Is There Really An Ounce of Honour in Killing?

Today’s post is about something that I feel deserves a great amount of attention. In all honesty, it was not until a dear friend of mine shared a link to a BBC article about last week’s murders in the Indian state of Harayana, that I decided to explore the issue of ‘honour killings’ further.

Image Courtesy: interactblogs.wordpress.com

Image Courtesy: interactblogs.wordpress.com

Many will accede to the fact that ‘honour killings’ is not news. It has been going on for several decades. However, it remains newsworthy because of the fact that it continues to persist in the 21st century is cause for great concern. According to the BBC Ethics Guide, honour killings are a subset of the broader notion that is an honour crime. By definition, honour crimes involve violence, including murder, committed by people who want to defend the reputation of their family or community.

Just last week, an 18-year old girl and her fiance were brutally killed. By whom? The girls own family. In fact, in an article in The Guardian, Narendar Barak, the victim’s father, showed no remorse after he admitted to beating his daughter to death and dismembering her fiance.

“I have no regrets ā€¦ not even a little ā€¦ This should happen. If society is to be saved, then it should happen,” he said.

This case was dubbed a “honour killing” because of the fact that both the victims come from the same caste. As such, they were forbidden by tradition from marrying one another. More so, tradition also dictated that children were not permitted to chose who they marry. Instead, the decision has to be made by their parents. Hence, in order to preserve the purity of their local tradition, murder was the only answer. Violating their rights to life and to be free from torture in some sense was justified, as a necessary evil, when the protection of the entire culture was at stake.

To many this view will seem horrific. However, for the cultures perpetrating these ‘honour crimes’, this view is perfectly acceptable. In fact, it is based on their version of morality and behaviour, separate from the notion of universal human rights.

Cultural relativism often conflicts with universal human rights. By definition, cultural relativists ascribe to a morality that is solely governed by culture and nothing else. This is why crimes of honour are often go unnoticed or the perpetrators are granted impunity. These two paradigms are stark opposites and in order to find any resolution to this issue, condemnation of such local culture is not the answer.

In fact, if we have a look at the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of HUman Rights, Article 18 states that,

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Image Courtesy: humanityhealing.org

Image Courtesy: humanityhealing.org

Confusingly enough, it also states that,

Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

Therefore, while these may be rights everyone should enjoy by the sheer fact that we are all human beings, the writing is not always black and white.

Firstly, for cultures that see ‘honour killings’ as an affirmation of morality, human rights are seen as an alien, Westernized concept. Hence, expecting them to comply with a so-called “Western” universal notion of morality – that goes against everything their culture represents – would be rather foolish.

Instead, according to a book entitled, ‘Honour: Crimes, Paradigms and Violence Against Women’, “combating crimes of honour cannot mean repudiating the human dignity and rights of all concerned, including the perpetrators of these crimes, their families and communities. Unless one subscribes to the authoritarian view that people should simply be coerced into doing what is good for them; it is necessary to gain their cooperation and support through an internal discourse within the community around cultural norms and institutions associated with these crimes”.

In no way, am I alluding to the fact that the protection of woman should be put on the back-burner while this internal discourse is underway. Practical and legal measures should be taken. After all, ascribing to certain cultural norms and morality does not exempt you from the law of the state, which clearly indicates that murder is a crime, punishable by the judicial system.

However, the question should be one of a long -term strategy – in addition to, not instead of, all that can be done immediately.

What are your views? Can you make an argument for cultural relativism? What can be done to ensure these ‘honour killings’ stop?

We have a voice, lets use it.

Do note that every once in a while, I will explore issues outside the exclusive realm of sexual violence, that I feel deserve a great amount of attention. Do Check out “Hot Topics” for more prolific issues around the world.

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5 thoughts on “Is There Really An Ounce of Honour in Killing?

  1. Oops the anonymous was me!

    • I totally agree that just because different cultures have different notions of morality does not give one culture a license to kill. Murder is murder, and that is universal. But I also believe that dismissing their ideals altogether will lead to further tension. Education and internal discourse is the way to go šŸ™‚

  2. I think it is important to have a dismissive attitude towards cultural relativism. This is not to endorse acts like ‘honour killings’. Rather, an open-mindedness will enable us to better understand what are the motivations behind these acts and help us gain a mandate to question in the first place. In any case, I believe that educating the younger generation is the way to go!

  3. I’ve always wondered why the burden of “honor” should fall on the woman. Why is it her to maintain it and how come she’s the benchmark without being asked?

    “Honor killing” is an oxymoron. You can have honor…or you can kill defenseless innocent people. You can’t do both.

    • It is most definitely an oxymoron – but how do we change mindsets that have been ingrained for centuries? How do we change tradition? There has to be a middle ground where despite obligations to any culture, these people realize that killing is still a crime and is morally wrong. But, how do we ensure this understanding?

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