What Is Honour? Just A Word

The victim’s ‘dishonouring’ is not limited to her, it extends to her family, her clan, her community. Which is why sexual violence is so high, inevitable, in communal and ethnic conflicts
What Is Honour? Just A Word
What Is Honour? Just A Word
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Sowmya Rajendran| June 4, 2014| 1.52 pm ISTWe’ve all seen the pictures by now. Two young girls, strung up from a tree. A crowd gathered around them, demanding justice. You can’t run away from the headlines that tell you that there are others. This is by no means the only horrific instance of violence against women in the country. If you are in doubt, you can look it up on Google, as Akhilesh Yadav has told us very kindly. Ah, the benefits of having a young, educated Chief Minister!And there will be more, of course. The reasons could be many. It could be your caste, it could be your religion, it could be your class, it could be that your attacker and your father quarreled. Or simply that you were there to be attacked. (It was the wrong time, the wrong place, the wrong dress, the defense of the accused will tell you.)And inevitably, there will be the platitudes about the woman and her honour. A woman’s honour is priceless, after all. As if that’s the most terrible thing that has happened, not the brutality wreaked on her body, not the violation of her bodily integrity. Not even her death. Because it is better to die than live like a zindalaash, surely? The movies tell us so routinely.Women who have suffered sexual violence either die or commit suicide, a respectable way out of the script. They used to be married off to the violator previously but we’ve progressed beyond such barbarism now (though judges still ask rape survivors if they’d like to marry the accused every once in a while).The language of the law also tells us that a violator outrages the ‘modesty’ of a woman. Not the woman herself. It is as if her ‘modesty’, invisible to the eye, impossible to define, and selectively imposed on her because of her gender, has more reason to be aggrieved than herself, the actual human being who has to process the violence meted out to her, physically, mentally, emotionally.In the real world, not all women who have been raped have the ‘fortune’ to die. They live on, many in secrecy, afraid that if people come to know, they would be targeted for what has happened to them. It’s been 19 years since the survivor in the infamous Suryanelli case was gang-raped but the stigma still follows her and her family. The people pointing fingers and gossiping are not thugs and outlaws but respectable citizens like you and me.The people who denied Suzette Jordan a job because she was the Park Street survivor were not hardened criminals who have no humanity in them. They are the same people who are outraged every time a rape case makes the headlines, saddened that in a nation so full of ‘culture’, something like this happens. They are also the same people who will thoughtlessly say that an IPL team was ‘raped’ by another because of how badly they lost the game. Because in the game of rape, it is the victim who is the joke and the perpetrator who is the victor. And even as we hotly debate Delhi, Mumbai, Badaun, and many more cities, towns, and villages, this is what many of us believe.For as long as we discuss rape within the ambit of modesty and honour, it will continue to happen. It becomes the victim’s duty to demonstrate to the world that she was indeed in possession of modesty and honour, in the first place, for her to have been stripped of them. In other words, she must prove that she did not ‘deserve’ to be raped.The victim’s ‘dishonouring’ is not limited to her, it extends to her family, her clan, her community. Which is why sexual violence is so high, inevitable, in communal and ethnic conflicts. Because ‘desecrating’ the women of one community is to emasculate the men of that community. It is to throw open a challenge that their honour is easy to sway. Like strange fruit hanging from the trees. Here is the fruit for the crows to pluck, here is a strange and bitter crop, grown out of the seeds that we all help sow.

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