In the Name of Honour

She was lying on her bed. Her lips were moving in silent prayer. She probably knew she was about to die. Her two nieces, one aged four and another two, came running into the room and settled on her bed. He ascended the stairs with a fully loaded 9-mm hand-gun, entered his sister’s room and fired nine bullets at her. When she calmed down after the initial spasms of death, he asked his wife and mother to carry the body to the backyard and burn it. The by-standers carried out his orders. He beckoned to his children and asked them to commit the scene they just saw to memory. For if they challenged the honour of their sect, they would meet similar doom.

She was Hammad Abu-Ghanem – a member of a Pakistani house-hold of six sisters and one brother. Three of her sisters had been previously shot dead by their brother, Rahmad, when they started meeting their male class-mates after school. One of them was hacked to death when she fell in love with a rickshaw puller. The youngest, Amina, 12, was burnt alive when she became pregnant after Rahmad and few of his friends gang-raped her. Hammad’s “crime” was apparently her long-hours of telephonic conversations and being seen talking to a male cousin. The most unsettling thing at the murder scene was the awful silence- Nobody cried, nobody spoke. Hammad lost her life to honour. The regime of honour is unforgiving. Women on whom suspicion has fallen are not given an opportunity to defend themselves, and family members have no socially acceptable alternative but to remove the stain on their honour by attacking the woman. A woman has a right to life only as long as she obeys social norms and traditions. When honour is associated with killing, a heinous crime perpetrates: “honour killing”. Killing to efface the ‘stain’ on the honour and dignity of the family, community or tribe. This stain comes from a variety of alleged offences, such as, committing adultery or fornication, refusing an arranged marriage, being the victim of sexual assault by someone who is not a part of the family (in case the assaulter is your brother, father or a cousin, choice to commit suicide is given as a relaxation), seeking divorce from an abusive husband, having a relationship outside family’s religious affiliations, homosexuality and desire for second marriage. Women who bridge social divides, participate in public life (for example, in feminist and integration politics) or show their want to pursue higher education may also be attacked in the name of honour.

Honour killing applies to both men and women across cultures and religions that practice it. But, against every one male, 150 females are killed in the name of punitive murder. A woman’s chastity is the “honour” of the community and she has no sovereign right over her body at any point of her life. The retribution is particularly swift and brutal if she crosses caste and class barriers to choose a lower-caste man as her partner. In a case in Haryana, a Dalit mother was gang-raped and thrown inside the village well by the Yadav community. Her crime was that her son had eloped with a Yadav’s daughter. When the couple was caught, they were made to live on excreta and urine for a week before being hacked to death in the play-ground of the village school. Though, the classes were not interrupted. Horrific for us, everyday for them.

Honour killings occur in a distressingly large swathe of the world. Reports submitted to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights show that honour killings have occurred in Bangladesh, Great Britain, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Sweden, Turkey, and Uganda. It is impossible to get precise numbers on the phenomenon of honour killings because the murders frequently go unreported. Time and again a report is launched by a woman with a cut tongue or a mutilated eye-ball. But the file closes as the unfortunate female is cornered and killed before she could give her statement. Preposterous legislations can be discerned in this regard. In Morocco, Article 418 of the Penal Code says, “Murder, injury and beating are excusable if they are committed by a husband on his wife as well as the accomplice at the moment in which he surprises them in the act of adultery.” This shameless symbol of chauvinism is replicated in the Penal Codes of Syria, Jordan and Haiti. In Latin America, wife killings were considered “non-criminal” until 1991. Thus, the misogynist ideology that woman is a property is down in black and white. It is Constitution !How can countries afford to speak about Globalization and Space when they still believe that honour lies in between a woman’s legs ? In India, the Central Government’s stand is clear. S.S. Ahluwalia, BJP, member of the Rajya Sabha, in the capacity as the Indian representative at the UN’s Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee, contested the claim of the United Nations Special Reporter that honour killings occurred in India. He is reported to have said: “Selective reproduction of unsubstantiated reports, which are based on hearsay, seriously affects the credibility and importance of the report.” He was referring to U.N.’s report, which stated that the Special Reporter continued to receive reports of so-called honour killings from India. Eyes wide shut. In the name of honour, sanctity, religion or civilization? Pre-election campaigns make vague references to this issue but nothing has been done as yet.

Committed under the garb of ‘honour’ by men who think that women are a factory for making men – this act of butchery finds no sympathy with mothers. By tragically pragmatic miscalculations, the protector of the clan, the mother may support an honour killing of an “offending” daughter in order to preserve the honour of other female family members since many men in these societies will refuse to marry the sister of a “shamed” female. What is the solution? The handiest suggestion which pipes to the mind is – “women literacy and awareness”. But isn’t it this progress which is getting them killed? Upon meeting people of different backgrounds in educational institutions and defying family norms, they are falling prey in the name of “honour”. Sadly, educated males in the society will stop at nothing to stamp their superiority – more aggressively so as they know that the fairer sex is capable of rubbing shoulders with them. According to a survey carried out by the Palestinian Human Rights Monitor, some rather shocking results came forth. On the question that whether women should have the same rights as men, the answer was “strongly disagree” by 55 per cent of the men and sadly 43 per cent of the women. 2 in four women didn’t think so, while 2 in 3 men didn’t think that women should have the same rights. We still live the dark ages. This barbaric and widely hailed act of “honour killing” should be evidence enough. Shakespeare said: “Mine honour is my life, both grow in one, take honour from me, and my life is done.” The problem seems to be in the way men define their honour and take away their women’s life instead. My reaction to this is visceral. A fervent rush of adrenaline to throw acid on the next murderer. Now that religion has failed, legislation has given up, can the people take it upon them to rid the society of this pestilential capacity. It will be a long grind to freedom.

Bhavna Tripathy

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