritual in a Modern World (2012). Retrieved from

Honour based Violence Awareness Network. FAQ’s on Honor Killings (2013), Retrieved from

Nasreen, T., Crimes Against Humanity (2012), Retrieved from

Hallowell, B., Honor Killing Pakistani Parents Found Guilty of Suffocating Teenage Daughter

who refused Forced Marriage to Her First Cousin. Retrieved from http://


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