“Honour crime” is a term I find so frustrating for two reasons – quite often Western media coin this term for any form of domestic abuse involving South Asians, and secondly I fail to understand how hurting, or worse, killing your own flesh and blood could be honourable in any way.
The term first hit home personally when five years ago my home was broken into, which left my father shot in the chest and brother stabbed in the abdomen. By the grace of God, the injuries were not life-threatening. However, the police inquired whether it was an honour crime…can you believe it?!
Apparently a witness had seen an argument between me and one of the attackers – who was White – and from this the detective investigating the case questioned if that was my boyfriend who apparently came to attack my father because he allegedly was against the relationship. The detective clearly asked: “is this an honour related incident?”
I’ll never forget those words because it was such an absurd conspiracy he had concocted from virtually no evidence and based it on my ethnicity. Ridiculous!
Ironically, if this story had circulated as a rumour at the time then it would be considered dishonourable by my family and community – an Indian girl with a White man.
In the past week, something much more sinister happened in the name of so-called family honour.
A brother killed his sister because he believed she was bringing shame onto her family.
This sister happened to be a Pakistani social media star, Qandeel Baloch, who exercised her freedom to speak her mind, act as she wished and wear what she desired. But such basic human rights many of us women exercise were unbearable for her brother.
If any consolation can be found in the 26-year-old’s tragic story, then it’s her elderly father who described her as his son and “best friend”. I find it amazing that somebody from the older generation had no qualms with her lifestyle, yet her brother, who was a year younger than her (25), was proud of murdering her. Shocking!
Violence, mental abuse and murder in the name of honour are nothing new in South Asian cultures. It’s often directed at women but men can also be subjected to it if they’re considered to be bringing shame to the family.
It’s not just archaic traditions that impose certain expectations on people to live a certain way, marry people from a certain community, dress a certain way, and so on; but the overriding misogynist view of supressing women.
Female empowerment is intolerable by people who exercise such warped views. And this fear is usually rooted by insecurity.
If a woman shows she is intelligent and talented enough to have a career, bold enough to stand shoulder to shoulder with men, hardworking enough to hold a family simultaneously and courageous enough to speak her mind; she is showing she doesn’t need a man – be he in the form of a protective father, brother or husband. This must freak insecure men out.
A few years ago my cousin said something that we found funny at the time but it clearly defines patriarchy that exists in British Asians too.
She wasn’t allowed to cut her hair short because it “doesn’t look very respectable”. She would say “the whole family’s izzat [honour] lies in my hair”. Yet her brother could cut his hair however he liked.
As I said, it may sound comical but this was a simple act of freedom she was not allowed to exercise, despite being born and raised in Britain.
Another frustrating thing about patriarchal thinking is the blame on women. Victims of rape are often blamed because they were at the wrong place or dressed inappropriately or somehow luring a man to a state that he can’t control where he forces his genitalia.
One of the most read newspapers in Britain, The Sun, ran a headline this week that did just that: elude to a rape victim’s responsibility over what she endured.
The paper’s tweet claiming “Woman ‘drank six Jagerbombs in ten minutes on the night she was raped and murdered’” received a huge backlash from men and women questioning why the woman’s alcohol consumption had anything to do with her rape and murder.
It’s this sort of character profiling and stereotyping of women being a certain way if they do certain things that feeds into misogyny and claims of dishonour. And this paper is far from South Asia where such attitudes are often reported about.
I too have faced hurdles of what my family does or doesn’t permit because as a girl there are things that don’t bode well in the community.
But can you ever please a community? People who have no lives of their own will snoop on others – usually through mediums like Facebook – and judge others because they simply have nothing better to do.
Qandeel Baloch was a celebrity and she faced the same backlash, but that didn’t hinder her spirit to live her life as she pleased.
Before people question their daughters, they need to question their sons who sexually abuse women verbally, physically and mentally.
If they don’t like their sister being looked at in a derogatory way, why do they feel its okay to look at another man’s sister in the same manner?
If you fear your sister being treated or perceived in a certain way, it’s most likely because you look at women in that same light. What does that make you?
Why must women be repressed or abused because of others’ insecurity?