Posts Tagged ‘honour’

Guest post by Samar Esapzai, a visual artist and PhD student in International Rural Development and Gender Studies.

In an enlightening class I took last semester, my professor said something that stuck with me long after the class/semester ended, for it held so much raw truth. She said:

“The woman’s body is the battleground upon which cultural and religious wars are fought.”

Being a woman in any given society, whether it may be within South/Central Asia or in the West, there are often triggers of distress and tension, and the constant battle with one’s image and appearance that plays over and over again in a woman’s head like a broken record. We live in a world where, right from the time we are born up until we die, we are told that our body defines us; that our sexuality should be proscribed – protected; and that we should do everything in our power to guard our bodies – our honour – from the enemy: men. And, if we don’t, then the blame falls solely upon us.

While there are some who manage to break free from this never-ending cycle of staring, leering, gawking, examining, judging, etc., most women will, however, be forever stuck in this rut for the majority of their adult lives. The worst part is that some women have even accepted it – accepted that they, their bodies, are the reason behind every incident of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and all other forms of violence that have been, and will be, inflicted upon them. It has almost become like an unspoken sort of awareness, where a woman suddenly realizes how dangerous her body is to her safety. And if she slips – even once – she will have no choice but to suffer the dire consequences that accompany it.

Furthermore, when we look back at history, especially in the context of war and conflict, women’s bodies have often been treated as territories to be conquered, claimed and marked by the contender. This is why violence, especially sexual violence, against women was and still is quite common during communal/ethnic conflicts. Women would not only be raped but their bodies would be marked in such a way so as to remind the opposing enemy that their women – who are supposed to be “pure” and a representative of the community’s/nation’s “honour” – are stained.

Such markings would include stripping a woman naked and serenading her in shame in public; physical mutilation and disfigurement, i.e. cutting off a woman’s private parts, or other parts of her body, such as her nose, ears, hair, etc.; tattooing and branding a woman on her private parts, i.e. her breasts and/or genitals, with hate slogans against the enemy; and other forms of debasements to emphasize conquest and suppression.

Thus, the violation of women’s bodies equates the same political territories upon which the men from the rioting communities would inscribe their markings on. It’s like an uncanny sort of relinquishment – a victory, where it becomes blatant that in order to defeat a nation, you must violate their women. Such atrocious violations against women hence create a sense of helplessness in communities where a woman’s honour is more important than her life. And in order to revive this honour, members of the community (usually male) have no choice but to kill off every single female who was either raped or physically/sexually violated in any way. For it is known that a woman’s dishonour is the dishonour of the ethnic race, the community, and the nation as a whole.

Consequently, the targeting of women’s bodies is both an effect and a cause of the acceptability of sexual violence against women. It serves to subjugate women further, and creates an environment where violence becomes habitual and is committed with impunity. And while there is no denying that the blame often falls upon the woman for failing to guard her body from being violated, even if it is against her own volition, an equal burden falls upon the shoulders of men who deeply value their women’s honour.

I personally believe that as long as such societies conventionalize the woman as a symbol of honour and continue to instrumentalize her in such an ignominious way, gender-based violence in these societies will persist, making any iota of progress seem bleak.

Even so, not all societies associate women with honour, despite the fact that rape and other forms of violence against women still occurs. There are societies, particularly within the South and Central Asian region, where a woman’s dignity equates her entire existence as well as the existence of those around her. And though it is clear that men, too, are targets and victims of violence, it is the gendered nature of violence that marks women’s experiences as wholly unique.


Following contribution has been made by Chintan Gupta:

Ever since The Guwahati incident has happened, I have witnessed outrage from each and every one I have interacted with over the internet. More often than not, such an outrage is mere chain reaction to what you read and wish to change if you are ambitious enough. We all feel this strong short-lived urge to break all the boundaries and rebel; however the routine challenges that an Indian citizen has to go through cuts the life of an outrage even shorter. I somehow, do not believe in charity, fixing a neighbour’s running tap for free for instance however I strongly believe one must live on one’s own terms. Alas, most of Indians cannot afford that luxury either! Imagine, if an Indian Man feels suffocated, burdened under unnecessary responsibilities, how does an Indian Woman survive? All the heat that the man fails to tolerate is showered blatantly on the women and more so on the women who dare to live their life on their own terms or challenge men any which way. Atanu Bhuyan, the Editor in Chief of News Live isn’t the only man who is busy assassinating the character of the victim. The saddest part of this whole episode isn’t the fact that a girl was molested by a mob in public, in front of a camera, but, the repercussions that most of the girls would face after this incident.

We as a society are not yet prepared to embrace the reality. We are accustomed to live in denial, denial of women, their respectful existence and understanding the fact that they are indeed equally human. A woman’s self-respect is as paralyzed in this nation as that blind folded lady who imparts judgements on criminals. Post this incident, most of the girls would be forced to undergo character dissection at their safe homes! Whether they consume alcohol, engage in sexual relationships, party, get teased or harassed, it is the womankind who immediately comes under scanner at their own home when such an incident is highlighted. You are warned of your vulnerability and how you are the symbol of family’s reputation. Must you not step out of house like the girl who was molested? Must you not engage in sexual intimacy with a boy who can photograph you topless? Must you not attract unwarranted attention at busy market areas, and above all, must you not act smart and engage in any kind of a rebel to bring shame to the family for you never know, you could be the next! All in all, as long as she is your daughter, you walk the walk of shame, and then you send her to a stranger’s house and your job done! Same story repeats at the stranger’s house too.

Many strong women, would engage in discussions, blog about the complete episode, outlet their rage, mock the men who disrespect women, however within somewhere there is a guilt, a fear and a hope that you wouldn’t be such a victim! EVER. At the end of the day, we are too consumed in blame culture that we would look for faults in the woman’s character. Atanu Bhuyan pointed out in his tweets that the victim had engaged in a fight in the pub, she kept arguing after leaving the premises and he even mentioned that she isn’t a teenager but a married woman. You can understand the subtle hints of insult in his statements. It is what it is. I despised him for such remarks, I was disgusted, I was disgusted even more because I know many would nod when he speaks on TV! Women who are indeed busy discussing this issue and fighting for the victim would accept that they know men who would still blame the victim. We are surrounded by them all, everywhere!

Where does this all leave us? Nowhere. The truth is to each her own. You got to do what you got to do. Be alert and save yourself of all kind of daemons. I say shed all the inhibitions and parade like Pooja Chauhan if need be, but live on your own terms. It is easier said than done but Indian Women got to understand, they are not living just to be judged and told how significant their morals as well as character is. Character, morals are the most farce words I have known in my entire life, all I care for is self-worth, self-respect. As long as I am happy, content in my own skin, can survive, work, earn my own bread, I owe no apology to anyone for how I live my life. So should all the women out there who are questioned about their character each day. Be who you are, live by the truth you seek within yourself. Stop judging other women for their choice of lifestyle, let the paralysis that is limiting us all vanish in desperation of bullies.