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Sunday, March 06, 2005 

Honour Killings--Dishonourable Murders

Last week, in British Columbia, Canada, an Indian Sikh father was found guilty of stabbing his daughter to death in July 2003. Her crime? She had dated a non-Sikh man against her father's wishes. Her death is categorized as an "honour killing". And there is nothing honourable about it.

Honour killings occur when a male family relative kills female relatives for perceived offences against the family's honour. The accusations don't have to be verified. The woman is not allowed to defend herself. The woman is murdered to restore the family's honour. Honour killings are prevalent in muslim societies and in India. Even though many Islamic scholars and leaders condemn the practice and refute the claim that it is based on Islamic law, the practice is still common and it is believed that over 5,000 women each year are murdered by family members for disgracing a family. Apparently, only women can disgrace a family since women don't murder their male family members for any of the same offences. If a woman is raped, she is found guilty of disgracing the family rather than the rapist. Flirting and being a rape victim is more shameful than the rapist or murderer himself.

It is not always a male member of the family who commits the murder. Another Canadian-Indian woman was sentenced to die by her own mother. The mother hired assassins in her village in India to find her daughter and kill her.

So many cultures criticize Westerners for our seemingly lax view of family values but when I keep hearing about women who die at the hands of their own family members because it's a time-honoured custom, I can't help but think that I'd rather a society with a high divorce rate than a society where a woman's life is valued less than the local livestock.

Sure, we have instances where husbands kill their wives and mothers kill their children but it's not a custom or tradition but an aberration.

What bothers me even more, is that these people come to our countries and believe they can keep these draconian practices alive in their host countries. Maybe Immigration Departments in western countries should be asking more questions on the Immigration forms about prospective immigrants feelings about the role of women in society. Based on the answers given, we could then submit the applicant to some sort of attitude readjustment program before their entrance to our countries is approved.

We can't pass laws in other countries but we can give some of these women a chance for a life full of opportunities in our own countries by establishing hotlines and safe houses for women who believe they may become a victim of an honour killings. If we could have intervened on behalf of Ms. Atwal in British Columbia, she might be alive today. She lived her life under constant threats and fear of death and it was not a secret to those who knew her. The lack of a concerted effort by community members ensured she died a horrible death at the hands of her father.

There is not much I can think of to say. I do suspect that some will dislike the notion of an education program that contests with beliefs they or others hold sacred, although the particular belief in this case might be against the teachings they claim to follow.

But what choice is there when the separation of reliogion and state, whether it is explicit or implicit in the constitution of a state, is not respected at its most basic level?

Religion is noy lawful cause for murder (justifiable homicide/self defense). We should not allow the absolute sovereignty of families over their own if we claim a moral obligation to protect others as best we can.

To murder a female relative for the sake of increasing family honor lessens it further than any action or state of victimization by and of said female.

It is a disgusting irony that a family might flee the cruel totalitarianism it faced in its home country, only to impose it on the women within it.

Also, it seems there's a lesson to be learned from that story.

Honor "killings" to restore honor are apparently not honorable enough to immediately admit to, but claiming the women "killed" committed suicide is honorable.

Lesson learned.

It is absolutely shocking that this practise still continues in 2005. One point that did stand out to me: "If a woman is raped, she is found guilty of disgracing the family rather than the rapist". It wasn't all that long ago that 'western' women suffered a similar ordeal. They were usually sent away to workhouses to prevent bringing shame on their families. I think what the immigration departments need to be asking is "do you dispise our culture? If so, why are you coming here?" because if you look at second or third generation Americans / Canadians / Brits from an Asian background. It's very rare you see them marry a local. They always have to marry someone from the village back home. This in itself speaks volumes. You are constantly reading about girls who are tricked into flying back home for a family vacation / funeral only to find it's actually their wedding. Things are progressing though, I read a story about a British Asian who'd been taken to India, locked up and was being forced into a marriage. She'd managed to notify her boyfriend in the UK and he'd notified the authorities. This lead to embassy officials and local indian police rescuing her from her prision. A few years ago, they would have turned a blind eye. I think in the UK they do have multi-lingual hotlines and safe houses set up for this kind of situation. If that's the case then surely it's the same in Canada?

Yeia sas!

I liked your article as it mentioned the practice in non-Muslim cultures.

That for me is the main point. It is easy to blame the practice entirely on the backward nature of Islam but it is false.

HK's imo arise from certain economic and social circumstances that shape both societies and the interpeation of religion.

That is religion is not belief in the words of some arbitrary god but in their interpretation in any given society. Hence eg we find it repugnant to commit genocide on heathens, sacrifise our children or label other groups as devils, even though the near psycopathic writers of the OT and NT have often extorted us to do just that.

Thus religion is a social construct and Christian or Hindu societies are also capable of giving rise to such phenomena. Eg in my native Crete the practice of blood feud (Vendeta) and the murder of a man for refusing to marry a girl after intercourse (Atimosis) were commonplace well into the 20th century. Ditto for Corsica and Sicily.

That Muslim societies still practise this barbarism both at home (eg Turkey) and in their diaspora (eg Turk Germans) is because their society has for a number of reasons been kept from progressing and hence fashioning an interpretation of religion more in accord with the one of the wealthier more liberal societies. Further Islam with its preponderance of political dictums and its inception as in effect a religious way to organise a society is more susceptible to this sort of abuse.

That is not to say that a liberal Islam is out of the question, simply that it can not preceed the arduous and long process of modernisation of the Islamic societies themselves.

Meta timis

And 'yeia sas' to you too, Yianni!

I enjoyed reading your post...especially the part where you mentioned Crete's own version of 'honour crimes'. I hadn't even thought to mention the world infamous vendettas of Crete. But you're absolutely correct in stating that it's not just religion which plays a part in these horrible customs...a society which does not punish these crimes or turns a blind eye ensures that we will be seeing crimes like these for many years to come.

Kalo Sabbatokyriako!

Can anyone tell where I may find some chat rooms where I can talk to girls worldwide who fear they may be a victim of an honor killing?

Laura...I really have no idea about chat rooms where girls might discuss the likelihood of being victims of honour killings. Maybe local women's shelters or support centres may be able to help you in this respect.

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