13 Dec 2010

Honour killings may be culturally driven, but the cultures that practice it are all religious

National Post - Canada July 7, 2010

Honour killings must be confronted here at home

by Barbara Kay | Columnist


U.K. Actress Afshan Azad (best known as Hogwarts student “Padma” in the Harry Potter film series) escaped death in May when her brother, in collusion with his father, allegedly attempted to murder her in her Manchester home. Still-cryptic reports suggest an attempted honour killing motivated by the young woman’s relationship with an “unnamed man.”

Most troubling was the incidental note that “both [Azad’s] parents were born and educated in the U.K.” They did not fit the category of unassimilated immigrants, which we typically associate with honour killings in the West.

Anyone raised in the West fully comprehends our democratic commitment to equality of worth, and a daughter’s right to plot her life course according to individual conscience. Yet the clear message that girls and women may not be treated as chattel has yet to penetrate the cultural armour of many immigrant communities — particularly South Asian immigrant communities — even into the third generation.

Honour killings are few in number so far in Canada — only about a dozen cases in recent years, in which the killers identified honour as their motive (other suspected cases are recorded as accidents or suicides). But killings are only the extreme end of a spectrum of culturally-driven misogynistic behaviours. Muslim men perpetrate the majority of honour killings, but the obsessive focus on family honour and shame that suffuses traditional Islamic immigrant cultures is common to most South Asian religious communities — including Sikhs and Christians.

What is to be done? In a June 18 National Post column, “We just need to try harder,” Chris Selley prescribed education: alert girls and women to their rights and direct them to available resources.

But teenager Aqsa Parvez, killed by her father and brother after a lifetime of indignity under the tyranny of a crowded household, was eager to integrate, knew her rights and sought help from all available resources.

That is, the system “worked,” but it couldn’t trump cultural obsessions.

For a deeper appreciation of attitudes prevalent in homes such as those of Aqsa Parvez, Amandeep Singh Atwal (a Kitimat, B.C., girl stabbed to death by her father in 2003 for dating a non-Sikh boy) and Amandeep Kaur Dhillion (killed by her father-in-law in a Toronto-area grocery store last year), Canadians should read a forthcoming Frontier Centre for Public Policy report, scheduled for release July 12, Culturally Driven Violence Against Women: A Growing Problem in Canada’s Immigrant Communities.

The paper’s author, Aruna Papp, is ethnically Indian — she was born in the Punjab and emigrated to Canada as a young mother — and Christian by upbringing. For 30 years, Papp has been counselling Canadian men and women of South Asian extraction who are trapped in cultures that extol honour and shame.

Papp’s stated purposes in writing the paper are to urge government policies that would “blunt the effect of these detrimental and destructive cultural traditions” and to “encourage a systemic acceleration of Canadianization with regard to values of gender equality.”

One useful component of the paper is a discussion of hierarchies in traditional South Asian families — roles count, not individuals — and the pecking order of inheritance and power rights. Papp writes that in such cultures, the socialization of children into rigid gender roles begins at birth and continues through constant “brainwashing.” For example, ritual community celebrations greet the birth of a son, but only “solicitous empathy” marks the birth of a girl. She points to the high incidence of “forced” second-trimester abortion as proof of a community-wide contempt for the female sex.

Papp believes Westernization on gender issues is long overdue. The paper does not pander to notions of multicultural entitlement. She forthrightly scolds South Asian community leaders who encourage a widespread conspiracy of silence around girl and woman abuse, and who “consciously exploit multiculturalism-inspired fears amongst mainstream Canadians of appearing racist or of perpetuating cultural stereotypes.”

Political correctness amongst influential heritage Canadians is equally to blame, though. In order not to “racialize” honour killings, for example, law enforcement and media unhelpfully describe them as “domestic violence” or “domestic homicide,” which is a different social and cultural phenomenon from an honour killing. At the other extreme, Papp heaps scorn on judges who favour soft sentencing for heinous crimes executed in a “cultural context.”

Statistically, women such as Afshan Azad, who have acculturated and become financially independent, are most at risk of punishment, Papp says, because their social and economic parity with men “often destabilizes the traditional dynamic of authoritative male and submissive female.”

Papp is one such independent woman, so knows whereof she speaks. When she divorced her abusive husband (an arranged marriage), she was denounced by her family and for years ostracized by her community for speaking out on the wider issues her experience implied.

Community shunning is keenly wounding. Papp well understands why many women she counsels prefer abuse and cultural security to liberation and cultural exile, a choice few Western women are forced to make.

Papp feels the government must introduce policies that override negative cultural imperatives, or the cycle of domestic tyranny will continue unabated. She ends her report with 14 reasonable and feasible recommendations. I hope the powers that be will heed them and act upon them.

This article was found at:

http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2010/07/07/5957/

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New York Times - July 9, 2010

In India, Castes, Honor and Killings Intertwine

By JIM YARDLEY


KODERMA, India — When Nirupama Pathak left this remote mining region for graduate school in New Delhi, she seemed to be leaving the old India for the new. Her parents paid her tuition and did not resist when she wanted to choose her own career. But choosing a husband was another matter.

Her family was Brahmin, the highest Hindu caste, and when Ms. Pathak, 22, announced she was secretly engaged to a young man from a caste lower than hers, her family began pressing her to change her mind. They warned of social ostracism and accused her of defiling their religion.

Days after Ms. Pathak returned home in late April, she was found dead in her bedroom. The police have arrested her mother, Sudha Pathak, on suspicion of murder, while the family contends that the death was a suicide.

The postmortem report revealed another unexpected element to the case: Ms. Pathak was pregnant.

“One thing is absolutely clear,” said Prashant Bhushan, a social activist and lawyer now advising Ms. Pathak’s fiancĂ©. “Her family was trying their level best to prevent her from marrying that boy. The pressure was such that either she was driven to suicide or she was killed.”

In India, where the tension between traditional and modern mores reverberates throughout society, Ms. Pathak’s death comes amid an apparent resurgence of so-called honor killings against couples who breach Hindu marriage traditions.

This week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ordered a cabinet-level commission to consider tougher penalties in honor killings.

In June, India’s Supreme Court sent notices to seven Indian states, as well as to the national government, seeking responses about what was being done to address the problem.

The phenomenon of honor killings is most prevalent in some northern states, especially Haryana, where village caste councils, or khap panchayats, often operate as an extralegal morals police force, issuing edicts against couples who marry outside their caste or who marry within the same village — considered a religious violation since villages are often regarded as extended families.

Even as the court system has sought to curb these councils, politicians have hesitated, since the councils often control significant vote blocs in local elections.

New cases of killings or harassment appear in the Indian news media almost every week. Last month, the police arrested three men for the honor killings of a couple in New Delhi who had married outside their castes, as well as the murder of a woman who eloped with a man from another caste.

Two of the suspects are accused of murdering their sisters, and an uncle of the slain couple spoke of their murders as justifiable.

“What is wrong in it?” the uncle, Dharmaveer Nagar, told the Indian news media. “Murder is wrong, but this is socially the best thing that has been done.”

Intercaste marriages are protected under Indian law, yet social attitudes remain largely resistant. In a 2006 survey cited in a United Nations report, 76 percent of respondents deemed the practice unacceptable. An overwhelming majority of Hindu couples continue to marry within their castes, and newspapers are filled with marital advertisements in which parents, seeking to arrange a marriage for a son or daughter, specify caste among lists of desired attributes like profession and educational achievement.

“This is part and parcel of our culture, that you marry into your own caste,” said Dharmendra Pathak, the father of Ms. Pathak, during an interview in his home. “Every society has its own culture. Every society has its own traditions.”

Yet Indian society is also rapidly changing, with a new generation more likely to mix with people from different backgrounds as young people commingle on college campuses or in the workplace.

Ms. Pathak had studied journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communications in New Delhi before taking a job at a financial newspaper. At school, she had met Priyabhanshu Ranjan, a top student whose family was from a middle-upper caste, the Kayastha.

“The day I proposed, she said, ‘My family will not accept this. My family is very conservative,’ ” Mr. Ranjan recalled. “I used to try to convince her that once we got married, they would accept it.”

Ms. Pathak deliberated over the proposal for months before accepting in early 2009. Convinced her family would disapprove, she kept her engagement a secret for more than a year, until she learned that her father was interviewing prospective Brahmin grooms in New Delhi to arrange a marriage for her. Her parents were also renovating the family home for a wedding celebration.

Ms. Pathak called her oldest brother, Samarendra, who spent the next week trying to change her mind.

“What I told her was that the decision you have taken — there is nothing wrong with it,” he said. “But the society we live in will not accept it. You can’t transform society in a day. It takes time.”

When her father learned of the engagement, he wrote his daughter a letter and paid a surprise visit to New Delhi.

In the letter, the father acknowledged that such marriages were allowed under India’s Constitution, but argued that the Constitution had existed for only decades while Hindu religious beliefs dated back thousands of years.

At one point, Ms. Pathak’s mother called, crying, asking if they had wronged her in a past life.

The death of Ms. Pathak remains under investigation. Her body was discovered in her upstairs bedroom on the morning of April 29, while her mother was the only person at home. Initially, neighbors and family members said she had died from electrocution, but then later changed their story to say she had hanged herself. The police arrested the mother after the postmortem report concluded that Ms. Pathak had been suffocated.

But Ms. Pathak’s father and her two brothers have argued that the postmortem was flawed and claimed that her death had been a suicide. The family produced a suicide note and persuaded a local magistrate to order an investigation into Mr. Ranjan, the boyfriend — which his supporters have described as politically motivated.

Ms. Pathak’s pregnancy has also complicated the case. Mr. Ranjan said that he had been unaware of her condition, and her family told the police that they, too, had been unaware. But in an interview, the father and brothers changed their story, saying that Ms. Pathak confessed her pregnancy to her mother on the morning of her death.

For now, the case has polarized opinion. In Koderma, supporters of the Pathak family have rallied for the release of the mother from jail. In New Delhi, former classmates of Ms. Pathak and other supporters have held candlelight vigils, calling for the case to be prosecuted as an honor killing.

“This kind of the thing is increasing everywhere,” said Girija Vyas, a member of Parliament and the president of the National Commission of Women. “There should not be these things in the 21st century. These things must be stopped.”


Hari Kumar contributed reporting from Koderma, and Saimah Khwaja from New Delhi.



This article was found at:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/10/world/asia/10honor.html


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2 comments:

  1. Indian law does not prescribe the death penalty for a woman's sexual choices. Islam does. You can scrounge around for a few exceptions but the vaste majority of honor killings are done by Muslims upholding the principle that a woman who has sex without permission must die. Feminists have to get over cultural relativism if they are ever going to deal with this.

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  2. Regarding the comment above by Anonymous, this person compares a nation's laws (India) to a religion's dogma (Islam), which is a disingenuous way to argue, especially considering there is a great deal of disagreement among Muslims as to the correct interpretation of Islamic 'law'. This person then criticizes all feminists as if they all hold the same position on all issues. Again, an odd way to argue, using stereotypical generalizations and meaningless comparisons. Furthermore, arguing that the majority of honor killings are done by Muslims is no excuse and in no way diminishes similar abuses occurring in other religions including Hinduism and Christianity. That weak argument reminds of the Catholic apologists, from the Pope down, who point to a greater prevalence of child abuse in society as a way of deflecting attention and responsibility away from the abuses in their own religion. This person says you can scrounge around for a few exceptions, but you don't have to look far because the articles archived in this post, as well as in the related articles linked to, refer to a "resurgence of so-called honor killings against couples who breach Hindu marriage traditions". That quotation, by the way, was written by a male in the New York Times.

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