Tuesday 15 May 2012

The great Ghairat Debate

(published in Express Tribune today)

In the last one week, two article have appeared in this very newspaper on the subject of Ghairat/Beghayrat. The first one, penned by nuclear physicist and prominent progressive Dr. Parvez Hoodbhoy and the second by a journalist, Miss Maria Waqar. Dr Hoodbhoy was of the view that ghairat/honour and “fake nationalism”(the one that can be witnessed by our chest-thumping TV anchors and Baloongras on twitter)) was one of the cornerstones of fascist societies like Nazi Germany and that as societies moved from tribalism to modernism and now post-modernism, the notions of “ghairat” are anachronistic and will not do us much good. Miss Maria Waqar, on the other hand, opined that Nazi Germany was not a tribal society by any means, rather a very modern and “civilized” one. She also mentioned that just like we want to blame honour and “tribal values” for the crimes of Nazis, we should blame the notions of “Liberty and Freedom” for the destruction heaped upon Iraq and Afghanistan by the mighty United States.

In my humble opinion, Dr Hoodbhoy is closer to reality in calling out for a review of what we have gained(mostly we have lost) from this false bravado and where does our “honour” lie according to other nations of the world. I would also like to present another facet of this issue that has not been discussed till now.

Ghairat is an Urdu word that is usualy translated as “Honour/Pride”. But the problem with translation is that every word in a particular language has its own etymology and while translating, the word may lose its original meaning. There is no universal definition of Ghairat, it roughly means the sense of belonging or entitlement to certain customs. If a person goes against those customs, he/she is considered to have defiled Ghairat. This concept is a key element of a tribal society. In subcontinent, people generally are very touchy about their “Ghairat” and they can kill someone who defiles their Ghairat. This usually leads to “honour-killings” and the victims in all cases are women.
Pakistani society, even after so much urbanization in last 30 years, remains a tribal and patriarchial society. In Pakistan, honour of a man lies between the legs of women of his family(to borrow an Arabic Expression). Any attempt to break the shackles of this system can lead to death. Thus, it is not surprising that Human Rights Commission reported 675 women to have been killed in the name of honor in the the first 9 months of 2011 while in 2010 791 women were “honour-killed”. It should als be considered that Human Rights Commission has only accounted those women whose cases were reported and the actual numbers can be much higher than that. It is not clear if this number includes the 577 “honor-killings” during 2011 that took place in the Sindh province alone.A modern democratic state is supposed to safeguard the rights of its citizens(both male and female) and Criminal Law Amendment Act of 2004, which amended sections 299, 302 and 325 of the Pakistan Penal Code, specified the criminalisation of offences “committed in the name or on the pretext of honour” and mentions “karo-kari, siyah kari or similar other customs and practices” in this context. The question, then, is how many arrests or prosecutions in courts of law have been made. This is where the state’s performance has been extremely poor.
Regarding the other ghairat, namely “Qaumi Ghairat” or “National honour” I would like to quote Sadiq Saleem, who echoed the exact sentiment that I have on this issue, in a local newspaper three years ago,

“Every few years Pakistanis go through angry phases of self-righteous indignation over the country’s dependence on foreign aid. The ‘Ghairat’ (national honour) lobby, led by Islamist political parties, retired generals and the newly empowered right wing conspiracy theorists serving as television anchors have worked up the nation once again in the “honour is more important than aid” slogan mongering.
Notwithstanding the evolution of our indigenous defence capabilities, much of our military equipment still comes from the US or from China. Pakistan needs aid and no amount of hyper nationalist chest-thumping can change the fact that with huge unavoidable defence expenditure, growing unproductive population and a bloated government we have no option but to seek aid for development.
The ‘Ghairat’ lobby, always eager to mobilize street protests of the “Go America Go” variety, never runs a campaign to get the nation to pay taxes. Ditto for the industrialists and traders that support the various factions of the Pakistan Muslim League and the landowners that are incharge of the Pakistan People’s Party. Few Pakistanis know we have a tax-to-GDP ratio of 8%, even below Ghana, which collects 15% of its GDP as revenue.”

The debate about this issue  does not end here, and it shouldn’t be. Introspection on this issue, both on the “honor killings” aspect and the “qaumi ghairat” aspect should continue until a consensus is developed. We need to make a decision if we want to live in a society where women are supposed to be killed due to our percieved notions or otherwise. We need to decide if we want to continue chest-thumping over issues that we deem “dishonorable” and ignore the facts like an ostrich or otherwise. The choice is ours to make and the time is running out.

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