“WHAT WILL PEOPLE SAY!”
A thought that triggers killing for honour
By : Rajbir Deswal
With a Haryana court awarding severe punishment to the perpetrators of killing for ‘honour, the issue of a civil society’s reinforcement of the norms guiding its conscience has once again come to the fore. The Karnal incident and a plethora of such epiodes which might have gone unnoticed need a fresh look into analyzing the causes for the malaise of ‘honour killings’.
With every passing day, we hear about honour killings taking place around us. These killings are generally resorted to, as a reprehensible reprimand and admonition, for the perceived ‘law breakers’ in a community, or a social group, by the members of the selfsame social entity. Largely the honour killings pertain to men and women, who indulge in promiscuous, or meditated, sexual or near sexual relationship, whether by way of elopement, marriage or fun etc etc.
Despite their socio-economic sound standing, communities in certain North Indian States have the practice of killing for honour which continues unabated and with impunity. Feeling concerned about these disturbing trends the Punjab & Haryana High Court has recently issued directions to the authorities particularly about the life, safety and security of the one’s who perform run-away marriages etc. The court has also directed, with certain provisos, to defer arrest of the boy, in such run-away marriages, till the time the statement of the girl is recorded.
Before going into the causes of, and remedies against honour killing, let us examine the scenario as picturised in the magnum opus ‘Mother India’ which had a general acceptance of the fact of the mother taking the life of her own son when he outrageously dares to outrage and play with the honour of a girl from his own village. The movie shows a helpless Nargis, widowed at young age, subsisting in penury with a burden of three children to be brought up, in a typical exploitative rural milieu, where lecherous and usurer predators in the form of Lala Sukhi Ram, make her life miserable beyond tolerance. ‘Mother India’ copes with all that which destiny heaped on her. But the moment she realizes that when her grown up and a rebel younger son tries to abduct and molest a girl of the same village and is about to ravish her honour, and thus the collective honour of the entire village community, she does not tolerate the misdemeanor in her son and kills him, primarily to save the honour of the girl and also of the land which earned her appellation entitled to ‘Mother India’.
The act of the mother, killing her son for honour of womanhood, and the land and the people, besides family and the village, was upheld with aplomb in the ‘public mind’ in the contemporaneous society of the late fifties . It seems that even to this date we Indians continue to not only imbibe tribal tendencies naturally, but also to pronounce them as the last word, in the name of honour, the constitutional guarantee of the life and liberty of an individual being thrown to winds. Contrast the ‘Mother India’ scenario if it had taken place in an urban setting of today, or even of those times, when the movie was made. Urban sensibilities do not generally subscribe to the concept of honour killing for various reasons. In an urban environment, if a women is left to fend for herself, lives in poverty, and also, is the target of exploitation, maybe in all the situations that she has to live and work, there is largely an acceptance of her fortitude and the ground may not be as inhospitable, at least not to the extent that in the name of, or for any kind of, honour, she can be by whatever pressure, ‘forced’ to kill her own child.
This is not at all to suggest that in an urban atmosphere, the sensibilities lack their mass appeal and application. But it is a fact that more of awareness, education and enlightenment, up to some degree, of a particular urbane populace, gives enough scope for thought, before such an extreme step is executed against the individuals, who are otherwise estranged or ostracized. Experience has shown that more closer one is to the nucleus in a social group, where he or she cohabits, there are chances of an honour killing taking place, if the ‘locally perceived situation so warrants’. If the ‘executioner’ of killing for honour is relatively away from that particular nucleus, he is less likely to take up such means as a corrective step, which he otherwise prefers to adopt to re-assure his individual, social placement, individual social status and collective honour in the group.
Any social group that develops itself into a ‘ghetto’ will always have tendencies to uphold ‘honour’. This is largely done for needing security and recognition as a true blue of that group, caste, tribe or community. If there are allowed chances for proper assimilation, of various kinds of social groups, and their being available to each other, and also if they are inter-acting on regular basis, at the same time being aware of each others’ customs, practices, taboos and tribulations, beliefs and rituals; then sure enough, it is a collective honour, of the collective sensibility of the social groups, and not that of a particular or ostracized social entity. As such this kind of a scenario being available and obtaining will help. Collective and assimilative social sensibilities, which cater to a wide spectrum of the social stratum, will always be condemnatory of the lead taken by any of its subsidiary group of the act of killing for honour.
Undoubtedly, the caste factor plays a very important role in recognizing the stakes as are typical to different caste groups in the typical Indian context. The castes are historically known to be scoring on each other by the one-up-ship, when it comes to meeting with any kind of threat extended to their own entity. In such a situation, a defence mechanism, which has en masse and free inflowing social support from within that particular caste, or group, surfaces. It is generally the moral booster for someone who indulges in the crime of ‘killing for honour of that particular group since the executioner feels ‘righted’ in his own right, and action.
It may not be a situation with classes but castes only. Rather, when a caste, triggered by an episode assumes the role of a ‘class apart’ and for that matter superior one, its members assume the role of protecting the honour of that class. And this leads them to throw winds all other norms, rules and laws, but their own. Again, the most astonishing factor is that whatever so called lower caste one may belong to, when there is another outsider to watch the inside activities, or inner social interaction in a particular caste, it will certainly appear that the members do take pride in belonging to that particular caste, despite its perceived ‘lowliness’. When the members of a caste group pamper themselves with such reinforcements of ‘caste sensibilities’ on a regular basis then the quest for upholding the caste’s ‘honour’, and urge for maintaining the perceived ‘superior status’, or the perceived ‘commitment’ has its manifestation into a very well entrenched and engrained acceptance of facts at the psychological level of the members. It is this stage which is easy to reach, immediately after an incident happens, that the members are so provoked that they find support pouring in great measures of those at the back for protecting honours.
Yet another factor to be kept in mind, while dwelling on the subject of honour killing is that, if the ‘law breakers’ are right in sight, or, if the object of bad name is instantaneously in line of fire, then the thoughtless, darter attack on the unsuspecting victims is inevitable. Then comes how grave is the crime committed? Although the social status of both sides does matter a lot yet some times often economic disparity may loosen the controls of the groups which pursues it an effective manner. for example a girl belonging to a so called low caste unit elopes with a boy of high caste and rich family then it may not amount to be ‘that’ big dent in the honour of the girls family in their own understanding of things. The tragedy is that economic parity, social mirror image statuses and a fear of being ostracized in the self same group take the better of the perpetrators of the crime of killing for honour. Then comes the gravity of the offence which generally determines the practice of honour killing. If you marry in different caste at a far off place (being away from the nucleus), which is fairly distanced from the nucleus, gravity of the misdemeanor may not be that big a factor with the so called group Killing is then relgated to finding the couple in such scenario. I a girls case , being found in compromising position, running away from home, sexually exploited and left to fend for herself, forcefully married, kidnapped or abducted; these are all factors which are fairly grave to evoke killing the boy for honour. A look at the social interactions will reveal that even bad words said about particular caste or family or individual also can lead to the provocation of a kind that propels the anger resulting in killing for honour.
I can narrate a personal example when being Superintendent of Police in a district Haryana, I came across a helpless father whose very bright, intelligent, educated girl fell in love with a boy, not matching her status, neither intellectually nor socially. The girl was fairly talented and had a name in the field of performing arts. While the boy did not have any means of subsist even what to talk of maintaining a wife, or a family. But the girl was adamant in marrying the boy. No body had any options left and parents were worried only for social ostrasisation they had to face in case they married their daughter to an undeserving and not –equal-in-status match. I, with the local Deputy Commissioner, did not have any other option than to reassure the parents as to what should be the test of social acclaim and legitimacy attached to their daughter’s marriage? The hapless father then said that if the Deputy Commissioner and SP of district attended the marriage then he would have no problem thereby being able to recognize the legitimacy of marriage on the one hand, and to take care of the social ridicule, on the other. We attended the marriage despite whispers and murmurs, but then we were able to save faces for the parents. The couple when last heard of lived happily ever after !
Social reassurance being roped in the marriage of such love birds, and the legitimacy of relationship being appreciated either by awareness, education or counseling, can do wonders and save many a hapless soul.