Honour killing as way of life

A mother in Azad Kashmir has joined her husband in killing their 15-year-old daughter by dousing her with acid after seeing her talking to a young man. Her elder sister, less moved by a false sense of honour and more concerned about the crime her parents had committed, has demanded police investigation into the murder which could have been ignored because it was caused by the sense of ‘honour’, unofficially recognised in Pakistan as an element of mitigation. The state of Pakistan, too, pursues satisfaction of honour in foreign policy, demanding apologies where pragmatism would have benefited the people. Society has become violent under the unconsciously accepted behaviour norm of the Taliban. Out of all the citizens killed in the country for honour, over half are women, proving that use of violence to satisfy ‘honour’ is directed at women.

Aroused honour is a mitigating factor in our judicial system, which is a kind of concession to the primitiveness of our society. Education in the Islamic world is declining; and in Pakistan, it is in a state of collapse while the rising madrassas stoke the fire of honour instead of dousing it. Three constitutional territories in Pakistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), Swat and Azad Kashmir, had the best functioning primary education system, which were destroyed by the earthquake of 2005 and the bigger calamity of the school-destroying Taliban.

Our parliamentarians incline in favour of honour killing, as was witnessed in 1999 after a lady was honour-killed in the offices of human rights lawyers of Lahore demanding her right to marry by choice. The case became a cause célèbre and our Senate did not cover itself with glory when some senators opposed a resolution of condemnation because it went against the tradition of honour. Nothing happened to the killers and the two lawyers in whose office she was killed were condemned by agitators defending the honour killing.

The concept of ‘honour’ is vital for comprehending why men in certain primitive societies address any real or perceived breach in their honour in such extreme fashion. A study observes: “The conception of honour used to rationalise killings is founded on the notion that a person’s honour depends on the behaviour of others.” In order to protect men’s shame and honour, women are expected to behave modestly. This is borne out in many incidents of killing in Pakistan where sometimes the acts are perpetrated on the slimmest suspicion of shameful conduct on the part of the woman. Significantly, manliness and shame are complementary qualities in relation to honour.

When a female member is seen to violate an honour norm, the whole family experiences shame. Killing a wayward woman is seen as an act of purification for the family and sometimes, even not doing it quickly enough is perceived to be damaging to the family honour. Women are constantly under threat because any act on their part can bring shame and dishonour to the male members of a family. Pakistan’s tribal belts in K-P, Balochistan, Sindh and south Punjab have always given evidence of ‘honour killing’ focused on women of the household. In Sindh, karo-kari was the lowest point reached in this savagery: knowing that the man involved in the incident could not be killed, the man of the household usually killed his wife to re-establish himself in the esteem of his neighbours. But this primitive ritual is now spreading into the rest of civilised Pakistan. It can be called the re-tribalisation of Pakistan under a mistaken sense of Islamisation force-fed into our psyche by the growing strength of the Taliban in our cities.

The ‘reinterpretation’ of the Malala incident in some circles is Pakistan’s return to the primitive stages of humanity. Malala Yousufzai became a symbol of the rise of feminine consciousness that contributes to civilisation. Primitive honour demands that our female children be kept away from higher consciousness so that we produce only mothers like the one who helped in the killing of her daughter in Azad Kashmir.


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