I just finished reading the controversial Norma Khouri’s ‘Forbidden Love’ few weeks ago– the so-called true (subsequently proven as fabricated) story of a young Muslim woman in Jordan who was stabbed to death by her family for defying the cardinal Islamic rule – of falling in love with a Catholic man.
While that might NOT be the case in this instance, the fact that Honour killings still exist in many parts of the world (and maybe in Jordan as well) cannot be denied- UN figures estimate that at least 5000 women are killed every year. For these families, the woman is not a person – just a procreation object who (unfortunately for them), has a rather important role in the propagation of the family name. Any perceived transgression on this object’s part has direct repercussions on the future pure-blooded genealogy of the family name and hence, merits appropriately harsh punishment.
In India, honour killings happen often enough, for one to be quite blasé about them– every other day you have a write up in some publication, about some woman who was stoned to death or hung from a tree for falling in love with a man from another caste or talking to a unknown man or something of the sort. Occasionally, it makes front page news like the Priyanka –Rizwanur case (one of the rare instances where the man was the bigger victim). Most of the times it just tucked away in some small corner of the newspapers.
One would like to think this phenomenon is confined to the illiterate, rural poor – it doesn’t happen to families such as ours we say. Families which are urban, middle class, educated and exposed to the global, cosmopolitan world view.
In my circle of acquaintances there was a girl from a reasonably well-off Muslim family in the UK who used to apparently get regularly thrashed by her parents for misdemeanours as trivial as wearing figure hugging clothes or talking to a male acquaintances. A common friend, aghast, had told me that her father and mother used to kick her on her chest, and neck for offences such as that. The thought of someone being kicked like that still makes me feel ill – her mother participating in the brutality is even more unforgivable for some reason.
Perhaps she was one of the lucky few in her community. I had heard about someone else from a similar background- from an educated, affluent family, who met with a “fatal accident” while eloping with a boy from another community – that rumours hinted was orchestrated by her enraged father.
And as if such instances were not inhuman enough, I read of an even more disturbing trend– outsourced murder which also included honour killings (to where else but the outsourced capital of the world – India) . It went on to mention how foreign residents – especially NRI would request the Indian counterpart (typically a family member) to kill the female relative who had besmirched their family name. And for a price, the deed is done. Outsourced supari and reclaimed honour.
I can’t help but wonder about the inner dynamics of the perpetrators of honour killings and beatings.
One would think that people living under one roof for years would have some bond which is forged based on shared blood-ties and common memories. When you set out to kill or maim a sister or daughter won’t there be flashbacks to her playing with a doll as a child or a cooking a special dish for you or sitting up all night to bathe your forehead for a fever which just won’t go down? How can the THAT picture be reconciled with that of an enemy who needs to be eradicated at all costs? After the deed is done, is there regret or only self-righteousness? Are these blood ties of so gossamer fragile, that they snap in the face of bloodlust?
What about a society and community which not only condones, but celebrates honour killings. Where if you kill a supposedly tainted kinswoman, you are not a criminal, but a cause célèbre?
The point is how does one change these attitudes which are so deeply woven into the cultural fabric? How does one condone the denial of basic right of choice for millions of women across the world to live and die as they please?
Sometimes I wonder whether we actually need a cleansing of the world – the proverbial Noah’s downpour or perhaps a Kalki to change the ways for I fear no ordinary mortal person can.
And yet again, I am so grateful to be born in a family where love for a child (female or male) was a hell of lot more important than family name.