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O brother, what art thou?

  • Posted On: 10th June 2013
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“How do people make it through life without a sister?” asked Sara Corpening.
One could easily replace ‘sister’ with ‘brother’ in the above sentence and it would sound equally true. The relationship between siblings provides a unique face of love. For sisters, brothers are friends, companions, guardians, protectors, guides and the most reliable support. Brothers are also normally extremely sensitive about their female siblings. Any harsh comment about one’s sister is bound to raise tempers and turn the mildest of men into angry defenders of their pride.
I once read a story by Stephen King titled ‘The Last Rung on the Ladder’ which dealt with this relationship beautifully. It tells the story of a brother and a sister who had this game where they would take turns to climb an old ladder in their barn and leap off into a pile of hay. On one such occasion, the ladder breaks and the sister is left hanging by the last rung. The brother quickly gathers a lot of hay under her and then asks her to jump, which she does and gets away without getting hurt. Later, the brother is amazed to find out that she wasn’t even looking at what he was doing and had no idea that he had collected all the hay. She just jumped when he asked her to, believing that as long as her brother was there, he would never let her get hurt.
The feelings brothers have for sisters are more or less the same all over the world, the only exception being the most barbaric of cultures or individuals. Keeping this mind, I don’t have words to explain my reaction to a news item that appeared in the paper. A man in Lahore killed his 30-year old sister (mother of three children) for the most common of reasons; he suspected that she was having an affair with another man.
Incidences where a husband kills his wife on such a pretext are extremely common in our country. At least one such occurrence can be found in the papers everyday and it always hurts me to see this sort of attitude towards women. But whenever news about such an act by a brother comes along (unfortunately there is no dearth of such brothers in Pakistan either), it is beyond hurtful or depressing. It’s impossible to imagine how a brother could do such a thing.
Most of us in the country are Muslims and I would not go into the details of what status Islam gives to women; I believe we are more or less aware of it. But forget Islam for a moment. Let’s accept that we are not even close to good Muslims. What about simple morals? Or common sense? Or a heart? Such news forces me to wonder whether the men who are ready to draw battle lines whenever the honour of their sisters is threatened, do so to protect the poor women, or it is just their own twisted concepts ofghairat (probably one of the most misused concepts in our society).
Maybe we are still barbarians. We still consider women our property. Their supposed honour is nothing; what matters is our own silly idea of what raises or lowers our prestige. We are ready to kill anyone who raises a finger towards them because it is us who are indirectly being dishonoured and we are ready to kill our own sisters on the mere assumption of some immoral act for exactly the same reason.
I know all of us are not the same. But the fact that most of us take such incidents and the concept of kari as a part of our culture, which cannot be eliminated whether we like it or not, says a lot about us too. The incidence quoted above occurred in Lahore, not in some far off tribal area. Lahore, the heart of Pakistan, the second most developed city of the country, home to the University of Punjab, Government College and the Alhamra Arts Centre; the centre of cultural activity in Pakistan. What worries me even more is that the peers of the said honourable(?) man would probably justify his action claiming that it was the only course available to a ghairat-mand brother.
I hope we forget our petty complexes someday and begin to understand our responsibilities in all the roles of our life. A brother who cannot protect his sister can be forgiven, but one who becomes a fatal threat to her himself should not be spared. Unfortunately, a large number of such psychopaths go scot-free in the end and in a number of areas of Pakistan such a killing is not even considered a crime, but a courageous and honourable deed.
We should stop believing that we are honourable people until we have the sense to comprehend the meaning of these words. Until then, may Allah protect sisters from their brothers.
A more pertinent question for us would be: “How do sisters make it through life with a brother?”

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