As societies we place a disproportionately large premium on family honour, on how we look from the outside, on taboos, secrets and masks. Trained from childhood to safeguard the family name, it is unthinkable to even recognise restraints or a muffling of personal freedom. Only as adults does the recognition of unfairness set in and then too there is self-doubt, a fear of exaggeration. Memories are notorious for being manipulative, so we wait for the past to absolutely ambush us into insomnia and illnesses before we take the extraordinary step to speak out, to seek outside help—aware all the time of the grand betrayal at work, of disloyalty to own flesh and blood.
From little girls being stoned to death for ‘provoking rape’ to murdering kin only because they love and lust out of the prescribed caste or gender, the crimes in the name of this paramount honour cover a rather grisly repertoire. In the victim’s view, if own family can’t stand by you, indeed can kill you in cold blood, then who to turn to? No police official, no doctor, no social worker can inspire trust when own uncles and dads come after you with scythes.
Lene Wold, in her soon-to-be-released book Inside an Honour Killing, chronicles the story of Amina, shot in the face aged sixteen for supporting a gay sister who was killed by her father. ‘Baba’, who had strangled his mother to death when he was young because she ran away from home to escape an abusive husband, never regrets murdering for a moment.
Siblings of Asian teenager Shafilea Ahmed, who was killed by her parents in 2003 in Warrington, England, won’t admit to witnessing the brutal act. A new documentary, When Missing Turns Into Murder, catalogues the events leading up to the arrest of the parents. ‘Westernisation’ seems to be why Shafilea was punished—for wearing sleeveless and texting boys.
Reshma Qureshi, an acid attack victim at seventeen, whose story is chronicled by her with Tania Singh in Being Reshma, remembers the incident as a blur. But one of intense and continuous pain. No one, she says, came to her rescue. And finally when someone did, she hugged him so tight she burnt him a bit too. Her brother-in-law, blaming her for supporting her sister’s decision to leave him, had publicly flung acid at her face for the deep dishonour his wife’s leaving him would have brought upon him. A man who can’t keep his wife! It was important for him to assert his ‘manliness’.
The 27-year-old woman in Srinagar, raped by her father, consumed poison and died. Except for a sister, who post her death spoke up, the lack of familial support was spectacular. The heartening note—if one can see any silver lining in these sad, sad cases—is that while families and neighbours aided and abetted these brutalities, it was eventually a sister standing up for her sister that brought most crimes to light. Even as mothers exhorted fathers to rein in the wayward daughters, siblings did not keep their mouth shut. If Shafilea’s sister, Alisha, had not testified against her parents even as other siblings chose silence, they would still be out there ‘protecting’ their children by firstname.lastname@example.org