Imran Khan Leans Into His Patriarchal Side By Glorifying Ghairat

Imran Khan Leans Into His Patriarchal Side By Glorifying Ghairat
Glorification of an imaginary patriarchal notion of ghairat (honor) by a popular national leader in a country where thousands of women and girls are annually killed for it is a disfavour to half of the country’s population. This unnecessary platforming for objectionable and contentious ideas and narratives does more harm than good. Honor is a widely accepted narrative in our society that underlies honor crimes because it considers family honor a highly valued and fiercely protected currency and regards women and girls as the objects of this currency.

The term ghairat is widely translated as honor, which is predominantly considered part of an inherent and indispensable system of Pakistani cultural values. Thus, keeping ghairat intact and avoiding dishonor and shame are critical societal concerns. In order to uphold one’s honor, people can kill or die for it.

Political leaders’ words and actions have implications because millions of people follow them, and in the case of leaders who have diehard fans, they can die or kill for them, which has become the case for Imran Khan.

Ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan’s patriarchal views are well documented, sometimes packaged in cultural norms and values, and sometimes with his infamous “Islamic touch.” In a 2021 interview, he said, “men are not robots; ladies wearing revealing clothes impact them,” thereby subscribing to a view long refuted by a significant body of research that shows that sexual violence is a consequence of perpetrators dehumanising female bodies. Also, he is well known for his abilities and expertise in so-called ‘narrative’ building, without much care for an iota of truth or consequences. His foreign conspiracy narrative, where his ouster through a no-confidence motion was plotted by the US and executed by local actors, is a case in point. It is widely believed that Mr. Khan is a master of converting any situation in his favour to curry political advantage and has demonstrated this uncanny ability repeatedly.

In recent events, he did the same; following the police operation at his Zaman Park residence in Lahore, he made a fiery speech in which Mr. Khan, besides his regular rant against his opponents, which is a long list including the current government and establishment, he aggressively hyped the idea ghairat.

Part of Mr. Khan’s Sunday speech, which is viral on social media, is about so-called ghairat. Mr. Khan defended ghairat as an ultimate and sacred cultural value by reinforcing the idea of honor attached to women, and placing it above the law. In his outburst, the glorification of ghairat was derived from both cultural and religious tenets. First, Mr. Khan claimed the police operation was an attack on his honor as his wife was at home, then he recited kalma and declared that those who believe in the kalma are ghairatmand, honorable people. He categorised police officers who participated in the Zaman Park operation and army personnel, who he believed were behind the operation, into two categories, i.e., ghairatmand and beghairat (people with and without ghairat).

Mr. Khan exalted ghairat as a matter of life and death by raising a question and pointing the finger at army officers about how they would feel if police entered their houses in their absence. It was widely reported in the media that police had search warrants and went to implement the law, but Khan invoked the idea that the police violated his honor by doing their job. Such glorifying one’s ghairat and putting it above the law can have devastating ramifications in a country where a perceived or actual breach of one’s honor, even on petty issues, can lead to murder.

For example, despite the 2016 anti-honor killing law, not a single day goes by without a report of the murder of women in the name of so-called honor in the country. My analysis of the reports published by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan shows that, between 2004 and 2016, 15,222 honor killings – 1,170 yearly, 22 per week – were recorded. More recent statistics show that the problem persists. In 2021, 128 women were killed in Sindh province in the name of honor. And in Punjab province, between July and December 2021, 90 women were killed, 2,439 were raped, and 9,529 were kidnapped.

This is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg. The reality is that hundreds of honor killings in Pakistan go unreported, and will continue to keep women and men vulnerable to being killed in the name of honor. In such a terrible situation for women and girls in the country, a popular national leader's unnecessary glorification of this imaginary concept of ghairat is harmful.

Politicians must be wary and consider consequences while commenting on controversial ideas that can harm society and the most vulnerable groups. Especially public figures who wield the kind of influence Khan does are able to make a massive difference by promoting women’s rights if they choose to do so by at least avoiding such toxic rhetoric which contravenes women’s human rights.

Dr. Sadiq Bhanbhro is a Senior Research Fellow at Sheffield Hallam University.