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Women's Oppression


Rita Manchanda

BEYOND HONOUR: A HISTORICAL MATERIALIST EXPLANATION OF HONOUR RELATED VIOLENCE
By Tahira S. Khan
Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2006, pp. 362, Rs. 495.00

IN THE NAME OF HONOUR: A MEMOIR
By Mukhtar Mai
Virago, London, 2006, pp. 172, Rs. 395.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 3 March 2007

The title Beyond Honour signals Tahira Khan’s intention to locate the crimes labelled by the media as ‘honour’ killings. beyond an abstract notion of honour derived from obscurantist customs and practices, and within the historical context of women’s oppression over the centuries and the economic and material conditions that have produced misogynistic religious, legal, cultural and political institutions.   From the 1990s, in the international discourse on Violence Against Women, attention has been increasingly focused on the sensational reports of women brutally killed by family members, in the name of defending family honour. Moreover, these crimes were associated with certain religious and ethnic areas, i.e. largely in Muslim societies. As Asma Jehangir, the UN Rapporteur on extra-judicial killings observed, ‘The practice of honour killings is more prevalent although not limited to countries where the majority of the population is Muslim’. The international media projected honour related violence in such a way that Islam and Muslim culture was highlighted, deliberately. Implicit was the message that there was a relationship between such crimes and Islam. In particular, Pakistan was singled out for such henious practices as karo kari in Sind and Punjab, Sia-kari in Baluchistan and Tor Tor in the north western areas. Clubbed under the paradigm of ‘honour’ i.e. the coercion of female relatives on the basis of an honour/shame code revolving around male control of female sexuality, are misogynistic practices such as vani (giving a daughter as blood money), gang rape of enemy’s woman, acid attacks, suicides, forced marriages, sale of girls and killings by family members, all socially sanctioned, decreed by local jirgas and enforced within a culture of impunity.   According to official statistics presented to the Pakistan Senate in July 2004, ‘karo kari’ claimed the lives of 4000 women (and men) in the last six years. According to the report of an NGO, ‘those who kill in the name of honour are acquitted 72% of the time in Punjab’. Khan’s study surveys the widespread prevalence of ‘honour’ killings in Muslim societies—Turkey, Morocco, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and in immigrant Muslim societies in Europe. By bracketing honour killings with crimes of passion, Khan widens the scope to include ‘machismo’ Latin cultures. While the paradigms of family ‘honour’ killings and spousal ‘passion’ violence draw from a common misogynistic social and legal culture centring on male ownership and control of female sexuality, there are crucial distinctions, not ...


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