The Patriarchy Continuum – Elders

And in Kashmir, girls are just things to stick their penises in (if they can) along with domestic servitude:

“Sakina, 22, was a teenager when she was sold by her family for 1,200 rupees (£15) to a stranger over the age of 60. Her sister, who organised the deal, had duped Sakina by presenting a “young good-looking” chap before the marriage ceremony. She was shocked at seeing the elderly man on the wedding night. Rendered helpless by youth and poverty, there was no escape for the bride. “Nobody helped me,” she said.

Uprooted from her home in Kolkata, Sakina was sent to live far away in Pakharpora, a small village in the Budgam district of the Kashmir valley. The journey 1,200 miles from east to north meant getting used to an entirely different culture and climate.

Time has passed but Sakina cannot reconcile herself to a husband who fails to emotionally or sexually satisfy her. “For the last two years he has become totally impotent,” she said.

The young woman still dreams of marrying someone she loves. But the fear of being torn apart from her two children prevents her from leaving.

There are more stories like Sakina’s in Pakharpora and the surrounding villages nestled in the Himalayas. Muslim girls have been given away by their families to Kashmiri men for amounts ranging from 500 to 20,000 rupees. These girls, who are barely educated, belong to poor families from different parts of the country. “I have heard heartbreaking tales and this practice should be stopped,” said Lubna Khan, a female doctor who makes a weekly visit to the rural outback, which is seldom visited by outsiders.

“What is wrong with these old men?” asked Khan, the sole confidante to many of the sold brides in the area. Local activists say the selling of brides became prevalent in rural areas during the past decade. They attribute it to the rise in poverty due to the 20-year conflict between the Indian army and the militants, who want Kashmir to be independent.”

Of course, widows are used goods, so, who wants them anyway. They can just die alone and poor.

And in Afghanistan (where we, Westerners supposedly liberated women from the patriarchal Taliban):

“Shakila, 8 at the time, was drifting off to sleep when a group of men carrying AK-47s barged in through the door. She recalls them complaining, as they dragged her off into the darkness, about how their family had been dishonored and about how they had not been paid.

It turns out that Shakila, who was abducted along with her cousin as part of a traditional Afghan form of justice known as “baad,” was the payment.

Although baad (also known as baadi) is illegal under Afghan and, most religious scholars say, Islamic law, the taking of girls as payment for misdeeds committed by their elders still appears to be flourishing. Shakila, because one of her uncles had run away with the wife of a district strongman, was taken and held for about a year. It was the district leader, furious at the dishonor that had been done to him, who sent his men to abduct her.

Shakila’s case is unusual both because she managed to escape and because she and her family agreed to share their plight with an outsider. The girl’s father’s reaction to the abduction also illustrates the difficulty in trying to change such a deeply rooted cultural practice: He expressed fury that she was abducted because, he said, he had already promised her in marriage to someone else.


The strength of the traditional justice system and the continuing use of baad is a sign both of Afghans’ lack of faith in the government’s justice system, which they say is corrupt, and their extreme sense of insecurity. Baad is most common in areas where it is dangerous for people to seek out government institutions. Instead of turning to the courts, they go to jirgas, assemblies of tribal elders, that use tribal law, which allows the exchange of women.

”There are two reasons people refuse the courts — first, the corrupt administration which openly demands money for every single case, and second, instability,” said Haji Mohammed Nader Khan, an elder from Helmand who often participates in judging cases that involve baad. “Also, in places where there are Taliban, they won’t allow people to go to courts and solve their problems.””

Such a progressive father.

“During her de facto imprisonment, Shakila and her cousin were allowed out of their dark room after three months and then only so that they could haul firewood from the mountains and lug pails of water from the river. For the entire year or so that they were kept, neither girl was given a fresh set of clothes. For the first six months they were not even allowed to wash the ones they arrived in, making them into dirty-looking urchins who were that much easier for the family to hate. They were fed bread and water every other day.

”They tortured us in a way that no human being would treat another,” Shakila said.

She spoke softly and hid her face when a reporter asked her about the white scars on her forehead. “When they threw me against the stone wall,” she said.”

Sociologist Anthony Giddens  reminds us of one central fact: “all traditions are invented traditions. No traditional societies were wholly traditional, and traditions and customs have been invented for a diversity of reasons. (…) Moreover, traditions always incorporate power, whether they are constructed in a deliberate way or not. Kings, emperors and priests and others have long invented traditions to suit themselves and legitimize their rule.” In other words, when people invoke traditions, they imply certain things that are significant from a sociological point of view:

  • they refer to ideas and practices that apply to groups and collectivities. Traditions are always collective concepts;
  • they mean to strengthen power arrangements they feel are threatened by modernity;
  • they invoke tradition to defend practices that are questionable but that they do not want questioned.

This is why invoking traditions is at the heart of conservative thinking even though they refer to “ways we never were”, to paraphrase the title of Stephanie Coontz’s brilliant book on this subject in relation to family structures. In this context, it is not surprising that traditions are always marshaled in defense of patriarchal rule and social structures.

As Giddens indicates, traditions have guardians who are supposed to be the only ones able to interpret the truths perpetuated by traditions. Such guardians can be clerics interpreting sacred texts for their followers or self-appointed “experts” on the family in the United States, for instance. Consistently, such guardians of tradition oppose the ultimate modern and cosmopolitan value of autonomy and individual freedom. Religious fundamentalism, which we examine below, is “beleaguered tradition” as Giddens puts it.

In other words, what the elders above are doing is no different than what the elders below are doing, and they all use the same “traditions” to sustain their power:

Elders: defending and promoting the patriarchy everywhere. It’s a hard job but someone has to do it.

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