Honour or dishonour?

WHERE did the term `honour killing` come from? What is so honourable about conspiring to kill a female family member if she chooses to marry of her own free will? How long will women have to suffer this fate at the hands of the menfolk in their family or community? A recent article in Dawn discussed another statistic in the mounting data of honour killings at home and abroad an immigrant Pakistani family settled in Italy killed their daughter because she refused to marry a Pakistani boy of their choice back home. Instead, she wanted to spend the rest of her life with her Italian boyfriend.

Filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy won an Oscar for her documentary on honour killings, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness. She was lauded by the international community for being courageous enough to highlight a problem that has plagued this part of the world for aeons. If argued religiously, Islam is very vocal on the subject and grants equal rights to men and women to marry of their own choice.

Then why are women treated as children of a lesser God? Is family honour solely their responsibility? A recent television serial, Razia, also dealt with the treatment of females as second-class citizens, and touched upon the curse of honour killing as Razia`s brother and father, suspicious about her involvement with someone, conspire to kill her.

However, destiny intervenes and she escapes unscathed. The play, starring Mahira Khan, was extremely well-made and highlighted irrational and twisted attitudes of society without any overblown drama. The six-episode production was a laudable endeavour in the way in which it addressed so many social issues crisply, without a long-drawn-out narrative.

Feudal mindsets and misogynistic attitudes are largely to blame for the proliferation of this crime.

Historically, and even in contemporary times, women in feudal setups are expected to relinquish their share of the property voluntarily and those who resist are ostracised and vilified by the community. This mindset is particularly entrenched in southern Punjab where females are sometimes wedded to the Quran in order to keep property within the family.

Ironically, while we are being encouraged to embrace the ways of the 21st century, our regressive and patriarchal society is bent on pushing us into medieval times. The article about the honour killing in Italy validates this dichotomy.

Despite living in the Western world, theprimitive and bigoted outlook of some South Asians there is too deeply embedded to be uprooted easily.

Education, although it will alleviate the issue to a certain extent, is not the solution. Awareness and a conscious effort to bring about a shift in this way of thinking will serve as the magic bullet for the menace. As long as women are treated as second-class citizens and the ingrained hatred towards them remains deep-seated in our societal fabric, not a lot, I am afraid, can be achieved.

Endeavours like Ms Chinoy`s documentary on the issue are steps in the right direction. She was accused of giving her country a bad name on a global platform but at least she had the courage to depict realities which very few have the courage to even speak about. Honour killings, in any part of the world, should be denounced and condemned repeatedly and the documentary is only a drop in the ocean.

Attempting to bring about change is akin to attempting the impossible.However, small steps go a long way so even a dentis an achievement. More celebrities and public figures should espouse this cause and criticise the primitive and barbaric practice more vehemently. I am quite sure that plays and films on the subject willdraw significant attention to the medieval `ritual` that is gaining traction, rather than being curbed and controlled.

Pakistan is already viewed as a failed state where it has been proved time and again that women, comprising 51 per cent of the population, inevitably get the short end of the stick. Women must be respected, loved and treated as equals. The founder of this nation, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, made it abundantly clear that for this country to prosper and march ahead, the women have to play a significant role.

And increasingly, as they emerge as a force to be reckoned with, women are becoming hard to ignore and their voices and identities tough to quash. At a time when Pakistan is sinking into a political and economic quagmire and struggles to stay afloat, we need enlightened, educated and strong women to become a pivotal part of rehabilitative endeavours. • The wúter is an educationist.


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