News from India: Honoured killings

  • post Type / Young Humanists International
  • Date / 31 August 2008

*Honoured killing are an illegitimate justification to  save a fragile caste structure?*

Kill to Honour the caste system By Vidya Bhuhan Rawat Roshini Devi remained remorseless in accepting the fact that she and he  family killed their daughter Sunita, a divorcee living with her lover Jasbir against the wishes of their family in particular and society in general, in Karnal district of Haryana state. Jasbir’s mother though felt grave loss of her son yet had to succumb to the social pressure in pretending as if she was happy with the way her son and his lover met their end. Honoured killing may not be in the official dictionary of India but such incidents are not isolated and are happening on a regular interval. The only fact is that the media does not have enough time to discuss over this, and if they discuss it, they shout on the technicality of the issue like lack of police action, therefore making it a crime story. Of course, it is a crime but much bigger than what an ordinary criminal could do. As it involves those who believe in superfluous racial philosophy which believe that intermingling of different communities by way of marriage must not only be disowned but also discouraged. And if some one dare to go against their dictates, the result is the brutal killings and the atrocious display of dead bodies in public so that future generations, young children should remain caution to understand their boundaries. The politicians, as usual get into the news only when we have to look politically correct. Haryana and western Uttar-Pradesh are notorious in this regard where killing for the honour of family and society is the order of the day.  

A few days back, the caste Panchayat sat in karnal and forced Jasbir’s parents to withdraw the case against the girl’s parents. These caste Panchayats are rampant in India and are a result of our over emphasis on ‘identity’ and ‘culture’. Of late, it has become fashion in Uttar-Pradesh that every caste is organizing its own Panchayat, predominantly male chauvinist, they are the law themselves. It is this arrogance and deep abhorrence for law, that an old rustic fellow like  Mahendra Singh Tikait  can abuse the chief Minister of Uttar-Pradesh and get away with it. Though the Uttar-Pradesh Chief Minister Ms Mayawati, brought him to knees yet the fact is that Tikait got support from all the political parties who rather than condemning his caste-ist remark, made a beeline to support him. When everything is politics, the biggest casualty would be the rule of law. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that though India has a political constitution which is secular and gives one man equal right to vote, it is the Manu Smriti and its laws which runs our social structure. And our political laws and constitution remain helpless to this and it should remain our biggest concern. India declared itself a secular republic with a progressive constitution yet its girls are killed for falling in love with person of their choice. Such stories are not even reported.   

About a fortnight ago we heard the killing of a boy who happened to be a Muslim and fell in love with a girl who was daughter of a local political leader of the Hindutva brigade in Indore. The couple was threatened. They ran from Indore to Mumbai, even approached a TV channel and gave their perception live on the TV that they are under the threat. And many months back, when the girl was pregnant, they thought that now the things are calm down, they went back to Indore. The very next morning the boy was killed. The remorseless mother did not utter anything. The political parties and societies at large in India remain fixated to old mindset and this over emphasis on culture and values with a superficial belief of a superior culture has led to this killing in the name of honour. There is no war against it. After the great war of Ambedkar who declared openly that Indian village system need to improve, who was apprehensive of village politics and caste Panchayats and the dominance of the powerful upper castes in it, no real political battle has been fought against it. The political battle of between the champion of Hindu values verses secular values is a clear deviation from the real battle where India should have prioritized.  

The stratified Indian society did not jolt even with the powerful waves of Tsunami. The caste system is so strong here that Tsunami would fail and every Indian, it seems, is proud of his/her lineage. Hence the focus on identities not only fetch good votes to you but also burry the dissents with in the communities. Today, the identity politics has far reaching impact. With male chauvinists sitting everywhere, they are using identities for their own nefarious purposes and find motivation and suspicion on every one who questions these values. It is across communities. Girls are to be won over. The global markets do the same thing by parading them at the ramps while the traditional markets do not allow them to select their own choices. Perhaps, the fear is in the mindset that once they start deciding about their choice, our family system, the much respected system on which bollywood’s outdated films have spend millions of rupees, would become redundant. The glamour, the hoopla and the industry behind this fad create an artificial aura of the Indian family system and marriages without realizing that they are just keeping together for the sake of society and not for themselves. And if divorces are growing today, it is not that there are bad values but there is a choice now for women to opt out of the marriage. How can the writ of constitution run large in society where religion is being marketed not by the political parties but by the big corporations also to boost their sale? The film stars make good film but end up in globalizing the tainted Indian belief system. Irony is that there is no movement against the atrocious value system and even the so-called civil society harp on our great past and cultural legacy.  

Our histories as well as mythologies are full of so-called illicit relationships. There were multiple queens and concubines and all these things were considered as usual and ‘leelas’ as justification. While the case of Rakshasas, these things were shown as bad but for the ‘gods’ they were ‘leelas’, or what I would call ‘theatre of absurd’. These absurdities are part of our value system and we continue to eulogize them. Rules are different for different people based on their castes. This consciousness related to colour, caste, region and religion has created an ugly situation in India. A state which claims to be secular has in fact promoted multicultural fanaticism in the past fifty years. In the name of multiculturalism, we are witnessing promotion of patriarchical fanaticism by the state.  It is a situation ‘ you are happy in your house and we are in our house constructed by some ‘wise’ men. These wise men are seculars who sit together and strengthen each other. Their secularism is under the threat when a woman ask for justice or there is an inter religious or inter-caste match. All of them are up in arms to discount that. Political leaders consider that a threat to peace and social activists do not take up the issue. And Haryana’s case is a grim reminder where nobody came to cremate the woman despite police approaching a local NGO for the same, it refused. It also caste shadow of the self styled social action which are witnessing in the past twenty years. We are all active in the front which are non controversial and do not really threaten our status quo. In the Bhadohi town of Uttar-Pradesh, the daughter of a ‘social activist’ disappeared and he filed an FIR against a Muslim exporter for allegedly kidnapping her. Though in normal circumstances all the ‘parents’ do lodge FIRs against the boys and their families if their daughters ‘disappear’. But this case was different. Here was one well known activist fighting against the ‘carpet mafia of Bhadohi’ and claiming victimization from them, hence the social activists in the state capital also jumped into the fray. Protests, Dharanas and everything took place. The police arrested the ‘accused’. I am narrating this incident to portray India’s casteist social action groups and how they promote their caste men as ‘simple’, ‘honest’ and ‘revolutionary’ working for the ‘poor’, these days ‘dalits’ and ‘marginalized.’  

In the Varanasi case, police swung into action after a lot of pressure and finally after two-three months later they were able to trace the ‘disappeared’ girl and her ‘husband’. The girl went away from her family and married to a man of her choice, who was known in the family. Since, parents in India including social activists, feel highly offended and embarrassed if their children decide about their own and particularly if any one of them is either from a down trodden community or married or physical challenged, our honour is at stake. So, the entire episode of disappearance was created and an innocent man was made scapegoat to save the ‘honour’ of ‘social activist’. And so far none of the other friends who participated for the ‘honour’ of ‘social activist’ had the courage to tell people that their campaign was wrongly done and need apologies.  

The Indian police and Indian State does not come out clean on these things well. About five years back one Balmiki boy from Delhi fell in love with a girl who happened to be from a Jaat family. Balmikis are the lowest even among the formerly untouchable communities and Jaats are powerful middle caste peasantry dominant in western Uttar-Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi. They have been the best beneficiary of the green revolution but a highly conservative community and resist marriages with in the community as well as any self arrange marriages. Every community in the western Uttar Pradesh has its own caste panchayats. These caste Panchayats are called to determine the fate of the youngsters who defy social norms. The Balmiki Boy of Delhi and the Jaat girl married in a court. Immediately after the incidents, the Jaats attacked the village of Balmikis in a Delhi suburban area and demolished their houses and huts. The girl’s parents filed case of abduction against the boy’s family and the police starting torturing this. Since the boys brother has been in social action for years, some of us decided to form a committee and met the police officials. We met a senior police officer who said that it was a ‘social’ problem and ask us not to take it as an ‘administrative’ problem. ‘ You see policemen do also have castes and most of the Delhi police personnel hail from the Jaat, Gujjar and other communities from Western Uttar-Pradesh and Haryana. This lower staff of ours has its own social values and would go by the social norms.’ The officer suggested that we should do some ‘social reform’ in the region. It is shocking that this view point comes from a senior official who is given responsibility to uphold the law. I said,’ Sir, why can not you tell your junior officers to follow the law and protect the innocent.’  Despite the police officials assurance, things did not change. The girl was put under tremendous pressure where she changed her statement many time. The case is in the Delhi high court and it has asked quashing of FIR against the boy and his family. Since this is a battle between two unequal, the forces of Manu Smriti are powerful the forces of the constitution of India. The police, the administration and other powerful organs of the state remain to the side of law breakers.  

In the west, honoured killing is basically linked to the Islamic world but the thing is that we are no better in India. Any marriage without consent of the parents is considered an embarrassment and humiliation.  Parents do not marry their child; instead they marry with power and prestige. This disease is contagious and spreading like a wild fire. The terms may change, the glamour may be there but ultimately the Indian marriages are big fad and an impediment in the way of choice of an individual.  

We continue to live in clan and identities. These identities are basically male dominance cultural values in our society. It helps the Parochial values of a period when women were kept in Hamams, as well as where the kings, Zamindars and others were keeping women of their choice. It is a culture we appreciate. Today, when these things are being questioned and people are marrying out of their choices, the biggest mental block comes from a false notion of superiority. That is why these honoured killing. People talk of social backwardness, education and economic upliftment but caste can not be eliminated by these factors alone unless we are interested in it. The report from UK are disappointing as how South Asians living in that country are indulging in honoured killings. It shows that our mindset will not change with mere shifting our places and earning a few dollars and pounds. More importantly it also shows that we do not go to any place because we respect their values but we want their money. Most of these Desis who are living abroad are there not for British value system or European value system but for their own earnings. It is tragic that they become more fundamentalists and this argument of culture  values and religion has put them into the company of new breed of Swamis and Babas who are earning millions from their trips abroad. Every body is looking for Nirwana but with in their ‘cultural’ boundaries.  

Honoured killing is not a ‘problem’ in India as those who are supposed to raise the issue in the human rights forum, in their own caste forums, in their communities, fear that it would open floodgates for ‘liberation’ and it is this fear of liberation of women, particularly her right to chose her partner, that would threaten our family values and structure. We are worried that if we are unable to ‘honour’ our family values, our system will crack. Therefore, even the activists fail to come forward to take on this honour but if we fail to respond to this urgent call, I am afraid, it will be too late. But who will initiate the process? Once we fight against honoured killing which are actually racial in nature as it is caste based violence, the forces of the status quo will be in action. Today, the priest is not speaking Sanskrit but he is anglicized with a computer. Already, you have seen preachers entering; there are classes for girls, as how to be good ‘wives’, daughter in laws and mother. They are making huge money and people are put into caste structures. The newspaper industry will die, the fraudulent preachers will lose their jobs, the priests and all other will die with out funds if our boys and girls chose their own partners and live happily. Yes honoured marriages have the potential to make many workless but definitely they will revive our love and give honour to individual. Nothing is happier and satisfying than human freedom. The so-called freedom from the British was a political battle that many feel we won, but we have not yet won our battle for individual freedom and their right to choose their faith as well as their partners. India has a long way to be called a civilized nation as it has not yet been able to protect those individuals who chose to live together despite all the protest from the society. A society can not be bigger than the choices of two individuals to come together.  This is the biggest challenge that we face today in India where the individuals have to face the might of society based on Manusmriti. Time has come to demolish it and ensure a dignified and honoured life for our children.  

Vidya Bhushan Rawat
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