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Jul
29

The writer is a former adviser to the Dutch government on public policy and currently a Paris-based researcher at the Institute for Research on Development (IRD). He tweets @mrsultan713

The writer is a former adviser to the Dutch government on public policy and currently a Paris-based researcher at the Institute for Research on Development (IRD). He tweets @mrsultan713

Qandeel Baloch’s murder by her brother in Multan for the sake of so-called honour has seen ‘condemnations’ from all sides. The insinuation seems to be that all are unanimous in their condemnation of the scourge that is honour killing. However, anyone following their social media feeds or conversations with their friends and family will soon discover that this unanimity is an illusion. If we do not admit the ills of our society, how can we hope to transcend them?

How often have we heard the ‘knockout’ question, “If it was your sister, what would you have done?” Well, how about, not murdering your sister in cold blood? Or perhaps even more common is to hear, “It was wrong for her brother to kill her but (insert justification of murder).”

This is exactly the problem, that is, we have a sizable segment of our society which is adamant that Qandeel’s behaviour made the murder at least partly justified. This point of view is shared not by selected right-wing politicians or regressive clerics, but society at large. Even many of our ‘liberals’, while expounding their denunciation of a bare-faced murder, feel compelled to qualify it.

With these attitudes nurturing, stronger laws alone will not, cannot, prevent more brothers from joining the ranks of Waseem, Qandeel’s brother. It is no wonder that we see over a thousand reported cases of ‘honour’ killings annually.

I write this article primarily for the future brothers weighing in on whether to pursue the path taken by Waseem. I assure you, I will try my best not to demonise you but rather appeal to you. You can of course reject my plea, reject my arguments but do hear me out.

But how, you ask, can a murder of a person flaunting what society holds dear, be a tragedy? Because honour is an illusory concept and murder is real.

When I say that honour is a figment of our imagination, I do not mean to say that the shame felt by you is unreal. As Usman Mahar, an anthropologist studying South Asian gender norms, recently pointed out to me, “The way our communities are organised make the shame felt when a woman violates social norms very real indeed.”

Nevertheless, what I am saying is that when you juxtapose it with taking a human life, the shame, the honour and the stigma are all abstract. Our understanding of honour and shame is a product of our cultural and social evolution. Many don’t even remember this, but years ago in our culture, feelings of shame and indignation gripped the family if a man went outside the house without a cap and a stick. Ergo, what is considered shameful changes over time. Shame and honour are not immutable forces of nature which require an equilibration; these are quirks of time and place.

But murder is real. By taking Qandeel’s life, Waseem took away her hopes, her aspirations, the bad she would do, the good she would do, the roads taken and the roads not taken — all of this was snatched away from her in an instant.

The murder once and for all put an end to all that. But for what? For safeguarding and equilibrating the ‘honour’ of the family. This is the real tragedy — the victory of the unreal over the real.

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