In Pakistan, ‘honour’, ‘relationships’, ‘family and ‘togetherness’ are issues of grave importance. For centuries we have taken pride in being a collectivistic society where ‘us’ comes before ‘me’. Therefore, the need of belongingness is quite high. It is important for individuals to be a part of social groups, religious groups and mostly importantly, a family.
Family expectations in such collectivistic countries are also quite different to those in the West. For instance, children (regardless of their age and most certainly including the 18+) are expected to blindly obey their elders without asking any questions whatsoever.
The classic example lies in the popular character of Yash Raichand played by Amitabh Bachchan in the cult film ‘Kabhi Khushi Khabi Gham’ with his popular line, ‘Keh diya na, bas keh diya’. The statement implied that no one in the house had the authority to question the decisions of the male head of the family. The same also suggested that even the female head of the family had zero influence and authority in important family decisions.
Sadly, this is the reality of our society where men dominate the house and are the ones to make every day to life-defining decisions for the entire family, including not just their children but often also their grandchildren.
But this is not where it ends as anyone who dares to disobey such decisions is considered to be bringing dishonour to the entire family for centuries to come.
In particular, women, marriages and children are interesting topics that affect a family’s “honour”. So, for instance, if a woman is discovered in a pre-marital romantic relationship, the consequences are far more intense than if a male member of the family is found doing the same.
Perhaps one of the most prominent examples of this is the tragic case of the late social media sensation Qandeel Baloch. She was strangled by her own brother for bringing “dishonour” to the family. Her crime was that she was a bold, unconventional women who had a mind of her own and did not shy away from making bold statements. According to her brother, this content was intolerable and provoked him to kill her. The brother was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2019 only to be freed three years later.
One can’t help but think, how frequently has the same happened to a male model or even a male prostitute? Is the family’s honour only tied to the female members of the family? Can only women bring dishonor to the family?
It is said that a woman doesn’t have her own house in this culture. She first lives in her father’s house; later in that of her husband and eventually in her son’s house. Perhaps it wouldn’t be wrong to say that women in Pakistan do carry the brunt of guarding the male honour throughout their lives as well.
Similarly, children can also bring dishonor to the family in a number of ways: disobedience, by asking questions and by trying to negotiate with their elders. The most common parenting style in most traditional households is the authoritarian parenting style where parents are strict, there is no negotiation and little warmth. The globally recommended parenting style (authoritative parenting style) suggests a fair amount of warmth and control, and includes listening to children, negotiating boundaries but allowing independence as well.
Research suggests that such a parenting style yields better outcomes for later life (academic, workplace and relationships). In our culture, asking questions, negotiating with the male head of the family and even suggesting something could be considered disrespectful and thus bring dishonor to the family.
Finally, marriages can also bring the so-called dishonour to a family. For instance, families take pride in their social standing and religious belonging. Thus, if a younger family member marries out of religion, of their own choice or to someone who is at a lower socioeconomic standing then these could also be major reasons that the family’s honour is hurt and damaged such that the family finds it hard to accept it. Sometimes, the fact that someone has a simple wedding ceremony and not a lavish one could also be a source of offense.
In a nutshell, in these collectivistic cultures, honour is quite fragile and can be easily harmed by a number of minor activities that would be considered normal and even healthy in developed countries.
How long will we stay slave to traditionalism and conventionalism? How long will the culture dictate what the children need to do rather than giving them the autonomy to do so? If we can make these changes and start thinking past this construct of family honour, perhaps we will be able to grow and develop as a nation.