What really defines India in all its 'cultural' glory? A woman being paraded naked in front of the whole village and her children because she dared to call a painter to whitewash her home when her husband was not in town? A child being molested and then burnt alive by her own grandfather for daring to wear lipstick? A young educated woman being beaten by her 'educated' husband in a crowded marketplace for wearing jeans, a 'manly' piece of clothing, when out shopping with her parents? Or the police dismissing each of these incidents as a 'family matter' and no case being filed against any of the accused?
Shocking? Yes. Outrageous? Yes. Disgusting? Disgraceful? Shameful? Reprehensible? Yes, yes, yes. But horrific? Only to one really innocent about honour crime in India. Let’s face it. These are clear incidents of honour crime - acts of violence against women from male members of a family or community who decide that the women have brought dishonour upon their unit. Recently, some right-winged bigots sick in their head believed that women having a drink or socialising with male friends was a blot on India’s collective honour, and decided to protect Indian 'culture' and sense of 'decency' by groping, beating and trying to strip five hapless young women. Unfortunately, in the lurid landscape of honour crimes, such violence is rather moderate behaviour. The other accounts are more gruesome for the simple reason that they occur in the courtyard and rooms of homes where the victims are born and brought up. What's more, they are carried out by the very men they place their highest trust in - their own fathers and brothers.
Crime in the name of 'culture' or 'morality' does not occur only in the back of beyond, safely tucked out of sight of urban India. It also happens dangerously close to the nation’s nerve centre, and in uppity urban areas we christian as 'happening'. In November, in Greater Noida, two schoolgirls were killed by their brother for running away from home, apparently with their boyfriends. In September, also in Greater Noida, two teenage lovers were lynched by the girl’s family. On the eve of Republic Day, a young couple were chased and publicly shot dead in Punjab by the woman's father and brothers for marrying against her family's wishes. In June, in Hyderbad, a spunky 20-year-old was bludgeoned to death with a pestle by her brother for asking the village head for help in settling the argument with her family over her love affair. But perhaps the most tragic of all is the story of a little 12-year-old girl of Bulandshahar in Uttar Pradesh, who was mercilessly beaten to death by her father and uncles because they found her schoolmate, a 14-year-old boy, studying with her in her room.
There are hundreds of murders in the name of protecting honour every year, both within and outside the family. All of these are believed to carry 'reasons' which 'provoked' the murderers and are hence justified. Dozens of women are maimed and blinded for life as they are attacked with acid by men raring to teach a lesson to women who spurn their unwanted advances. It is no longer even ironic that the same women would be maimed and killed by their own families and communities if they were to accept those very advances. The life of a woman is deemed so trivial and so worthless that a man dreams his wife has cheated on him, wakes up to find her naked in bed with him, and slits her throat without a distinction between dream and reality. This actually happened and the killer escaped punishment. Those who heard justified his crime as an act of immense love and passion for his wife, so much that he could not bear to be separated from her. Now how could that be a crime?
This, from the land of Krishna and Radha, who were unabashedly open lovers and whose love people revere to this day. This, from the land of Heer and Ranjha, Sohni and Mahiwal, Laila and Majnu, whose love-lorn tales echo from the days of yore and colour our culture with their passion. This, from the land of the Kamasutra and Khajuraho, which teach us that making love is not merely a bodily function, it is an entire art in itself which must be enjoyed by the acting couple. This, from the land of Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kali - who are worshipped as goddesses for epitomising those facets our patriarchal minds connote with men - power, wealth, wisdom, wrath. Whether it is the village panchayat or an urban right-wing group, male fanatics attack women, who they perceive as their property and who are excluded from power equations, to preserve the values of a patriarchal society. And politicians don’t dare fight such practices, for patriarchy runs deep and is allowed to justify the most vicious of crimes.
We Indian women have won our rights and freedom - to education, to choose partners of our choice, against child marriage, against being burnt alive for sati, to equality in the workplace - through a bitter struggle. Yet we fight daily for simply our right to live and be respected as a human being. Let us not surrender these rights to the diktats of the saffron or white or green fundamentalism. Let us raise our voices loud and clear against the self-appointed custodians of 'morality'. The only morality we uphold is one which respects a woman's unfettered freedom and her right to decide the life she chooses for herself - including education, profession, life partner, clothes, food and drinks, entertainment. The only morality we uphold is also one which abhors any attempts to poison relationships between communities and places tolerance for others at its pinnacle. And treats all individuals - men, women, transgenders - as humans first, which they are, all of them.