Yasir Nisar

A Pakistani Woman Was Burned Alive Simply For Marrying The Man She Loved

An 18-year-old Pakistani woman named Zeenat Rafiq was burned alive for refusing to have a traditional Pakistani wedding and eloping with her boyfriend instead. Her mother and brother reportedly tied her to a cot in her home in Lahore, covered her in kerosene and lit her on fire. Her mother Parveen was arrested that day and confessed to killing her daughter.

Zeenat's boyfriend, a motorcycle mechanic, admitted that Zeenat feared for her life while with him. In reference to her family, she told him, "they will kill me" if she married him and chose to return to them afterward.

Every year, at least 1,000 Pakistnai women are killed in what are called "honor killings." They are punished in a horrific way just for taking a stand against conservative traditions and norms on marriage and love imposed on them by their culture.

Women have two options: They can either end up living in fear and shame for being with someone they believe is right for them — all the while risking their lives — or they can live lives of complacency and even unhappiness by appeasing their families.

In South Asian religions, it isn't uncommon to hear about this sort of thing. Even in India, where my parents came from, there's an old tradition called sati, in which a widow throws herself onto the funeral pyre following her husband's death. The tradition, rooted in a patriarchal society, tells her she must kill herself because she isn't worth as much as she was when her husband was still alive.

Though the tradition is no longer practiced as often as it once was, sati and practices similar to it are gaping indications of the freedoms many women lack in non-Western societies and cultures.

Luckily for me, I was born in America, so I don't have to adhere to some of the stricter, outlandish rules outlined in traditional Indian culture. But news like that of Zeenat Rafiq's death reminds me we women in the world who have free reign over our love lives should be counting our lucky stars every single day. Being able to choose whom we end up with is a privilege we take for granted. And though we may not deem it a privilege, we have to remember that it is one.