October 18, 2005

Question of dishonour

Got a carpenter to do some work for us a few years ago, a smiling articulate sort. In the middle of the job, he vanished for a few days. When he returned, he was full of apologies. "I've been roaming the whole of Gujarat," he told us, "me and my uncle. We were looking for the son of some relatives of mine. He has run away from home with a girl. When we find them," he said with a hint of pride, "unko jaan se maar daalenge" ("we will kill them").

When we got over the shock of hearing these violent words from this usually genial and bantering fellow, we asked, why? "Hamare khandaan mein yeh love-marriage shove-marriage sab nahin chalta hai!" ("We don't allow love-marriages in our community!") I stared at him open-mouthed. He went on, "Yeh hamare khandaan ki izzat ka savaal hai." ("This is about the honour of our community." Actually izzat doesn't translate well; it is a word that means honour and respect and "name").

I asked: "Unko maar daalne se kya tumhare khandaan ki izzat badh jayegi?" ("If you kill them, do you improve the honour of your community?") He repeated quietly: "khandaan ki izzat ka savaal hai."

I've been thinking about the man in recent times. In Delhi last week, a businessman shot his own daughter dead because she married a man she fell in love with. His own daughter! No mention in the reports of khandaan, but I have no doubt the word izzat was buzzing around in his fevered mind.

How do you shoot your own daughter?

And not long before that, the actress Khushboo got into the bad books of the protectors of what you might loosely call Tamil izzat. She had the temerity to suggest that premarital sex was OK, and the virtues of virginity at marriage are overstated.

Boom! Here was an attack on Tamil culture and values! Once, Tamil film fans took to Khushboo so much that they actually built a temple to her. But now, she was abusing Tamil culture by condoning premarital sex. She had better return to that non-Tamil place she came from, whichever it was.

Hey, if premarital sex rubs Tamil culture the wrong way, I'm willing to bet it's being rubbed the wrong way hundreds of times a day in the leafy lanes of Chennai alone.

People do what comes naturally -- fall in love, make out, that sort of thing -- and you can be sure there will be others who feel dishonoured. Others for whom some apparent "culture", something called "khandaan ki izzat", matter above all else. Matter so much that they are willing to rage against a much-loved star, willing to kill much-loved family members.

This is "izzat"? I'll take the dishonour, thank you.


Anonymous said...

Mercutio died cursing all such Montagues and Capulets, didn't he?

Honor killings anyone?

Anonymous said...

"Yeh hamare khandaan ki izzat ka savaal hai".

Does your carpenter moonlight as a scriptwriter for bad Hindi movies? Here, let me help him along:

1. Tragedy: the couple is chased relentlessly by the crazed old man, until they jump off a cliff in some sort of pact. The old man feels remorse and kills himself too.

2. Sentimentality: the couple is chased and are nearly killed, but the old man is stopped from killing them by a mysterious old woman (not his wife), who it transpires was his love interest in a stolen youth. He reforms and people live happily ever after.

3. Revenge: the couple have a child (so much better if it's outside wedlock), and are then hunted down and killed by the old man. The child grows up and kills his evil grandfather, after a long plotless sequence of fights and songs.

4. Farce: Actually using phrases like "khandaan ki izzat" in all seriousness. Movies falling in this category should be put out of their misery before somebody gets hurt.

Anang said...

Yeah! She totally needs to get her "phoren funded" butt out of the tamil's neighborhood.
There have been more than enough "honor" killings out there to know that this isn't just bollywood schtick nowadays.
Where's the old timer who pops out at moments like these and starts yelling about not presenting our dirty laundry to the world?

Vikrum said...


Great article. I agree with you that these notions of "izzat" and sublimated virginity are quite unhealthy -- and lead to a lot of societal problems.

Anonymous said...

The dirt laundry of honour killings shouldn't be discussed in public. We are secular only. Right?

Anonymous said...

'izzat' killings are quite common in India - but the same thing among Indians (and others too I assume) living in the West? can never understand that - happens regularly in the UK for instance - people who have moved out of India decades ago live with a frozen image of the 'right thing' and their 'culture' - and also see themselves as ambassdors of their culture (also called sanskriti in Hindi soaps) - is scary to see their vehemance - and the poor confused kids...

and speaking of 'izzat', ever hard of 'karpu' ("greatest jewel of a Tamil woman") - almost impossible to translate into any other language. karpu and khushbu, hmmm

wise donkey said...

sad.dishonour anytime for me on the carpentar incident.

on kushboo, saying premarital sex is ok, is not the same as, everyone does it.

though i have to wonder if the people would have been offended if she had said, its not practical for a woman to expect her husband to be a virgin...

Anonymous said...

Ok. This is bad. But the pattern I see is that these articles come out only when the people concerned are Hindus. I have not yet seen any article by Dilip on the Imrana fatwa or the killing of a Muslim girl in Bangalore because she married a Christian leaving their child motherless.

Anonymous said...

> the people concerned are Hindus.

Are you serious?

Is the carpenter mentioned in this story a Hindu? How did you manage to deduce that, would you like to explain?

But apart from that, are guys who kill their own daughters and sons "Hindus" or "Muslims" etc? They are just scuzzbuckets, that's all. Why can't you see them like that?

Prashanth K

Anonymous said...

I agree with Charu. Such incidents happen in India but more frequently occur in abroad living Indian Families. I can't remember much but there was story covered by BBC about a Sikh family who got intouch with a bunch of people who are professionals in such cases.

Their job was to find the girl and her muslim husband, spare her life if she decides to leave her husband and if not then kill them both.

But i feel these days parents are far more open minded (atleast in the cities)...gone are the days when they use ask silly questions like "Looove, Tumhe looove kaise ho gaya??"

Anonymous said...

>>Is the carpenter mentioned in this story a Hindu? How did you manage to deduce that, would you like to explain?

We are secular and the secular logic dictates so. Reason good enough?

>>They are just scuzzbuckets, that's all. Why can't you see them like that?

They cannot. And will not.
I believe when dog bites man - not news. When man bites dog - it's news. So why stop a wannabe me-too journalist from earning his daily wage?

Anonymous said...

The carpenter had to be a Hindu because Dilip's bile is reserved only for them. I find him strangely silent on some incidents that involve Non Hindus:

The Imrana case: Dilip diverted the issue by talking about uniform civil laws. Not a word condemning a barbaric uncivilized fatwa - not even mentioning how the UP govt ratified it.

The Sania Mirza fatwa- Again nothing.
The Calcutta case where Muslims let some women die rather than allow them to be rescued by male firefighters and the govt saying that they would henceforth recruit women firefighters.

But all the bile reserved for an illiterate carpenter.

But as one of the posts said earlier: We are a secular country.

Anonymous said...

Read the posting and just felt that Indians ought to let those 18 and above to decide for themselves. When does someone cross over into adulthood? Last time I checked it was 18...wasn't it?

Is this only a phenomenon of the impoverished or uneducated? Or it is prevalent in all classes of society?

When it comes to women making a choice in India, it often becomes a question of "Izzat". Why is that? Is India really a secular country? Or is it secular with an exception? One exception being, we accept all except a womans fundamental right to decide for herself.

As for Khusboo, she is a woman expressing a preference. So as we all know...it is not allowed (lol). After all, we are a secular country with an exception...

But I digress. I think the point I would like to see addressed is:

- When is an Indian considered an adult (one that is capable of making their own choices in life) without invoking retribution of any kind?

Anonymous said...

I've just written an article on honour killings for a women's magazine based in Dubai, looking at it as a global problem. It's on the increase in the UK (where I am from) - the police are currently reinvestigating 109 cases of Asian women thought to have committed suicide/died in house fires who they now think are victims of honour killings. The problem seems to transcend religion and is a cultural one, but the sad thing is, when I was researching the article it didn't seem that things are likely to change any day soon.