Saturday, 24 March 2012

To Kill, to protect Honour?

Jamila was to be married off to a cousin, but she couldn’t stand the idea, not one bit. The proclivity for her family to force on her an incestuous bond in matrimony was far too much for her to accept, far too wrong for her to tolerate. Jamila was educated, even if not as much as her brother was- she still understood the wrong in allowing the marriage to take place. Jamila’s heart was with another, anyway, and marrying him was the only prospect she was willing to consider. So she devised a plan- she would run away on the eve of the wedding. A trusted friend would be her aide, and help her escape the pockmarked fate that was awaiting her. But even the truest of friends can be forced to turn foe, circumstances forcing her to be a tattle-tale. That night, Jamila was killed by her brothers.
Because the family’s honour is of utmost importance; Because a runaway bride is a prospect about a thousand times worse in comparison to a dead one; Because they can.
Jamila is a wispy piece of fiction for my article. But her fate is not. In the past year alone, as many as 943 Pakistani women were killed, all in the name of honour. They allegedly shamed their family, and by bringing their family disrepute, death was their decided punishment. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, in its report, exposed the sordid reality shrouding the sudden deaths of these many women. 93 of these women were minors. In as many as 595 cases, the reason was the subsistence of alleged illicit relationships, while as many as 219 women had voiced a demand to marry a person of their own choice. The report reveals the dark horrors of unabashed antagonism to women- as many as 180 cases had their own brothers as the killers, 226 cases where husbands as the killers, and 19 of them were raped, while 12 were gang-raped.
But what is the honour in killing?
How could these men justify the killing of their women, all in the name of “honour”? I remember these lines I read in Shakespeare’s magnum opus, Julius Caesar, where Brutus says to Cassius,
Set honour in one eye and death i' the other,
And I will look on both indifferently,
For let the gods so speed me as I love
The name of honour more than I fear death.
As contextually logical as these lines appear vis-a-vis Brutus’ exchange with Cassius on the subject of Brutus’ affection for a sense of honour, rather than to live a life with stigma, the insinuation of such logic in the hope of quelling any plausible dishonour stemming from a woman’s choice of standing for herself, or from a woman’s pursuit of a relationship with a man of her choice, is absurd. Outrageously so, at that.

Honour killings are a reflection of a society that is steeped in an uber-conservative mindset, and deeply entwined an ego-centric misunderstanding, wherein women are construed emblematic of their familial honour, through their behaviour and conduct in the public eye. Any ‘misconduct’ therefore, is a depredation of the family’s honour and pride, and needs to be prevented at any cost. The dishonour can be dispensed with, and honour can be restored only if the offending female is tossed off the cliff.
But this mindset is not confined to Pakistan. Palestine, Afghanistan, and even the west- wherein Canada’s records show the occurrence of the ‘honour’ killings of a couple of girls, to name a few, are hotbeds where the practice seems to thrive.
There is no doubt that a mentality that precedes the perpetration of such an act is a product of misguided and ill-gotten values. Reality is theirs to interpret - it appears, for they seem to liberally take the law into their own hands. The confluence of a politically liberal environment coupled with misinterpretation of religious texts as sanctioning the act by a couple of zealots is an unholy, heady mix. You cannot hope to be politically or religiously liberated if you fail to understand that social liberation goes alongside the both.
Honour lies in respect, in perseverance, in honesty and in humanitarian conduct. And when you kill, there’s no more dishonour than that.

By Kirthi Gita Jayakumar

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