This morning, I read the newspaper with a very heavy heart. In it, was a report about another honour killing in northern India.
For those who aren’t aware, an honour killing is carried out when family members murder another family member who has brought disgrace and shame on the family. Usually, in India, it takes place over an “inappropriate” relationship or marriage outside caste or religion.
Research indicates that the majority of honour killings happen in the north Indian states of Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, and Bihar. Honor killings are rare to non-existent in south India, and also the western Indian states of Maharashtra and Gujarat. There have been no honor killings in West Bengal in over 100 years, thanks to the influence and activism of reformists like Vivekananda, Ramakrishna, Vidyasagar and Raja Ram Mohan Roy.
The issue of honour killings really indicates the extremities of life in India — not just from rich to poor, but from cities to villages. While India’s cities are progressing at a rapid rate, and love marriages are becoming more and more prevalent, many villages are not. There, the caste system remains as strong as ever, and the reputation of the caste is of utmost importance — sometimes more important than a human life.
What is also so horrible, apart from the killing itself, is how it’s carried out. The person can be burned alive, tortured, maimed, and/or beaten to death. I feel dizzy and sick just thinking about it. Such extreme action, just to follow the norms of society! A large part of this problem in villages is due to the strong presence of a panchayat or informal court, which consists of members of the same caste and decides all matters relating to their community.
However, India’s most recent honour killing took place in Delhi — not a village. The parents who murdered their 19 year old daughter and her 19 year old fiance said that they had been left no alternative. Their daughter’s deed frustrated them, and they didn’t regret killing the couple. Apparently, the girl’s fiance was a cab driver and belonged to a different caste.
Neighbours were shocked. “God knows what came over them… They were such good people”, one commented.
The fact is, you can move to the city but you still can’t escape the scrutiny and judgements of other villagers.
My in-laws have experienced two love marriages now — two out of their five children had them. Although my in-laws left their village in Orissa over 40 years ago, disapproval from people back in the village was still prevalent. Apparently, my father-in-law in particular, had to endure a lot of criticism and loss of respect in the village for allowing my brother-in-law’s marriage to go ahead. The villagers expected him to prevent it. When he didn’t, he lost face and status. It took a while for my in-laws to accept their new daughter-in-law but after a year or so, they did. They realised that their childrens’ happiness was worth more than that of the people in the village, where they never intended to live again. Then, I came along. And I’m just very grateful that thanks to their progressive mindset, they’ve accepted me too.
I’m even more grateful when I think of the disturbing fate of those children who were killed by the people who were supposed to love and protect them, all because they did what comes naturally and loved someone else… who just happened to be “unsuitable” but still another human after all.