Monday, July 14, 2008

Motif of violence

The Hindu, Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Other Half

Afghanistan is once again in the news with the horrific bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul. Violence has remained a motif in a country trying hard to build a peaceful civil society. Everyone pays for this continuing violence -- men, women and children-- not just with their lives but also through the abysmal quality of their lives if and when they do survive.

Although some things have improved in Afghanistan since the Taliban regime was removed, much remains difficult to tackle, not least the problems women face. Hamid Karzai&'s government has set up a Ministry of Women's Affairs to deal with women's issues, has emphasised education for girls, has tried to deal with the other forms of violence to which women are daily subjected. But the instability in the country appears to undo the good that is being done. Thus, the slow progress of getting girls to enrol in schools has been adversely affected with the forced closure of 350 schools in the last year in the Taliban-dominated southern part of the country. Making a dent on the low literacy levels -- 85 per cent of women are illiterate -- becomes virtually impossible under such circumstances.

Another custom that has been difficult to reverse has been that of forced marriages, where even under-age girls are forced to marry men much older than them. One indication of the desperation of women caught in such circumstances is the increasing incidence of self-immolation as a form of suicide. According to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (, such acts are increasing. Last year, 165 such suicides were recorded. It is possible that many are never reported.

Universal phenomenon

But violence against women is a motif that extends beyond Afghanistan. It is common to all societies although in some it takes a more horrific form. In several countries around the world, where traditional laws continue to be practised, women have no court of appeal to which they can turn when traditional courts order punishment or death for "honour" crimes. Even where there are laws banning such practices, they continue to be
practised with impunity.

"There is no 'honour'in killing", a report of the South Asian Seminar on Honour Killings that was held in Mumbai in 2006, brings this out vividly. The report was released last month by former Pakistan Supreme Court judge, Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid. It emphasises that the concept of "honour" in all societies is premised on women's bodies and their behaviour. Norms are set on how women should behave, whom they can marry and how they should conduct their lives. These norms are rooted in patriarchy, based on what men believe is a woman's place. "Honour" of the community, the caste and even the nation is vested in women. So if women deviate from these norms, they are
deemed to be violating this "honour". And for this they are punished, sometimes even with death. Men are not spared either. There are innumerable reports of men and women being killed for marrying outside their caste or religious community.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link above)

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