Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Honour killing and other stories

Killing/humiliating a woman is easy in India.
Call it female infanticide, bride burning , sati, or honour killings you can kill a woman under different names, at different stages of her life. If she does not suite your family profile, of caste, religion and gotra just kill her. It is easiest crime that has been sanctified by tradition.

Subjugation of women in society is not just restricted to Indian society.However, in spite of modernization /urbanization of the Indian society, very little has changed for the women in India. I do not want to generalize this by saying all women in India are subjugated and suffer the same plight. But many of the women still do. And that includes even the urban/educated women. Take the recent case of Nirupama Pathak , a 23 year old journalist who was( allegedly) killed by her own mother, all because she was in love with a boy that belonged to different caste. Hailing from an 'upper caste' educated family of two brothers and parents who were holding a respectable jobs in governments institutes, Nirupama was a bright girl trying to live her life by making independent decisions. Falling in love with a man of her choice was one such decision. But that cost her life. Message is very clear, don't take your own decisions you will have to pay a price.

I have watched such patriarchal attitudes right from my childhood. And right in my home, where women were educated but were not empowered to exercise their decision. My blood still boils when I recollect how my mother who lost her husband at very young age, was systematically subjugated by the system making her helplessly dependent on her male relatives, in spite of holding a masters degree in Home science in SNDT university. It still pains me when I recall her struggle to be independent person capable of fending for her family but was not allowed by her own family members only to guard the false prestige of her family. So they killed her slowly little by little. For me this too entails to honour killing. There are millions of women out there who are killed in this manner, humiliated, rendered powerless by not giving them the space to exercise the power of decision making. The resistance to pass the woman's bill in the parliament is only reflective of such a mind set.

Last year, when I was invited for a women's show by a woman/curator I decided to pose this question to people/viewers to see their reaction. Why do we humiliate our women in public/personal spaces. The work was based on the famous event from Mahabharata when Draupadi, the wife of five Pandavas was lost in the game of dice. Kauravas who had 'won' Draupadi dragged into the court and humiliated by trying to undress her in view of full court. Furious and seething in rage Darupadi asked her husbands who had given them the right to put her on stake? because they never owned her in first place.In protest she than opened her hair as sign of a her widowhood. And challenged her husbands to wash her hair in blood of enemy. Rest of the tale is history

Point is, is Draupadi's story a kind of honour killing? well she may not have been 'killed' physically but she definitely died emotionally when she realized she was 'sold' by her husbands. Culturally when we preserve such a tale it becomes a sanction to commit such crimes socially. We can count plenty of incidences even in Modern India where women are paraded naked for the crimes committed by their husband or children. Unfortunately our epics endorse and glorify the stories of women that have been victimized by social injustice. Committing crime against women has thus been culturally/socially sanctified. We carry these tales unconsciously for centuries only to re iterate these tales in case of Nirupama or Babli

We will not be able to stop killing women in India by changing the laws, we need to change attitudes towards women. And that's a huge challenge! But not an impossible one!!


  1. From personal experience, I can now safely say that The problem is with the woman herself! We get emotionally attached and weak, and we do it for the sake of love!

    The only way to break out of this attitude,is to have a thick skin, and endure the pain and insult for voicing your opinion!

    It is the change of attitude of "Women" towards themselves and other Women that will bring about more of a change!

    And not education but upbringing is what will change the attitude!

  2. I agree with you.
    Help yourself to help other others!:)

  3. Living for some time in Singapore, I can see the sharp contrast in the status of women here and in India. While in Singapore girls and boys are made equal and the same at every opportunity, in India girls and boys are differentiated at every opportunity. We must come out of this medieval mis-culture before we can be called a developed state.

    In Singapore government plays an active role in influencing the culture via online competitions, public messages at public places and support for art education. Another example is that each apartment has reservations for each ethnic group, minimizing the risk of ethnic segregation. In India I recall the fillers on Doordarshan that promoted messages of national unity and family welfare. Those messages seem to have disappeared in the cable days. Now everything seems free for all. Freedom has taken precedence over responsibility.