a brief start to a dirty secret of the South Asian community
A boy is a piece of gold and a girl is a piece of silk; if you drop the gold in mud, it can be cleaned up. The silk however, cannot. I've heard a fair amount of analogies in my nineteen years. None have resonated so much disgust in my being more than this one.
It an intricate and complex issue, honour. Paramount to oxygen in many South Asian families, it has permeated through the generations and the authenticity behind it has become an ugly and twisted excuse to dominate women. It is an opulent word used to dress and validate the grotesque underbelly of crimes within families. The family commits the crime and the community hushes it up. Meticulously planned, there is little room for error and the ease of execution is disturbing. The era of political correctness means that local authorities consciously choose to turn a blind eye to crime in fear of being branded as racist. Where then, do you draw the line between culture and crime?
I read 'Shame' by Jasvinder Sanghera a few years ago. I was horrified that she was shown a picture of a stranger at the mere age of 14 and told that this was the man she was going to marry. Today I look back at that situation perplexed. What was being trivialized here? Marriage? Jasvinder? Stranger danger? Or perhaps it was all three. The most confusing aspect of it all was the fact that this was taking place in England; a place I had romanticized as being forward thinking and progressive, free from the shackles of a culture hell-bent on dominating women. Sanghera's memoir got me thinking. Was her family crazy or was this an issue that ran deeper?
I'm not going to lie and say that I started to dig around at all. I didn't. I was happily oblivious to this very real issue in my community. It wasn’t until I started studying literature at IB that I came across the word 'misogyny'. Loosely defined, the hate of women. That is when 'honour killings' started to resurface in my mind. What sort of twisted misogyny was this?
I have no interest in opinion polls and so called numbers and facts that trivialize and dehumanize the victims of these crimes to nothing but numbers on a page. I refuse to sit and listen to 'she was somebody's sister or daughter or wife or aunt' or any other denomination of a female relative that you can come up with. The victim was not important because of their relation to someone else. They were important. End of.
My community is patriarchal and I remember that there was a degree of fear that forced one to have respect for the male members of the family. I imagined it was similar in other families and as such, I did not question it. Respect for female members was present, however, it did not rely on fear for the most part. Fast forward a few years and puberty is beginning to hit. Emotions are complex and often confusing. The idea of a 'boyfriend' was shunned and interest in the opposite gender beyond anything purely platonic was discouraged. If anything that breached the very strict rules of 'no boyfriends' came to light, consequences would follow. The brunt of these borne by the girl 'at fault' and her mother, because who else but the mother is responsible right? Fair enough, my family has chosen to relax and listen at times to the hypocrisy of situations, but we have a long way to go. That being said, not all of my brown sisters fare so well.
Imagine a family that could pull you out of school simply for being seen talking to the opposite gender. Imagine a family that forcibly gets you married to a stranger because your secret boyfriend was fund out. Imagine a family that kills the boy that gave you your first love letter on the pretext of protecting you. Imagine a family that betroths you to someone you have never met. Imagine having to pretend you walked into a door all your life because your relationship is abusive and you don’t know if you'll be killed or your children will be hurt should you say anything. Imagine the idea of divorce is unimaginable to your family despite the fact that you are raped every night. Imagine being unable to confide in your female in-laws because they too suffer the same. Imagine a life where your education is wasted and you become a house wife in with a degree on the wall. Imagine acid thrown in your face because you kissed a boy. Imagine being disowned because you had sex before marriage. Imagine a world where 'honour' was more important than your happiness, safety and security simply and purely because you are a woman.
These are the shackles worn by my brown sisters for whom this is not an imaginary hell but a reality with little escape. How dare I speak up for the right to live my life on my terms. How dare I choose to be different and not satisfy the male ego. How dare I intimidate a man. How dare I do more than exist.
It appears to be futile to change the thinking of a patriarchal society over night but I will appeal to my brown sisters. We wear these shackles. How can we choose to pretend this doesn't happen just because we are lucky enough for it not to affect us directly. Why do we stay quiet when our equality is challenged? How many times are we going to be suppressed before we realise that there is power within us? When do we say it is enough? At what point do we ignite the fires in our hearts and burn this misogyny? Woman is not synonymous with sacrifice. Woman is synonymous with Queen. It is time we understood that.