Sunday, May 9, 2010
Nothing Honorable about It
Several weeks back, an Indian court pronounced the murderers of a young couple guilty. A mother wept because at last her son was accorded justice, even though he was dead. And a whole lot of people – powerful people – in her village were livid with anger. Because they felt that the court had been unfair to the killers. After all, the death of the couple was necessary. They had brought dishonor to their families and villages by marrying within the same gotra (lineage).
But this was in rural, backward India, you say. Of course, the educated Indian does not believe in such things.
Nirupama Pathak, a journalist from Delhi, would have disagreed, if she could. But she cannot because she is dead. Committed suicide, her parents say. They charge her boyfriend from another caste of raping and then abetting her suicide. Police have not yet unravelled the whole mystery but there are apparently indications of the young woman having been murdered by her educated, middle class parents, in the name of honour. Either of the two allegations could be true or may be both. We do not know yet.
And of course, there are the witch hunts. Not just in Salem in eighteenth century. Right here in India. Age, caste and education no bar. I remember reading about a case couple of years back in which highly educated sons in Delhi’s NCR region murdered their own mother, branding her a witch.
Every time, we come across these cases, we shake our heads, cluck our tongues and move on with the business of our lives. Such regressive ideas and notions are, of course, beyond our understanding and our familiar worlds. They do not occur to us or, even to any of the people we know. Not our friends. Not our family. We are educated, modern and progressive.
I bet, the friends and family of the murderers in all the above instances also felt the same. Or if, they even suspected otherwise, they chose to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that it would all go away. But, it didn’t.
We can blame illiteracy for such heinous crimes in rural, small town India. And on medieval mindset in places like Iran. And in most cases, we would perhaps be right. But what drives those with the benefit of education and exposure to a world beyond the narrow confines of ill-conceived morality to yield to murder? The psychiatrists can perhaps come up with a hundred reasons. None of them justify the killings but they can explain. But to my mind, these killers are as dangerous as psychopaths. These self appointed guardians of virtue.
And it’s always the woman who has to bear the burden of family honour. Oh, she might not always end up dead, at least not medically. There are instances where her moral guardians deem beating her boyfriend / husband/ fiancé to death or maiming him for life or forcing him to suicide is payment enough. Then, the woman wears the albatross of guilt all her life. Guilt that is, perhaps, in some ways, worse than death.
And what is honour, do we know? Dictionary.com gives the meaning of ‘honour’ as:
1. Honesty, fairness, or integrity in one's beliefs and actions
2. A source of credit or distinction
The two definitions, please note, are not mutually exclusive. ‘Honour’ killings can never be fair or an example of integrity. The phrase itself is an oxymoron. Perhaps, the most shameful contradiction that can exist in the twenty first century. ‘Honour’ killings are murders – plain and simple. ‘Honour’ itself, is just another means of subjugating women and also anybody else that the ‘powerful’ in the society want to put down. At the heart of it, ‘honour’ killings are about power. Like most homicides are. And there is nothing honorable about it.