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The Bearers of Guilt and Shame

“Fears are educated into us, and can, if we wish, be educated out.”
-Karl Augustus Menninger

Societies known as shame societies keep their members in line by instilling a sense of shame for ‘wrong’ actions and by threatening them with banishment. On the other hand we have what are known as guilt societies in which the members feel guilt for ‘wrong’ actions, since offenses are prescribed a due punishment. Justice in tribal systems is carried out by eradicating the source of shame. Shameful acts committed by women are liable to the most heinous types of punishments, as are those committed by men. A crime is always answerable to a law and is made right through a punishment for the offender. This seems only fair and to an extent quite logical. Yet justice in tribal systems seems to be carried out only by redirecting the blame to a female next in kin of a male offender.

Shahnaz Bibi, an elderly woman from the village of Neelor Bala, was stripped of her clothing and paraded in her village in this condition as a punishment for an egregious crime. A crime which she was completely oblivious of since it wasn’t committed by her – but rather committed by her son. The son caused shame to his family and the family of the girl with whom he is accused of having an affair with; thus it is now the responsibility of the men of this girl’s family to undo this wrong and to restore their honor within the tribe. They rid themselves of shame by degrading a woman who had no knowledge of this crime until she found herself being paraded through her village, naked. She saw the people that once looked at her with respect now turn away in shame. Justice has been served and as a result this woman can no longer return to her home, and has no right to defend her honor.

Honor, as defined by men from tribal societies such as Neelor Bala, comes from their social standing and has a great deal to do with their control and authority over their property, which includes the women of their household. Therefore justice for women becomes difficult to appropriate if not completely impossible. Acts such as those carried out against Shahnaz Bibi are not part of a justice system, but rather a power struggle. Within this struggle a woman though not guilty of any crime can become subject to such disgrace. With no power women become the target of both shame and guilt. Sadly this reality doesn’t only exist is rural parts of Pakistan but is also evident in the manner in which woman are treated in the judicial system of the nation. The law may theoretically be governed by rules but in actuality it is at the whims of dominant males. So even if a woman were to go so far as to seek justice through the judicial system to demand that the cause of her shame be deemed a crime, she will in the end be silenced. The justice system of a tribe will not allow for her to live in peace and neither will that of the country.

The solution is as convoluted as the mindset of these men. To reprogram their frame of mind is nearly impossible and yet without this no chronic solution can ever be sought. We must also highlight the fact that within these tribes no woman will ever aid or raise her voice for another woman no matter how much she wants to. By doing so she would be risking her life and going against accepted norms which have been infused deeply within her. The power that men have over women is acquired by instilling fear in them. As long as fear prevails, these incidents will continue to prevail. Understanding this fear can only be done by realizing that there is nothing to fear. Power is manmade and ephemeral and the longer fear riddles our minds the longer power will remain in the hands of those who wish to hurt rather than help us.

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