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Ruckus: The Role of Honor in Pakistan

by Nabgha Shahid

Photo: Snehil 'Mazaak' Srivastava. A veiled person covered in colours
Photo: Snehil 'Mazaak' Srivastava

In Pakistan, honor is an entity. Every man carries the honor of multiple women; sisters, mothers, cousins, lovers. Unlike other countries, where women and men exist as autonomous beings, in Pakistan a woman’s honor is like a man’s muse, one he can mold, twist, decapitate for his fantasy. But there is a twist. The honor is fragile and breaks with every breath a woman takes.

Here, men hate women. A Pakistani woman can only be free from the chokehold of honor when she passes her last breath.

Around 1000 women are yearly sentenced to extrajudicial killings under the garb of honor, the guise of respect, the cloak of religion. But what is honor? Elsewhere, honor is prestige and respect. In Pakistan, honor is the leverage men hold over women. Qandeel Baloch, Pakistan’s first social media star, was not murdered, she was decimated. Her death was the death of every woman who wandered too far from the parameters of stringent men who forced them to conceal their skin but leered at strange women. Their lecherous eyes leave shadows that haunt me day and night.

As I adapt and listen and remain silent and gauge streets and scout for men, I become vindictive. Angry. I want to cause a ruckus. Shout. Yell. It is a slow yet sturdy build-up from years of stopping at traffic signals and absorbing their lewd, salacious gaze.

The truth is almost axiomatic really. You reinforce a misconstrued, counterproductive notion of honor in women and you strip that honor away from us every day. You silence me and stifle me with shawls every time I walk on the street. You confront me when men hurt me. You latch onto my skin, seeping in my pores, overflowing from everywhere, bludgeoning me deep into dark, gloomy, Tartarean places. I want to get rid of you but you shackle me. I am in a state of sleep paralysis. You grab onto me tight, and I cry. I always cry. I push and push and push. You pull. You always pull. You win. You are stronger. I am stuck in the paralysis. I give up. I stay quiet but harbor resentment. You win. For now.

You are institutionalized patriarchy and I am just a woman stuck in a vacuum.

Adrienne Rich says:

“Women have often felt insane when cleaving to the truth of our experience. Our future depends on the sanity of each of us, and we have a profound stake, beyond the personal, in the project of describing our reality as candidly and fully as we can to each other.”

The truth of our experience has indeed driven us crazy. We brush it off. Laugh at pathetic men who ogle. Share narratives of harrowing experiences under the garb of comic alleviation. Walking down the street a man brushes past you and sings. Catcalls. It is insanity but for us, it is reality.

I think hard and long about the future, about what it would mean for women. It angers me so much, and I am forced to comfort myself by physically contorting myself into fetal position. I am enough for myself. So, the next time I am at the traffic signal just sitting in my car and the truck driver on the right side makes a lascivious gesture, I roll my window down and let out a string of cuss words in my native language. I raise my hand and give him a gesture of my own. All around me are men on bikes, in cars, in rickshaws. My vision blurs with rage. They warp and form a singular shadow that hovers over me like a cloud. I continue making a ruckus until the signal turns green.


About the Writer

Nabgha Shahid is currently a student of English Literature at Kinnaird College for Women Lahore and an In-House Writer at Erato Magazine. She is a strong advocate for feminism and is an ardent lover of Gothic Literature. Through her writings, she wishes to impart awareness about the plight of women in Pakistan.

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