After an Indian woman’s atrociously brutal gang-rape aboard a bus in New Delhi, India generated heated protest among women as they hoped to alter the prevalent negative attitude that Indians held about the women in their country. However, these desperate protests are overshadowed by yet another example of brutality against women that is and has been prevalent in India, Pakistan, and the Middle East. The ancient practice of “honor killings” is being fiercely defended by Indian community leaders, as they uphold this process of cruelty as an acceptable form of maintaining family honor. Honor killings typically involve the murder of a young woman who has “disobeyed” beliefs of family “honor” or even “purity.” Such “disobediences” may involve anything from eloping with a man who is not accepted by the woman’s family to rejecting an arranged marriage or wearing revealing clothing in public. Before marriage, women are seen as property of their fathers, and after marriage, property of their husbands. For this reason, when a woman “disobeys” her father in any form of fashion, straying away from his expectations even in a minute way, the dominant male figure in the woman’s life feels it a necessary responsibility to punish the woman for attempting to break away from the tradition of being submissive to males.
“We should avoid attacking people in different cultures without understanding the specific complexities of that situation,” said Madhu Purnima Kishwar, founder of the women’s rights organization, Manushi. Honor killings occur among the “peace-loving and law-abiding people of the village and not among the mischievous families.” In analyzing the culture in which these killings occur, it is important to understand the mindset the family withholds when performing the honor killings. Because ‘love marriages’ are often times socially, customarily, and traditionally prohibited due to their similarities with “western” marriages, relationships that break away from the age-old customs and traditions of marriage create great controversy in the community, which greatly impacts the family of the lovers. Once everyone in the community learns about the “disobedience” that the young girls have committed by breaking away from societal norms, the family of the girl is usually attacked by hostile taunts from everyone in the community, and this aspect forces them to commit such heinous crime of killing the couple on the pleas of saving the honor of their families in the eyes of the villagers. In this culture, a family’s reputation is the most significant part of its identity, and therefore, society permits parents to murder children for the sole purpose of securing their reputation and honor. Of course, the families that perform these honor killings cannot be representative of all Indian families, but the authoritarian attitude shown towards women is one that must be altered. The established belief that society should be “male-dominated” must be revised in order to allow women the chance to break away from societal expectations to create a community where women are given the power to make life decisions for themselves (as all individuals should be given this chance) and the power to correct the transgressions of a society that fights to keep women submissive to the orders of men.
by Bushra Islam