Violence in the name of 'honour'

The girls, one as young as 16 years, were shot dead almost immediately.

The first major civilian killing by militants in 2011 the initial murmurs of information suggest that the militants — believed to be locals — were acting as a moral brigade. The girls’ alleged ‘promiscuous’ behaviour was the ‘reason’ behind their execution. Honour, discipline, dignity, morally acceptable codes of conduct almost always both precede and follow conflict.

But a politically volatile valley that has been constantly shaken by demonstrations of the atrocities against and killings of civilians has remained unusually quiet following these murders.

The incident should raise questions regarding the double standards that guide morality in situations of conflict. Or perhaps not so unusual given the fact that the moral standards prescribed for girls and women and their violation almost always tacitly sanction violence or punishment as precedents for others to learn from.

Besides, a conflict that has lasted as long as the one in Jammu & Kashmir allows many other fringe groups and individuals to settle personal scores under the garb of an insurgency where women invariably are those sacrificed at the altar of honour and pride.

Not very far in another northern state Khap Panchayats recently issued a diktat preventing women from wearing jeans or trousers. The accusations of support of ‘honour killings’ in recent months has ensured that these caste councils have turned on the women of their community by imposing restrictions on them thereby reiterating the message that the protection of the honour and dignity of a community rests in controlling women.

Eve-teasing and young couples eloping is rooted in jeans-wearing girls and their compromised morals if the recent diktat of a Khap Panchayat in Uttar Pradesh which banned girls from wearing jeans is to be believed. The caste council of Bhenswal village believes that wearing jeans had a ‘bad effect’ on young women and eve-teasing incidents had increased due to their ‘objectionable clothes’ turning the chicken and egg debate on its head.

Empowerment of women?

So the discourse has now shifted from ‘bad women wear jeans’ to ‘wearing jeans has a bad effect on women.’ Taking empowerment of women to a whole new level a five-member committee of women formed by the panchayat now implements the ban in the village.

Earlier these councils had banned the use of mobile phones by unmarried girls in the district on the same argument. In fact, any ‘repeat’ offender of this ‘objectionable behaviour’ would be eventually disallowed from going out of the house as punishment.
Amidst the vocabulary of ‘Taliban-style’ gender-based authoritarianism what appears to get lost is the discourse on the repression of women even within their private spaces, their homes which in the absence of freedoms in the outside world is where they try to negotiate their choices.

Fissures created by the changing moral order as both modernity and tradition in all its contexts and sub-contexts clash with each other is what prompts the use of the language of honour, retribution and punishment with women at the receiving end of these beliefs and practices. But more importantly violence against women especially during conflict is often an extension of the gender discrimination that already exists in society even during peace time.

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