Whose Honour is It Anyway?

Aug 16, 2010
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As the male ego is hurt, murder gains acceptability and is even glorified once you call it honour killing.


The daughter's body has become the vessel holding the family's honour.

The daughter's body has become the vessel holding the family's honour.

Photo credit: 7iber

It is absolutely inane that as a society we have reached the sad day when we need to debate the issue of whether, what I can only call a cool-blooded murder, can be viewed as socially acceptable and be called honour killing. I have listened with horror to the recent debates where those in favour – and yes, believe it or not, there are such monsters around – try to justify taking young lives to protect some misplaced value system.

There has been a spate of such murders in our Indian city in the past few days and those who committed and/or favoured these barbaric acts justified themselves by saying they had no choice or it was inevitable! The story goes like this: if a young girl dares fall in love with someone of another caste or from the same clan then it is taboo and needs to be dealt with and deal they do: they simply kill the child. And to crown it all instead of downright and vehement condemnation by all we hear muted voices that say things like: we do not condone murder but... The but is too loud and unacceptable. The but reeks of vote bank politics, of misplaced and medieval and feudal ways, of weak minds and of rigid ones that refuse to bend. No one is willing to address the situation head on be it within the family, the society or the vote seekers.

Winds of change are blowing and will keep doing so. There is nothing you can do about it. And each such murder is simply paving the way for the next one as politicians and law makers remain silent or split hair in ways best mastered by them. So instead of addressing the core of the problem, they simply hover around the periphery in the hope of protecting their vote banks. The perpetrators get bolder and bolder and all hell breaks loose. Murder gains acceptability and is even glorified once you call it honour killing!

Since time immemorial, parents have opposed their children's choices but it is almost inconceivable to think that a parent would kill or order the killing of his child. Even in the recent cases, the dastardly acts have been committed by brothers helped by their friends and the reason given is to salvage misplaced honour. I have seen this at work.

The incident happened when we first began our work at projectwhy. In those times I had no real knowledge of social norms and aberrations. There was a birthday party in the street where we worked and we had been invited. As is often the cases part of street had been covered with a tent and there was a music system in attendance. As is also the often the cases though the birthday party was that of a one-year-old child, the guests were mostly adults: the entire neighbourhood and a plethora of relatives and friends. And again as is always the case there was a lot of booze though it remained invisible.

The party was in full swing and spirits were a tad too high. Bollywood dance numbers screeched through the bad quality speakers and people danced. A young girl, she must have been 17 then and was one of our staff, started dancing, too, with her friends. She is a mean dancer and she twirled with abandon. One must understand that young girls rarely have the chance to dance, and parties and weddings are the places where they can show their talent. Her parents were there, too, seated on the chairs that were part of the decor. Everyone was having fun. Suddenly her two brothers appeared and dragged her away, hurling abuses. She was dragged to their house where the two lads started beating her. I followed and screamed at them but to no avail. All I could here was the word izzat – honour – shouted repeatedly, as well as – jaan se mardege – we will kill you. Soon the parents came and the beating stopped. The poor girl was in tears and deeply humiliated.

In a split instant, all that remains is misplaced honour that has to be restored, so off with her head!

What must have happened is that some drunk guy must have passed a leering comment and the brothers, instead of defending the girl who was doing no wrong, decided to salvage the honour by punishing her. It was the same kind of reaction as the one we witnessed in last week’s incident where the murderer brother stated in an interview that he was facing regular humiliation because his sister had married outside her caste and was constantly taunted by his friends. So male ego is hurt and the only thing to do is to eliminate the cause once for all. Never mind if the cause is your sister, the one you played with, laughed with or shared moments. In a split instant all that is forgotten and all that remains is misplaced honour that has to be restored, so off with her head!

As an eminent lady journalist said recently: that in such cases the daughter's body has become the vessel holding the family's honour. She is not considered an individual with her own dreams and aspirations and her own rights. And this cannot be particularly when girls even from extremely traditional families have now stepped out of their homes to taste the world outside.

It is now a matter of choice. Many girls may still accept old ways and this has to be their choice. But if one of them does decide to do otherwise those who love and care for her must understand her choice and accept it. The young girl who danced many moons ago is today an empowered young woman who has been able to get her family to accept her choices. She is aware of the so-called honour of her family and I know she will respect it but in her own way and manner and her family has accepted it, in their own way. The battle between generations will go on as it always does and solutions will be found. Murder is not one of them.


This post was originally published on projectwhy in June 2010.


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