In the final year of university at the Centre for Journalism at Kent, we were required to produce a lengthy piece of original journalism.
At the time I was to pitch an idea, I was reading one of Jean Sasson’s books, “Princess”. Inspired by the story of the real-life Saudi princess, I began toying with the idea of doing my project on honor crimes.
There was a twist: since we were required to submit an original piece of journalism, I could not do anything about honor killings because that story has been done many times and I was not sure how I was going to find original stories for that. But I could do my project on honor violence perhaps?
The more I thought about it, the more the idea grew on me. I dove into researching all the different reasons for honor related crimes. I was shocked by some, fascinated and stupefied by others. I suddenly wanted to meet all these women who were living for honor under the pretense of a normal life.
Where could I find them? It is not like there is a club for women like that. Where do I find them? Without original stories, my project was impossible, but suddenly, it wasn’t about the degree anymore. It was about meeting these women and finding their stories. Where do I find them?
There was nowhere I could go. There weren’t any sensible options. Surely no one who is being abused by their relatives was going to answer any request I was to put out on social media. Women’s rights organizations were not going to give me details of troubled women. With the deadline fast approaching, I was stupid enough to once give out my email ID to a ‘woman’ in a chat room and ended up being cyber stalked by a man who insisted I look at his profile on SingleMuslim and decide for myself if it is worth being stalked by him.
Where do I find them?
Three months after submitting my project pitch and with the university closing for Christmas break, I still hadn’t found anyone. I had decided to concentrate on a few kinds of honor violence.
- When a woman has a relationship with a man and she is married off to another man, often part of her extended family, perhaps a cousin to reclaim the family honor. The husband then taunts, beats and abuses her all her life. She has to live feeling ashamed and guilty and is reminded of her sin every day. She may be a successful career woman, but her family ties, pressure from them and lack of support and protection prevent her from doing something to change her situation.
- Swara or Vanni: when to resolve a fight between two men of different families, the wronged man marries the other’s sister, daughter or other family member. The idea being that the men will not harm each other because they will be hurting the same woman. That woman, though, lives a life or servitude even though she was not party to the fight. She takes beatings, is taunted, does everyone’s work and lives like a second-class citizen, paying the debt of her brother’s or father’s wrongdoing.
My search continued into its fourth month before I got some answers and I found these women. But somewhere I had not looked before: in my own social circle.
Perhaps we South Asians have become so immune to the concept of honor violence that we do not see it anymore. Of course I knew these women, of course I knew their stories. But I had not looked at them that way until someone pointed them out.
During the next few months, I met some amazing women whose lives were shrouded with the tattered rags of honor. And I also met some amazing men who were forced into relationships they did not want and who were now living to respect those relationships.
And all of their stories are now etched on my heart.
This project was meant to be for my final year dissertation, but I could not just travel with it just that far.
It has now been two years since I finished university. Since then, I have moved back to my native Pakistan and started working in the country’s largest English language newspaper, Dawn.
And I have not been able to stop thinking about the stories I got to hear during my project and the incidents of honor violence I hear of in my work as a journalist. I cannot travel with this just that far. No, I have to follow this through.
I do not know how to bring about a change since this menace is so deeply ingrained in our society and in our way of thinking. But I cannot figure it out without taking the first step.
The first step, for me is to open this blog which, for now will only follow the stories of these men and women, who have to live to honor their families. I will bring their stories here, but most of the time, their names and other identifying facts will be changed or omitted.
This is just my attempt to prove just how common honor violence is. I hope to make at least a small difference. Maybe make just one father see that his daughter is more than just a token for his honor. Maybe make just one husband realize that beating his wife will not make her past go away, but love will.
Come with me then to explore these crimes that go under the radar, committed behind closed doors, hidden by the very victims. Help me give them just a little bit of hope.
All you have to do is return every now and then to this blog and read about them.
– Sanam Zeb