Honour Based Violence
What is Honour Based Violence (HBV)?
Honour is perceived as a positive character trait whereby an individual who has honour is considered virtuous, altruistic, who inspires the respect and trust of others, and who is of ‘good moral character’. However, in some communities honour is understood as a form of ‘symbolic capital’, by this it is meant that the presence or absence of honour is indicative of the level of status and reputation held, thus honour is power. Rather than an individual being responsible for honour in their own right, honour is intrinsically linked to collective honour of the family and community. Within this ethos, a family and/or community’s honour, which is highly valued, is mainly upheld by the chaste conduct of its female members. Any deviance from the extremely strict behavioural expectations placed on these women shall result in dishonour, shame and embarrassment for the family. HBV is administered to the transgressor in order to curb behaviour and restore honour.(1)
What is the Sikh view of HBV?
For Sikhs, Guru Nanak made a departure from this view and redefined honour as self-appraisal in the eyes of Divine-Nature. Guru Nanak advocated that it was immoral to enslave or force individuals to act against their will, and that individuals should be empowered with ethical teachings helping them to police their own behaviour (as opposed to allowing themselves to be policed by others, such as family or the community, whose subjective laws go against what is natural). This was to be achieved by living a righteous life, meaningfully contributing to society and controlling all desires (lust, anger, greed, attachment and ego). In an honour context, lust is the primary concern which HBV seeks to quash. No one is above lust, however, the Sikh view is to manage lust through a loving partnership and spiritual connection with divine power, whilst shunning the company of those who subscribe to the honour-mindset. In this fashion, Guru Nanak empowered men and women to rise from discrimination and subservience to become champions of human rights. This revolutionary stance eliminates the power-base of the ‘honour-concerned’ cultures and emboldens the individual to lead an ethical life without being misled and controlled.
Why do some Sikhs still practise HBV?
Guru Nanak’s concept was not universally championed. The demise of Sikh political doctrine in the Sikh Empire occurred around the mid-19th Century during the forty year reign of the Sikh monarch, Runjeet Singh (1799-1839). Having been influenced by disingenuous advisors, Runjeet Singh rejected the Gurus’ ideals and reinstated the honour-concerned culture, whereby the status and maintenance of a good reputation of oneself and one's family (especially women) became paramount. Honour violations were avenged, often with violence, which was sometimes fatal. This became an obligatory and normal response. Furthermore, failure to avenge, resulted in additional loss of honour, thus adding pressure on families and communities to commit and condone HBV.
In which cultures/religions does HBV exist?
HBV and honour-killings cut across many cultures and religions. In the main, HBV affects women in Islamic communities. Their honour ‘crimes’ manifest in several different ways and are related to their lifespan, which predominantly revolves around the control and policing of their sexual behaviour.
Policing of HBV
HBV, in general, is still under-recognised and poorly policed globally. In the West, law enforcement does not yet adequately comprehend the issue to properly police HBV. The recent report by the HMIC concluded that 39 out of 43 UK police forces were ‘not yet prepared’ to police HBV. In some Eastern countries it is lawful for men to murder their female relatives if dishonour is suspected.
Perpetrators of HBV
If a woman damages her family’s honour, the only remedy to restore honour is to punish the woman. This is generally carried out by a male member of her natal family, or her husband if she is married. There is significant evidence of female relatives also colluding in, or orchestrating, the punishment. However, HBV perpetrators are not only individuals, families or communities. It is also common for State authorities to deliberately cause dishonour by sexually exploiting females, i.e. parading women around naked in their native villages, inflicting rape, etc., so that the families to whom these women belong suffer lifelong shame. This is not a new phenomenon. It was used by the Punjab Police to suppress and destabilise the Sikhs after the military attack on the Golden Temple in 1984, and by gangs of Muslim men during the partition of Punjab in 1947. We still hear of it today, where soldiers of the Islamic State target females from non-Islamic communities, in particular the Yazidis community, and where right-wing Hindu nationalistic men sexually assault Christian women in India.
Publications For Which SikhPolis Have Provided HBV Advice
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies’ (HMIC) first UK inspection of HBV “The depths of dishonour: Hidden voices and shameful crimes”.
Catherine Woodward’s article, ‘Questions of Honour’, published in the Police Professional journal, examines the potential police failings to properly risk assess HBV and proposes a number of improvements that could help victims of HBV.
Emily Dyer, a Research Fellow at The Henry Jackson Society, specialises in women’s rights, as well as Islamism and terrorism. She authored this comprehensive report, ‘Honour Killings in the UK’.
‘Honour & Obey’ is an Australian television documentary which discusses honour-crimes.
The film documentary ‘Banaz - A Love Story’, created by Emmy award-winning anti-HBV campaigner Deeyah, tells a true and tragic story of the honour-killing of a young British-Kurdish woman called Banaz Mahmod in 2006.
The booklet ‘The Sikh Religion’s perspective on women: Sikhcentralism - v - Punjabicentralism’ which observes the contradiction existing between religion and culture on how women are perceived, and the potential conflict of interest that ensues. This booklet was created to tackle HBV within the Sikh community.