June Issue 2003
A Threat to Honour
Bilal Malak, a tribal chief from Darra Adam Khel, says, pighore is like a slap on the face, especially when it concerns one’s inability to act according to ‘Pakhtu’ or in an ‘honourable’ way.”
In most areas of the NWFP, for the Pakhtuns belonging to the lower economic stratum, honour can be achieved in spite of material poverty. And it can provide them with respect in society, even if they have nothing else that symbolises power and strength.
A pighore (taunt) given by the community is considered one of the biggest threats to one’s honour. It is not an economic loss, but threatens to lead to social isolation and insensitivity. People abandon villages in order to escape pighore. It is commonly believed that pighore could continue to haunt a family over generations.
A Pakhtun’s life is thus a constant struggle to prevent any culturally unacceptable act that might invite pighore. There is a famous proverb, “Chay nan spak shay, saba ba rowak shee” (Whoever is dishonoured today, tomorrow he shall perish). Ironically, the woman who symbolises honour for her family or community may end up paying the heaviest price while protecting her family from the wrath of pighore.
Many incidents of murder have taken place in the NWFP on the basis of mere suspicion. Knowing that a woman might actually be innocent, the male members prefer to kill her in order to earn the society’s approval rather than lay oneself open to pighore. Referring to such killings on the basis of suspicion, it is commonly said, “Ziyaatee da, kho rawaj day,” (It is unfair but after all it is our rawaj).
In those rare cases where the husband, considering his wife innocent due to lack of evidence, refuses to kill her, the society does not forgive him. He is reminded of his cowardly gesture by being labelled bayghairat (devoid of honour). Even their grandchildren might not escape the pighore of the society.
At times, despite being innocent, a woman might be afraid of living the rest of her life in disgrace, under the pressure of pighore , and would surrender herself in the name of honour, while the man might get away with the offence.
Zahida Bibi, belonging to a family of jolahas or weavers, who are generally looked down upon, was washing clothes by a goodar (stream) near Khaar. Saz Din, who is also known as ‘Machine’ (derived from machine-gun), because of his fiery temper stopped to gaze at Zahida Bibi. When he grabbed at her dress, she managed to tear herself away and ran home.
Even though Zahida Bibi successfully escaped any further disgrace which had, in fact, been forced on her, she knew that such mishaps were enough for her to be considered unclean and tainted under the rawaj. Qualms of conscience hastened Zahida Bibi’s tremored pace towards her home in order to confess to the sin that had imposed itself upon her. Narrating her tragic tale, she mustered the courage to announce a verdict regarding her own future. She pleaded with her husband to kill her, as she and her family would not be able to live a life of dishonour and shame. However, she begged him to take badal (revenge) from the aggressor, Saz Din.
Zahida Bibi was led out into the courtyard and there, under a mulberry tree, shot dead by her husband. The actual culprit, Saz Din, who has a certain standing in society, still roams about unharmed.
Amidst the graves at an old cemetery of Nawagai, one comes across Memunai’s grave; she was killed by her husband over a pack of tobacco. Today, the tragic tale of a woman, who spent her life in purdah, is related as a legend. Glorified by poets and melodiously rendered by singers, it can be heard in public vehicles, shops and hujras.
Memunai, daughter of a Khan, was famous for her beauty. The innumerable proposals that would come for her were turned down, as she was to be married to Sher Alam, her cousin. The Khans of the village would send jirgas in order to convince her father, but he had decided to marry her off to no one but her cousin. After getting married, Memunai warned Sher Alam against a tarboor (paternal uncle’s son) of his, whose intentions she always questioned.
The conversation was overheard by the spiteful cousin, who made a pledge to himself that he would have Memunai murdered by her own husband. One day, in the absence of Sher Alam, some guests staying in his hujra ran short of tobacco. On the demand of others, one Khalil went to fetch it from Sher Alam’s house.
Unaware of the fact that the evil-minded cousin of Sher Alam was following him, he knocked at the door. After inquiring about the purpose of his visit, Memunai, from behind the door, handed him some tobacco as a gesture of melmastiya (hospitality) towards her husband’s guests. This much evidence was enough for the cousin to make up a malicious story against Memunai.
As soon as Sher Alam returned, the cousin fabricated a scandalous story, and told him how, during his absence, Memunai had been damaging their family’s honour. All set to wreck his home, with a dagger in his hand, Sher Alam reached his house where, fuming with rage, he burst out at Memunai, “You have ruined the honour of our family. You have destroyed the honour of your parents. Today my cousins have given me a pighore . With whom were you having a rendezvous yesterday?”
Sher Alam heard Memunai’s side of the story, but in the face of the venomous pighore a Pakhtun is extremely vulnerable. The only way he could free himself of the affliction was to prove his allegiance to ‘Pakhtunwali’ (the Pakhtun code of conduct). So, Sher Alam slit his wife’s throat.