NOTHIA, 28 May 2022:
Horror and fear prevails in a small village in Pakistan’s Punjab province where two sisters were deceived into returning home from Spain – and murdered last week by their family members – in the name of protecting their honour.
The act was allegedly perpetrated by the brothers and husbands of the two girls, for seeking divorce and wanting to remarry men of their choice – something that would supposedly bring dishonour to the families of the girls in their conservative patriarchal society.
The house where Aneesa Abbas, 21, and Arooj Abbas, 24, were killed lay abandoned – except for a dog, rabbits, fowls and caged parrots that were inside.
Dried blood stains could still be seen inside. Locals stay clear of the place due the horrifying atmosphere that prevails around it.
Both sisters, living in Spain, had been married against their wishes – Arooj to her father’s sister’s son, Hassan, in 2019; and Aneesa to her father’s brother’s son, Atiq ur Rehman, in 2020.
Neighbours said there was an argument between the ill-fated sisters and their in-laws over accepting their husbands and taking them along to Spain – which both refused to do.
“Their in-laws also objected to how they started to dress after moving to Spain,” said a village elder, who asked not to be named over fears of developing enmity with the accused family.
On May 20, a day after returning from Spain, the two women were beaten and tortured before being strangled to death in the evening at around 7:30pm.
Pictures taken by neighbours when the police arrived showed Aneesa lying dead on the floor with a scarf around her neck, while Arooj’s body lay on a traditional cot inside a messed-up room.
“I was on a call in the street and saw Aneesa come out of her house screaming, ‘help, help’,” said Rehman Sohail, a 25-year old man from the neighbourhood.
Sohail said he moved ahead to help Aneesa but was stopped by her brother Shehryar, who was carrying a pistol and had grabbed the girl by her hair.
“He said, ‘stay away otherwise I will shoot you, it’s our family matter’,” Sohail said. “Shehryar then dragged her into the house by her foot.
“I would have saved her if I knew they would kill her, no one even kills animals like they did,” added Sohail.
The village elder said this was the first such brutal incident in the locality in recent history, and had terrified everyone, specially children. The atmosphere of the whole village had turned gloomy.
He added that all the immediate neighbours heard the girls’ screams that evening but did not come forward to save them as interfering in other people’s matters usually leads to bad blood.
“Our ancestors tell us no one had been murdered here before,” he recalled. “It will haunt us forever, no one slept that night.”
He revealed that no one from the families of the two sisters had offered their funeral prayers as they were all hiding from the police.
Now, a group of youngsters from the area has been planning to hold “Qul Khawani,” a common religious practice of collective recitation from the Quran – the Islamic holy book – praying for forgiveness of the departed souls.
The police said the accused in the twin murder case would be tried in court with the state being the complainant, meaning the legal heirs of the victims cannot pardon the accused – which is otherwise permissible under Pakistani law.
“The family cannot pardon them in this case as they are not the complainant,” noted Sheraz Haider, head of the local Guliana police station.
Critics say victims of honour killings often escape due punishment under the law due to corruption in the police, inept prosecutors and a moribund judicial system.
One such example is case of social media star Qandeel Baloch, whose brother was acquitted of her murder by an appellant court over “lack of evidence” earlier this year. He had meanwhile only spent three years in prison.
“There is a strong political group that is supporting the accused in this case (in Nothia),” said another resident of the area, requesting anonymity.
“I appeal to Spain and the government of Pakistan to make sure justice is served as no one from the girl’s family is paying heed to this case,” the resident urged.
He said the police has not been properly investigating the case and treating the accused in custody like ‘guests’. “They are in jail as if on a picnic.”
A visit to the jail, where the accused were held, saw one of their relatives coming over with home-cooked meals and large packets of soft drinks.
All of the accused appeared calm and confident. One of them was seen offering prayers, while another recited from the Quran.
They also refused a request by a police officer to pose for a photo, and journalists were not given permission to interact with them.
The village of Nothia has multiple big bungalows towering over small brick houses, reflecting a mix of people from very rich as well as poor backgrounds, with most of the former group settled abroad, usually in Europe or the UK.
There are different stories about how the girls were tricked into returning to Pakistan.
The village elder claimed their brother told them he was getting married and invited them to attend. Another neighbour said the girls were told their mother was very ill and wanted to see them.
But what was consistent in everyone’s version was the sisters were forcibly married to their cousins and wanted to separate from them. They had also refused to sponsor their spouse visas to Spain.
The reason for which they were murdered was their wish to remarry the men of their own choosing, an act considered by their family as an attack on their “honour.”
The locals all stressed on the need to stop forced marriages and allow girls to choose a groom of their liking, an opinion that may change when it concerns a girl from their their own family, given the patriarchal nature of society in Pakistan.
According to data from the nonprofit Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 478 cases of so-called “honour crimes” occurred last year in the country, mostly in the Punjab and Sindh provinces.