News WrapGet Handpicked Stories from our editors directly to your mailbox

The Dishonoured Honour

Honour killings can be stopped by a little government intervention.

Shobhika Puri

News of a volcanic eruption in Iceland, earthquakes in China, Chile, Haiti etc are very disturbing. We curse Mother Nature for its severities. We bemoan our fate and our helplessness in preventing such incidents. Fair enough. But, what about millions of deaths from starvation across the globe? What about terror attacks? What about infanticide and foeticide? Mother Nature is not responsible for all these. These deaths are very much preventable. For this, we blame some mischievous elements of the society. These events have become so common now that they cease to shock us anymore. However, there are some events that can be stopped by a little government intervention. Honour killings fall under this category.

Before delving further into the topic, it shall be interesting to define the term ‘honour’, a term that has been the root cause of so many deaths since time immemorial. The dictionary meaning of the word is ‘sense of honesty and fairness’; ‘award given out of respect’; ‘pleasure or privilege’. Now, let us try to define ‘honour killing’ using the afore-mentioned definitions. Logically, the definitions shall be killings done as a sense of honesty and fairness; reward of killing given out of respect; pleasure or privilege of killing or getting killed. Ironically, none of these definitions seem to fit into the real definition of the term. In reality, honour killing refers to killings done to protect the honour of a family, caste, society etc. Here, honour refers to the superficial respect that is given by the society to people who blindly follow the rules and regulations set by the self-anointed custodians of the society. These rules do not change with the changing times but, are stone carved for all future generations to follow.

For some societies, if somebody marries out of caste, he/she deserves to be killed. For others, if somebody marries within the same caste, he/she deserves to be killed. If somebody marries against the wishes of his/her parents, then he/she deserves to be killed. If somebody bears a child out of wedlock, she deserves to be killed. If somebody is raped, she fears reporting to the police because ultimately she shall be blamed. Again, in many cases, there is not much left for her to live for. The answer to all this is honour killing. Can it get more ridiculous?

It is not that such honour killings are restricted to the rural population; urban people too are victims of this malaise. The recent death of a Delhi journalist allegedly by her family for daring to fall in love outside her caste, is a shocking revelation. Had only the rural people been a victim of this, we could have conveniently attributed this to illiteracy. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Things like societal conformity, approval, sanctity et al are so deep rooted in our Indian psyche that at times, we tend to forget what is it that ‘we’ actually want out of our lives?

We have a rule book for everything that we do. In fact, we are bound by it the moment we are born. It is against the honour of a rich family if their little child wants to play with his/her maid’s child. Professions like medicine, engineering, accountancy and the like are still considered more honourable than the likes of acting, modelling, deejaying etc. There are age limits defined for girls and boys to get married, beyond which eyebrows start getting raised. It doesn’t even end there. There is a time limit also defined for having kids after marriage. The elderly seem more respectable if they attend satsangs and listen to bhajans. Once dead, there are an ‘x’ number of rituals to be performed by the survivors of the deceased. And the cycle goes on and on. Any deviation from the norms is dishonourable. Even if one is not killed physically, there are many who assure mental torture worse than the former. It is not that the society is not changing, but these rules are so deeply ingrained into our system that it shall take a while before the majority thinks in this direction.

The government needs to step up and take charge of physical honour killings at least. The recent judgment of death penalty to five people involved in honour killings in Haryana is a step in the right direction. Ideally, such a judgment should have prevented others from doing so but, the news of more honour killings in Punjab and Jharkhand have quashed all hopes. Thus, we need strong legislations to curb such atrocities. If we really want to make India a super power, then we need to empower the common man. It shall be a daunting task to change the mindset of people, many of whom are still living in the dark ages. However, a beginning needs to be made. Hope the government is listening.

The aforementioned strategy is fine for the illiterate population but, the real danger comes from the educated class. If we give in to the external pressures, then how can we expect our uneducated counterparts to behave more responsibly? It is high time that we stopped bothering about what the society expects out of us and start doing what we want. The caveat here is that it should not harm anybody and not be detrimental to the safety or interests of the society. If somebody shows the guts to act according to his wishes, then the people around should support him. The attitude of ‘I did it, so should you’ or ‘If I can’t have it, so can’t you’ should go away. Only this way shall the society evolve to the next level.

Just live and let live!

(Shobhika Puri is a freelance writer and an LSR(DU) and IIM Lucknow, Noida Campus alumna)