Customs – Should regressive cultural ones be respected or suppressed?

Markandey Katju

Markandey Katju

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While many social customs should be respected, many others, e.g. discrimination against dalits in India, must not be tolerated, and should be forcibly suppressed.

Pakistan’s Ambassador to the UN, Munir Akram, said that it is part of Pashtun culture that women should be kept at home.

Assuming that is so, should such regressive cultural customs be respected or suppressed?

In this connection I may mention an incident.

Charles James Napier

When some persons told Gen Charles James Napier Napier, a British army officer in India, that it was their custom to burn widows (Sati), he replied that it was his country’s custom to hang such persons as murderers:

“Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.”

Custom of Sati

While many social customs should be respected, many others, e.g. discrimination against dalits in India, must not be tolerated, and should be forcibly suppressed.

When the great Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938) assumed power in Turkey, he realised that one of the reasons for Turkey’s backwardness, for which it was kicked around by European powers (who called Turkey ‘The Sick Man of Europe’) was the widely prevalent custom of keeping women uneducated, veiled, and segregated.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

So he ordered all women to be compulsorily educated and desegregated. In a speech in 1923 he said

“Women are the pillars of society and wellspring of the nation. They must bring up, and educate, strong new generations, but they can only do this if they themselves are enlightened. Turkish women must therefore be well educated, and capable of gaining respect in society”.

He pointed out that without equality between men and women, national progress was impossible.

This is in sharp contrast to the policy of the Taliban, who are bigoted village idiots, of keeping women uneducated, veiled, and at home.

For its progress, Afghanistan needs a King Amanullah (who was king of Afghanistan from 1919 to 1929), who tried to emancipate Afghan women.

Afghan female students react against Taliban’s university ban in Kabul 

People of Afghanistan (not foreigners) should overthrow these feudal minded village idiots, and set up a modern government like that created by Mustafa Kemal, or like that envisaged by King Amanullah.

As the great Tamil poet Subramania Bharathi (1882-1921) wrote in his poem ‘Murasu’:

”Kangal Irandinil ordrai kuththi
Kaatchi Kedutthidalamo
Pengal arivai valarthal, vaiyyam
Pedamai attridum kaaneer ”

(Out of the two eyes, if you pierce and destroy one,
are you not spoiling your own vision?
In fact if you educate the women, the backwardness
which grips this world will vanish automatically.”)

Also Read: How Afghanistan’s mineral wealth attracts competitors

Afghanistan is a country with huge natural resources. With correct policies and introduction of technology, as envisaged by its former King Amanullah, in about 20 years it could be transformed into a modern industrial state, with its people enjoying a high standard of living.

But this is impossible without granting equality to women, for that will be like a boxer fighting with one hand strapped behind his back.

Picture taken in 1962 at the Faculty of Medicine in Kabul of two Afghan medicine students listening to their professor (at right) as they examine a plaster cast showing a part of a human body

IQ tests in modern psychology have shown that the IQ of an average woman is the same as that of an average man.

In fact whenever women got opportunities they showed they could do as well as men in all spheres, e.g. Queen Elizabeth 1 of England and Empress Catherine the Great of Russia, who were great stateswomen.

Madam Curie, who was the first person in the world to win two Nobel Prizes (one in Physics and the other in Chemistry), the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Margaret Mitchell, etc who were great writers.

Ada Lovelace, who was the world’s first computer programmer, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was a great Judge, Amelia Earhart, who was a great pilot, and the Rani of Jhansi, who was a great warrior,.

Hence to deprive Afghan women of education and other opportunities means destroying half the country’s human potential. In fact it would be destroying much more than that, because if a woman is educated she will pass on her knowledge to her children, but if she is uneducated she will pass on her ignorance, stupidity, and superstitions to them.

The regressive and retrograde policies of the Taliban towards women must therefore be condemned by all right thinking people. 


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Markandey Katju

Markandey Katju

Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India and former Chairman, Press Council of India.

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