Imtiaz from it. She was ‘born wearing it’,

Imtiaz Dharker’s poems usually have
a strong theme of belonging and identity, and Honour Killing is no different. However, whilst Dharker’s poems
usually bring together a sense of belonging, Honour Killing suggests a stripping of identity and the speaker
breaking free from her country and the religion she feels that she has been
somewhat forced to adhere to.

Dharker’s collection, I Speak for the Devil, heavily features
the themes of culture, religion and identity, and Honour Killing certainly follows these themes throughout.  Published in 2001, the poem follows the
‘honour killing’ of a woman in Pakistan in 1999. Samia Sarwar had brought
dishonour upon her family, for simply asking for a divorce from her first
cousin after she claimed that there were moments of physical violence. Her
family didn’t believe that she should be divorced and allowed to marry a man of
her choice, and this brought dishonour amongst the family. Nobody in Samia Sarwar’s
family was prosecuted for the murder of the 29 year old mother of two. Between
the years of 1998 and 2004, almost 4000 honour killings were reported. Over
2700 of these victims were female. This poem, to some readers, could seem like
Dharker is speaking out about her concern for this woman’s right issue and the
issues that women face in countries such as Pakistan, and religions such as the
Islamic faith.

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The poem, consisting of 33 lines,
is split into 6 stanzas. Each stanza continues to tell the story of the
speaker’s stripping of religion and identity. The reader is first given the
line ‘at last’, suggesting the possible end of a journey for the speaker,
before she discloses to the reader that she is ‘taking off’ her ‘black coat of
a country’. This initially suggests the first signs of stripping her identity
that she feels that she has been forced to wear and comply to for so long. By
connecting her coat to her country, it implies she has a strong connection to
her country but now the speaker wants to cut ties from it. She was ‘born
wearing it’, much like people are born into religion and do not have a choice.
The fifth line of this stanza suggests that she was following the traditions,
cultures and beliefs of this country merely out of habit, rather than for the
‘design’ that she liked. This entire stanza implies that the speaker is fed up
of following her country’s beliefs as she has realised that she is not forced
to comply to these rules and values of her country, and she is able to make her
own decisions to reject this ‘coat of a country’.

Following on from the first stanza,
the reader realises that this black coat is not actually a coat, but is
actually a veil. From the lines ‘this black veil of a faith/ that made me
faithless’, Dharker implies that the speaker is not only rejecting her country
but also her religion too. The speaker is completely stripping herself of her
identity and choosing to follow what she believes is right, rather than being
born into a country or religion that she does not want to be a part of. She no
longer wants to be hidden behind a veil, and removing this will ensure that she
can be the person she wants to be with an identity that she chooses for
herself. By using the words ‘faithless’ and the imagery Dharker uses in regards
to line thirteen where the speaker feels that this veil has ‘tied’ her mouth, it
conveys to the reader that the speaker felt restricted in what she could and
couldn’t do or say, and she felt restrained to the point where she lost all
faith in her religion.

Stanza three reflects more of a
feminist viewpoint in regards to her culture and religions than the other
stanzas portray. The speaker discusses how she is stripping herself of the
‘silks’, ‘lacy things’ and ‘mangalsutra’, objects often associated with
females. Therefore, the reader is rejecting items that men can use to control
women in her society. The use of the nouns ‘mangalsutra’ and ‘rings’ reflects
that the speaker may currently be married, yet the atmosphere set by Dharker
makes the reader feel as if it may not be such a healthy relationship. The
reader can understand from this stanza that she no longer wants to feel forced
into wearing things. She currently has no identity as she is forced to be this
person that her husband, her country and her religion want her to be, implied
by the line ‘that feed dictator dreams’. By using the noun ‘dictator’, the
reader can infer that the speaker is unable to make her own choices over
anything, let alone the things that she says, does or wears, which are things
that most people currently take for granted in the Western world. Currently, it
almost seems as if she blends in with every other woman in her country, and she
does not want to be trapped in this community of clones anymore.

Stanza four is the shortest stanza
of the six and really draws the importance of the dramatic message the speaker
is trying to get across. The previous stanzas have all been the speaker
stripping herself of clothing and accessories; whereas in this stanza, the speaker
is trying to strip herself of the most personal garment: her own skin. This
could possibly be seen as the speaker trying to completely strip herself of her
current identity, and almost re-birth and gain a new identity. This idea
continues when the speaker lists the three other things she wants to detach
herself from: ‘the face, the flesh, /the womb.’ As well as skin, the face
and flesh of a person are key components of creating an identity for somebody,
so taking that away from somebody turns you into nobody. To the reader, this
may seem to the speaker as if becoming nobody is actually better than the
person she identifies as currently. The womb is also quite an important one, as
this is one of the most important things in creating an identity. Without the
womb, there’s no possibility of a person being created, therefore no identity
will be created. This could suggest that she does not want to bring a child
into the world where they feel as oppressed as the speaker does now, and maybe
it would be better if there was no possibility of a child being created as the
child’s identity would be sculpted and forced together by the country, religion
and family. These integral body parts that create an identity emphasise how
much the speaker wants to cut ties with the identity that she currently owns
and the person that she currently is.

The final two stanzas are very
similar in the way that they seem to be quite optimistic for the speaker as she
looks forward to her future now that she has rejecting her previous identity. Dharker
continuously uses the phrase ‘let’s see’ at the beginning of stanza five and
six, which could convey that the speaker is happy to move on from where she is
now and move forward with her new identity. However, it could also suggest more
of a self-analysis as the speaker may look at being slightly critical towards
her own self now that she has rejected everybody else’s ideas and beliefs. It
may be that she wonders if she will continue to stand up for herself as time
progresses and her identity becomes more apparent to others. By using the
triadic structure of the verbs ‘making, crafting, plotting’, it conveys that
she is working towards becoming the person that she wants to be, and working on
the things that make her happy, rather than following society’s standards and
doing things to please society. The final line of the poem, ‘new geography’
could have several meanings to a reader. One possibility may be that she has
created a new geography for herself, as well as creating her new identity. However,
another possibility may be that she moved away from the country she was
originally tied to, and has moved on from this experience. This somewhat
reflects Dharker’s life as she was born in Lahore, Pakistan, but moved to
Scotland as a child. The speaker could possibly be based on a figure from
Dharker’s family life, such as her mother or another female relative, who has
had to endure the forceful dictatorship of marriage, religion and their


In conclusion,
Dharker continuously creates a strong theme of identity,
belonging and feminism. To some readers, Dharker may have been trying to create
a stance against these killings of innocent women in some of the Asian
countries, or may have also been trying to create a feminist point of view to
express the fact that women of today’s society should not have to feel like
they are oppressed and controlled by society, or judged against society’s
standards. They should be their own person.


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