- Book: No Honour
- Location: Lahore, Pakistan
- Author: Awais Khan
Yes, we have come across the term ‘honour killings’ in the UK (or a shame killing, the murder of a member of a family, due to the perpetrators’ belief that the victim has brought shame or dishonour upon the family, or has violated the principles of a community or a religion). It is this phenomenon that is at the heart of the novel, which opens with a punch. A young Punjabi woman has got herself pregnant, outside marriage and several members of her small, rural community – mainly men – support her brother’s decision to drown her; and dispose of the baby to whom she has just given birth.
It is a salutary lesson for another family, whose teenage daughter Abida finds herself in similar circumstances. The discovery of her pregnancy is made just as moves towards an arranged marriage for her are underway. She and Kalim, the father of her child, prepare their escape but they are not quite fast enough. The same fate awaits her until her father, Jamil, intervenes. She travels with Kalim from Khanewal to Lahore, the city of contradictions, settling into a one bedroom flat in Anarkali Bazaar.
Abida has had little education and coming from the countryside to this huge bustling city proves to be an overwhelming challenge, and, at first, Kabil is there to support and nurture. But as the pressure of their new life, the pregnancy and the temptations that are readily available in this massive sprawl of a city start to engulf them, her life takes a very different turn.
This novel is very much a social commentary on the lives of women, who are culturally in subjugation to men. There are of course good men in the community but the power that is handed to the general male population comes under Khan’s scrutiny. Psychologically speaking this dynamic of control by one group over another is an incisive example of Kleinian splitting which is at the heart of Object Relations Theory: one person (in this case a group of people) split the good and the bad; they project the “badness” on to others – the women – who are then punished, derided and even killed whilst the men hang on to their perceived goodness by meting out “appropriate” and “measured” justice for misdemeanours. It is shocking that a society can overlook that pregnancy ensues because of the actions of two people, so it seems extraordinary that in this day and age, the woman still carries the burden of responsibility and is vilified sometimes for just living. ‘Splitting‘ is integral to human behaviour and when the dynamic is out of kilter, it can lead to all kinds of terrible actions. Just look around – in Afghanistan, for example – you will see the dynamic in action in daily life, in politics/governments across the world, as well as in our personal lives.
A very readable book that brings into sharp focus this terrible practice, which of course has no honour – as per the title.