Izzat (honor)

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Izzat (Hindi-Urdu: इज़्ज़त or عزت) refers to the concept of honor prevalent in the culture of North India and Pakistan.[1] It applies universally across religions (Hindu, Muslim and Sikh), communities and genders.[2][3][4] Maintaining the reputation of oneself and one's family (especially women) is part of the concept of izzat, as is the obligatory taking of revenge when one's izzat has been violated.[5]

Although the concept of izzat has been viewed as curtailing the freedom of women, it is also a strongly egalitarian concept that cuts across social hierarchy and enforces "equality in giving, but also equality in vengeance."[5][6] The idea of reciprocity, in both friendship and enmity, is deeply embedded in izzat. It is required that a person come to the assistance of those who have helped that person earlier.[5] To not do so is to dishonor one's debt and lose izzat.[5]

Dushmani and Badla[edit]

Violations or perceived violations of izzat are key to the development of both personal and family enmities (dushmani, दुश्मनी or دشمنی) as the wronged party seeks revenge (badla, बदला or بدلا), which could result in cycles of counter-revenge, sometimes spanning generations.[7][8][9][10] The concept of reciprocity applies to badla as well. The nature and intensity of the revenge, "and what is taken - life, resources, or position - is governed by izzat (honour), which is the principle of reciprocity or equivalence in all things."[11] Because social relations in the region emphasize social debts and "unrestricted reciprocity" among kin, enmity can spread to individuals who were not involved in the original infractions of izzat and "rarely remains localized."[11][12]

In politics[edit]

Izzat has played a significant role in the political dynamics of India and continues to do so to the current day. Various state rulers in the pre-1947 princely states of British-ruled India resisted British involvement in their kingdoms, despite nominally acknowledging British suzerainty, because such "intervention constituted an attack on their izzat."[13] In post-independence India, the "politics of izzat" has been cited as a key reason for the rise of elected politicians from hitherto-backward communities, who have done little to economically benefit their communities but have created greater izzat for them by creating powerful political blocs.[14] Politicians in power often frame populist policies in terms of izzat, such as with the 2009 Izzat Scheme launched by Indian Railways Minister, Mamata Banerjee, which provides a subsidy for poorer citizens to travel by train.[15]

In military culture[edit]

The armed forces of India and Pakistan incorporate the concept of izzat as a powerful motivator. Several units of the military use the term in their mottos, such as the Indian Regiment of Artillery's "Sarvatra Izzat O Iqbal" (Everywhere with Honor and Glory).[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ David Cheesman, Landlord power and rural indebtedness in colonial Sind, 1865-1901, Routledge, 1997, ISBN 978-0-7007-0470-5, "... Izzat remains to this day a critical part of life throughout Pakistan and northern India. Maintaining izzat is a driving motivation for vast numbers of people, from all communities and classes and in every walk of life ..." 
  2. ^ Naina Patel, Don Naik, Beth Humphries, Visions of reality: religion and ethnicity in social work, Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work (Great Britain), 1998, ISBN 978-1-85719-181-3, "... The concept of Izzat, shared equally by Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs ..." 
  3. ^ Blackwood's magazine, Volume 211, W. Blackwood, 1922, "... In India the word izzat, honour or prestige, is commonly used by all classes of people ..." 
  4. ^ Syed Abdul Quddus, Punjab, the land of beauty, love, and mysticism, Royal Book Co., 1992, "... For Punjabi men and women alike, izzat means high status, prestige, honour, and power ..." 
  5. ^ a b c d Owen M. Lynch, Divine passions: the social construction of emotion in India, University of California Press, 1990, ISBN 978-0-520-06647-2, "... Izzat enjoined aid to those who had helped one. It also enjoined that revenge be exacted for personal insults and damage to person or property. If a man was threatened he must at least threaten back, for not to do so would be weakness ... Izzat was in fact the principle of reciprocity of gifts, plus the rule of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Giving was an attempt to bring a man of another family into one's debt, and acceptance of the gift involved the ..." 
  6. ^ Women, victims of social evils, Pakistan Institute of Security Management, 2002, "... and justified in the name of "so-called honour", though the reprisals to achieve revenge usually ... If Izzat is violated then it is justified to kill and die for it". As such Izzat is a male value derived and viewed ..." 
  7. ^ Imtiaz Ahmad, Ritual and religion among Muslims in India, Manohar, 1981, "... One pirzada who had tried to stop the fighting, and others who were not involved, talked of a long-term izzat-ki-dushmani (enmity of honour) ..." 
  8. ^ Sociology of natural resources: in Pakistan and adjoining countries, Vanguard, 1992, ISBN 978-969-402-054-9, "... all of his close kinsmen will unite in opposition to the "enemy" (dushman) ..." 
  9. ^ Tor Aase, Tournaments of power: honor and revenge in the contemporary world, Ashgate, 2002, ISBN 978-0-7546-3181-1, "... Thus, a dushmani evolved between families A and B. One night some unidentified persons killed A3 and A6 on the road to their home. Neighbors had observed B4 on the road some time before the killings took place, which led the A family to ..." 
  10. ^ Joyce Pettigrew, Robber noblemen: a study of the political system of the Sikh Jats, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975, ISBN 978-0-7100-7999-2, "... The set of values which the ideology of izzat sanctioned perpetuated murders and counter-murders; and the relationships of power at ... sole owners of that aspect of the philosophy of izzat enjoining murder in revenge for murder ..." 
  11. ^ a b Taylor & Francis, The Journal of Commonwealth & comparative politics, Volume 29, Frank Cass, 1991, "... The manner of their opposition and what is taken - life, resources, or position - is governed by izzat (honour), which is the principle of reciprocity or equivalence in all things. In terms of his enemies, a man frequently found his friends. Enmities could rarely remain localised because of the heterogeneous friendship ties ..." 
  12. ^ Marie Gillespie, Television, ethnicity, and cultural change, Routledge, 1995, ISBN 978-0-415-09675-1, "... binding obligations of unrestricted reciprocity which apply to 'true kin' ..." 
  13. ^ John McLeod, Sovereignty, power, control: politics in the State of Western India, 1916-1947, BRILL, 1999, ISBN 978-90-04-11343-5, "... Among the princes ... intervention constituted an attack on their izzat ..." 
  14. ^ Stuart Corbridge, Seeing the state: governance and governmentality in India, Cambridge University Press, 2005, ISBN 978-0-521-83479-7, "... we turn to questions of izzat, or the politics of honour and empowerment ..." 
  15. ^ Mamata offers Izzat to poor, Yuva trains to youth, MeriNews, 3 July 2009, "... Mamata Banerjee on Friday (July 3), announced a scheme called 'Izzat', by which poor people will be given a monthly pass for Rs 25 to make travel easier. ..." 
  16. ^ Chand N. Das, Hours of Glory: famous battles of the Indian army, 1801-1971, Vision Books, 1997, "... Artillery has truly lived up to its motto: Sarvatra Izzat-o-Iqbal ..."