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Sunday, November 26, 2023

What is not Honor: Redefining Honor in South Asia

Pakistan has one of the highest incidences of honor killings in the world. This is a major human rights issue that has received little attention outside of human rights groups and women activist networks. The concept of honor in Pakistan is linked with certain toxic masculine attitudes and behaviors demonstrated in both public and private spheres.

The concept of honor in Pakistan is linked with certain toxic masculine attitudes and behaviors demonstrated in both public and private spheres. Enough has been said about honor in the social context of South Asia. Raising some thought-provoking questions might help us think beyond the status quo. Thus, if we ought to have the concept of ghairat (honor) to guide masculine attitudes, let us attempt to readjust its focus.

There are certain individual attitudes that are associated with developed societies and another set is associated with developing societies. Developed societies have successfully oriented honor with higher moral standards such as human dignity and value conformity to ethical standards. Here, it is important to correct the meaning of ghairat by understanding what not honor is. Its meaning is not simple, for the entire web of social relationships in our society is knitted around honor. However, duality is observed in the practices associated with honor (ghairat) that need realignment. This concept has broad spectrum of meanings that need explanation in a  specific context.

Read more: Pakistan’s dishonorable conduct in politics

A lot of personality defects define the concept of ghairat

The notion of honor and the honorable is considered diminished when a dishonorable action takes place. Here, it is important to  know that the actions which are regarded as ‘Bai-ghairati’ (dishonor) are actually the actions favoring women’s freedoms. A dishonorable person is one who fails to control women in his family. The most important is the control of spousal choice. Usually, hearing the word ‘baighairat generates an extreme reaction in the form of anger demonstration among men. Considering a woman as a man’s respect seems quite fascinating if it is about protecting women from any kind of harm in society. That said, the question we must answer is this: why isn’t dishonor associated with the failure to protect the freedom of women?

Keeping commitments and owning one’s words have long been understood as masculine qualities. Let’s put it this way, why not these are taken as a unisex trait that everyone can have, irrespective of gender. Redefinition of honor demands changes in underlying attitudinal dispositions, which most important is being a unisex quality. Honor must belong to every individual primarily as part of individual morality. Why can’t women have honor like men? But again, both men and women need to have their honor that is attached to keeping higher values and moral standards such as fidelity, trustworthiness, and financial self-sufficiency.

In addition, over-reliance and financial burdening on intimate or marriage partners, irrespective of their gender should be associated with the ghairat of dependents. A huge segment of the Pakistani population lives as dependents where the head of a typical household is responsible for earning for the family. The children think that their parents have the righteous responsibility to spend on them until their death. The housewives and children burden the only breadwinner of the family with their wishes to lead a lavish life, which leads to malpractices of corruption and shortcuts to earning money. Why isn’t it honorable to be financially independent? Paying your own bills must be in fashion and must be promoted through mass media. However, spending on those in need and old parents should be considered as honor, too.

Read more: Syed Ali Geelani: Honoring a life dedicated to fighting oppression

The duality in the traditional construction of the concept of ghairat

This concept might be understood by illustrating that a man agrees to take dowry from his bride’s parents and thinks he is so extra-ordinary and deserves to get a handsome dowry package. Despite bringing dowry in the house of in-laws or of her husband, a girl has to look towards her husband for household decisions, especially when it comes to finances. The man gets authority over verifying decisions even in the cases where a wife is earning more than her husband.

Why a man’s honor is not threatened by taking dowry from his  bride’s family? Also, why isn’t his honor dealt a severe blow by not giving the right of inheritance to the legitimately rightful? At the macro level, it is not part of man’s honor to take hush money and cosseting any form of corruption. Why isn’t taking favor from anyone an action hurting the honor of a man? Giving right of inheritance, it must be stated, is not synonymous to doing a favor or showing kindness in a mortifying manner. In South Asian societies, the most brazen forms of demonstrations to protect honor are expressed in  honor killings

Why is it not dishonorable for a man to take dowry and other financial favors from bride’s family in times of crisis and not being self-sufficient to have a wife? It would be reasonable to argue that accepting dowry is akin to considering money earned through illicit means as your own. Why is it OK for all dependent population to take such favors? Why aren’t such actions and traditions lowering the dignity, and honor (ghairat) of a man?

Consequently, unconditional love is diminishing from our society. Dignified social exchange is not taking place. It is not possible to deny the exchange theory assumptions in South Asian societies. But questionS abound as to  why exchange is needed in human society. Perhaps, it is needed for the misuse of the privileges we get. Mother’s love is not unconditional for her children given  she makes one realize from time to time that when her  son will grow up he will take care of her. In relationships, be they  on-campus intimacies or marriages, individuals aspire to have a partner who is financially stronger. The ones who can offer something are appreciated.

Read more: Honor killing in Shikarpur: Is Karo Kari still common in rural Sindh?

Face value is more important than the inherent personality traits a person has. Why isn’t a  man’s honor associated with having higher parameters to select a spouse in contrast to having tacky aspirations of espousing fair complexioned, beautiful, and rich girl.

Why isn’t an intellectually incapable and irresponsible man leading a household towards destruction questioned and berated? Even in case, a competent and smart woman is the partner, major decisions are taken by the man in the house,  irrespective of his intellectual capabilities. Women earning more than their partners do not have independence of decision making in our society. If a woman tries to take these decisions all by herself ,  the society calls her imperious and unmanageable that requires castigation through beating in order to be corrected.

Terms such as ungoverned [munh zor], fledging [par nikal ana] are commonly used to refer to such a woman which prevents women from attempting to surpass their male partners. Consequently, the families bear the burden of wrong decisions made by the head of a family. Even if  woman earns more than her husband, the latter is licensed to control  the family and take charge of financial matters.

Ghairat should also mean only getting what you deserve

Men who have been making wrong decisions in their early years, especially during examinations and tests, keep on making wrong choices in their marital lives. Low performers in school are more likely to make bad decisions in their lives and generally lack the sense of responsibility and manage to put their burden on others. This lack of responsibility must be deemed of as ‘baighairati.

Why are men who smoke given a free pass while women who do the same are stigmatized? What’s more, public demonstration of violence and aggression against womenhas increased since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Media reportage of incidents and inadequate policing and justice system has encouraged common men to harass women in public places. Public demonstration of antagonism and disrespecting women after the Minar-e-Pakistan incident on Independence Day have increased manifold.

Read more: Honoring the Kashmiris’ undefeatable fighting spirit

It should be honorable for brothers to protect the right of inheritance of their sisters. We need a  strong realization of not occupying what belongs to someone else. Of course, how your honor could let you take possession of something which is not yours. One should understand that it is more honorable for, let’s say, a brother, to let her sister choose her spouse, rather than kill her for daring to even contemplate exercising her choice.



Dr. Aisha Jalil is an  Assistant Professor in the School of Integrated Social Sciences, University of Lahore. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space