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  Honour — 3  

Sex & Violence
  Vol II : issue 1

  Amrita Pritam
  Mrinal Pande
  Evelyne Accad
  Gagan Gill
  Selina Hossain
  Only in Print

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"A man brought the head of his older brother's wife to the police station. He said that he had killed the whore in order to protect their family honour. Just think, gentlemen, what nobility of character!

Selina Hossain

Abdul Jabbar replied ruefully, “Yes, it was good riddance. But the trouble is that she stained our family honour. It is difficult to walk the village streets. People are saying all sorts of things.”

“Let’s not bother about the people in your village. I can’t imagine how I will show my face at my father’s home.”
Suddenly, Rahima sensed a shadow moving in the courtyard, and she yelled out: “O Ma!”

“What happened? What happened?” Abdul Jabbar asked her.
Rahima screamed, “Maleka, Maleka! There’s the headless Maleka!”
“What nonsense! How is that possible?”
“There, there! There she is, right there!”

Hearing that scream, Abdul Jabbar’s mother rushed out from behind the cowshed. As she ran, her foot slipped on the fresh cowdung right in the middle of the courtyard and she fell on her back. Her eyes started from her head as she groaned in pain and sobbed: “My Maleka! My dear Maleka!”
Abdul Jabbar’s mother was more frail and helpless than a hen at death’s door. People came out from their rooms. They tried to make her swallow some water. But the water drooled from the corner of her mouth.

Maleka stood still, watching. She was happy because her mother had found relief in death. Maleka flew on happily and arrived at Gonu Master’s house. Surrounded by a lot of trees, the house was serene. She stood by the empty cowshed. The cows were at pasture. The teacher sat on a mat in his verandah, having breakfast. It was time for school. His eight children sat with him. Except for one, they would also go to school. Then Alimun said to herself, “If she was an adulteress, well, that was her choice. But why did she have to be killed?” Alimun felt bad for Maleka and often discussed her death with her husband. The teacher said, “No one can take the law into his own hands. If you don’t like your wife, you can always leave her to fend for herself. If she loves anyone else, she can go to him. But you do not have the right to kill her.”

It was only after being scolded by the teacher that the two brothers had gone to retrieve Maleka’s corpse. The news of her death had made them neither upset nor angry. They had stared blankly and wondered, “Was it so easy for one human being to kill another?”

Hanif Sheikh, who stood nearby, had said, “What a goat! You’ll never become a man. You’ll always be a cow!”
Abdul Jabbar was pleased with his promotion from goat to cow. He thought this enhanced his prestige. The teacher had told them, “The poor have only one honour: getting two full meals a day. Is there any honour in starving and eating grass and roots? The stomach is the honour of the poor, whether they are men or women. There is no honour in anything else. Not only should a poor woman have a good character, a poor man must have a good moral character too.”

The Abdul Jabbars of the world cannot understand this philosophy, and they do not even want to understand it. That is why they are the majority. The teacher was alone. Who wanted to listen to him? Even so, the teacher faithfully delivered his speech to whoever he could find.

Maleka shuddered, thinking that someone could murder the teacher for promoting this philosophy. Murder! Murder! The word rang out with a turbulence. She went up to Alimun and followed her everywhere. But Alimun was absorbed in her chores. She did not see Maleka’s shadow. She did not scream. Maleka spent a long time in that peaceful home before moving on.

She came to the marketplace and stood beside Kaloo Molla’s tea stall. The adda was in full swing. Abdul Jabbar’s mother had died — now the word was that “the lunatic woman” had died. One word led to another. The subject of discussion was now Maleka. Moslem Howladar, a police officer from Durgapur, was home for the holidays. His voice was the loudest. He was a major champion of family honour. He was saying, “You people must remember the incident at Durgapur. A man brought the head of his elder brother’s wife to the police station. He said that he had killed the whore in order to protect their family honour. Just think, gentlemen, what nobility of character!”

Someone at the rear responded, “Don’t talk about that scoundrel. He was the one who wanted to sleep with his elder brother’s wife. He killed her because she refused him.” Moslem Howladar was irritated, “Sometimes men can behave like that. The responsibility of protecting the honour...” He could not finish. Another picked up his train, “The man did it for the sake of his family honour.”

Somebody commented from the rear, “That man went on trial. He was hanged.” Moslem Howladar got excited, “Of course he would be hanged! We still obey British laws. There is no end to the damage done by the British to this country. The British law has not yet reached a level where it can protect family honour.”

There was a hue and cry. Moslem Howladar became more agitated. He could not imagine anyone protesting at his words. He was about to say something more when he saw a shadow in front of the tea stall and screamed. He sat down on the bench, lay his head on the table and mumbled in fear.

“What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” A concert of voices rose.
“Maleka, Maleka! The headless Maleka!”
“Where is Maleka? Where?”
“There, there! Right there, right there!”

Some people began to giggle. Gradually, a wave of laughter flowed out from the tea stall. Someone commented satirically, “It seems that these days the police have acquired the habit of seeing ghosts.”

Moslem Howladar felt extremely frustrated. He could not say a word. He reflected inwardly. Was he speaking the truth? Must one accept the idea of the honour of women? For a split second, a grave doubt assailed him. Even with his policeman’s courage, he dared not look outside. What if that shadow stirred again?

Maleka was furious. She walked wildly through the village. Bakoljora was her birthplace, her beloved home. She would not go anywhere else. She felt a vehement desire to be alive again.

She wanted to be born once again in Bakoljora, only to kick the concept of honour in the rear.

p. 1 p. 2 p. 3  

Selina Hossain is a leading fiction writer of Bangladesh. She lives in Dhaka