India has registered an almost 800 percent rise in the number of honor killings
Last year when I was in India, I was horrified to read a lot of newspaper articles about honor killings that occurred in some villages. Decisions were taken by the so-called ‘Khap Panchayats’ to ostracize girls who married outside their castes. The preponderance of such abhorring incidents in our neighborhoods almost makes them feel like mundane acts of daily life. As such, it was ordinary news for me too. I did not realize the gravity of the situation till it happened to someone who I interacted with weekly; my locality’s community worker, Laxmi.
The lady who toiled day and night to provide an education to her only child, a girl, was arraigned by the patriarchal members of the Khap Panchayats and made to suffer the ignominy of being expelled from her caste. The members warned her that if she did not leave the village immediately, she and her daughter would be killed. Her fault: having the temerity to allow her daughter to marry the boy of her choice, whom she had met at the call center that she worked at.
Laxmi knew the antediluvian beliefs that the Khap Panchayats represented and how they no longer held any ground in today’s contemporary world. She stood by her daughter like a rock and refused to kowtow to the demands of the illiterates who were trying to ruin her daughter’s happiness.
This episode shows how an individual with her indomitable belief in herself can move mountains, whether in social change or society’s outlook.
Honor killings have been reported in other countries too, with one of the recent cases being that of Pakistani celebrity Qandeel Baloch. Baloch was often condemned for her provocative pictures and videos, and her daringness. She was murdered by her brother on the 16th of July 2016 to preserve the family honor and to prevent her from taking other steps that might bring humiliation to the family members. Reading about such heinous crimes not only saddens me but also makes me wonder if a person is accountable to others for the decisions s/he makes, whether it is marrying the person of his/her choice or wearing ‘inappropriate clothes’. These incidents show us that not only do some persons have a distorted sense of what honor is but that ‘honour’ can also be used by people to get their own way and exert their domination.
The vastness and dynamism of the Indian society with its myriad cultures and beliefs, both archaic and contemporary, never ceases to amaze me.
The rapidity of unfolding events in this country of 1.2 billion inhabitants has a story to tell or a lesson to learn from on a daily basis. While India has delightful rituals and practices that celebrate the values of the country, it has some deplorable ones too.
What is the honor killing about?
The everydayness of this word in Indian society is a cause for concern. Honor killings are committed by family members or social groups who believe that a family/group member has brought dishonor to them.
Roughly 3000 years ago, the Indian society was divided into 4 social classes, namely the Brahmins (priests), the Kshatriyas (the kings and nobility), the Vaishyas (common persons) and the Shudras (untouchables).
These social divisions were rigid and often absolute. An important feature of these divisions was that they were endogamous which meant a person could only get married to someone who belonged to the same caste. During those times, the most common reason for honor killings was exogamy. Any caste member who chose to marry outside the caste group was either ostracized or killed. Even in today’s day and age, communities in the small villages of India may perform honor killings for the same reason.
A victim of honor killing may be murdered for engaging in a sexual relationship or eloping with a partner. In addition to these, girls may also be killed for wearing revealing clothes or doing things that are deviant from what is expected of them. While these reasons may come across as preposterous to people in other parts of the world, they highlight the brutal reality of the backward parts of India.
Honor killing remains a dark truth. It calls our attention to other important problems that need to be addressed like misogyny, casteism, bigotry and racialism. We must realize the magnitude of this situation and persevere to fight against it. Only when we change the warped notion of what ‘honour’ is in our minds, and become more tolerant and accepting towards others, will honor killings become a thing of the past.