"There were signs that it was an exquisite relief to her to hear the impatient exclamation, though she had resolved so intrepidly to let generosity make one bid against herself. That was now done, and she had not the power to attempt self-immolation."
- Hardy, Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Tess's despair runs deep, but apparently not as deep as many women in Kurdistan, and in many parts of the world, actually. In India, they call it Bride Burning, Dowry Killing, etc. But in Kurdistan, as a Newsweek world reporter explains, (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20839736/site/newsweek/) the multiple pressures on young women have compacted so tightly, they have reached the breaking point, and quite literally, have combusted outwards.
The Kurds, who have luckily been able to avoid the extreme brunt of the war in Iraq, are feeling its effects in different, and more insidious ways than the general upheaval of areas like Baghdad or Diyala providence. Women are being admitted to the hospital everyday with suspicious burns all over their bodies, burns that are almost impossible to receive by accident. Now, Kurds have been known to have a "fire obsession" for many years, but the war, along with the introduction of new technologies, such as cell phones, has lead to an increase in tensions, conflict, the ability to spy or record women's behavior, leading to an increase in burning. Kurds blame the technology, saying that casual relationships are made easier in a Westernized world, and has disrupted old tradition, which has then kicked into a sort of overdrive, where people use the immolation and murder to try and veer back onto the traditional course. And yes, the introduction of these new technologies do contribute to some of the sad stories of death by burning. But they are not the epicenter, or the cause of the smoldering ashes. The true problem is one that has existed since the beginnings of many cultures, all the way back to examples in ancient times- such as Egypt and in India, where wives were burned on the husband's funeral pyre, or sacrificed in some way because of tradition. The collision of Westernized society and tradition is not to blame - it may cause the initial spark, but the fuel to ignite the actions has been embedded into peoples mind for more generations than can be counted. Wherever there is a culture which values the sanctity of the virgin, or the "respect" of a man over the life of a woman, there is a major problem that cannot be fixed, or made much worse by the intro of new technologies. It is a mindset that needs to change to extinguish the flames, not an outer source.
To most Western, developed countries, this practice of burning is unimaginable - in both incarnations -- as either punishment or suicide. To us, the idea of suffering has been separated with our concepts of premeditated deaths - our capital punishment is usually via drug overdose, and for that matter, so is our suicide. This is definitely not the "quick and easy" method. And to some extent, that is why the practice is so horrific - it does not only promise death if committed properly, it promises one of the most painful, lingering ones. How bad must a society's outlook be, when a woman feels she has committed such a sin, or deserves to suffer so much that she is willing to end her life in a slow agony, and lie about the cause to the very last, excruciating, end? We shake our heads in sadness and disbelief, but are we that much better? Why is Joan of Arc a hero of the Christian faith? Don't we too have a history of burning women becuase of their supposed heretical actions or beliefs? Does Salem ring any bells? And how can we claim to be so superior -- when everytime domestic violence occurs, or a women is abused or raped, or a woman is denied equal rights, we are burning a part of her -- and whats worse, the scars are internal and deadly.