Sunday, May 25, 2008

The dark face of honour.

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.

Not true.

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.


Epiphany said...

This happening in an "educated" family shouldn't really shock you. Most of the times education just means literacy right? Also, you wrote this post coz your family treated you as an equal. The problem is that in a family which doesn't treat the girl child the same as boys, the kids including girls will do the same with their doesn't come into the loop...unfortunately.

Vikram said...

It is ofcourse not going to change overnight; but lets take heart from the fact that Sati was a widely prevalant practice just a couple of generations ago.

And education is still among your most effective tools. Education over time would allow for empowerment; and with empowerment would come the ability to fight the evil.

Vikram said...
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Nandini Vishwanath said...

Very scary, Cyn. I had a chill running down my spine when I read your post. I have not read that book yet, though it was on my to-read list. Now, I think I want to postpone it for sometime. Sigh.

xerexes said...
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Sud said...

It's terrifying. Like Yeats said, although in a different context, and I quote:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Cynic in Wonderland said...

epiphay - they are educated professionals! that is what is scary. Not literate people. but people like you and me!

vikram perhaps you are right. i would be more convinced if i knew sati was abolished altogether - which i dont. along with education, there also needs to be a complete societal shift as well.

nandini - yes, i know what you mean. strangely enuf the book is not all that moving. but after reading it, was searching online for information. that was terrifying.

sud. loved the lines. specially the last two. the best lack all conviction... hmmmm

Epiphany said...

Well u assume I am educated...just barely literate actually ;)

vEENs said...

It is very scary!! very very!

I know of old old families wo used to torture their girl child or even boys for such acts

and i m thnkful.. i m born in a family that loves me!

darn... so hard to be kicked on the chest by own MOM

it is so pathetic to think... :(

AmitL said...

Arghhh..Cyn,reading about such incidents, I sometimes whether we're still living in the dark ages.

I agree,when you're grateful to be born in a family where love for a child is a lot more important than family name.

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Arunima said...

me too damn lucky to be born in a state which is considered poor and not well developed but when it comes to this thigs, we are very much ahead of the times in India. 99.99 percent of the marriages are love marriages and every person is given the right to select their own life partner.

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