Feb 4, 2009

Morality begins at home

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.


@lankr1ta said...

You know, Surbhi, wha I find worse is people not taking it seriously enough. One of my male friends read my post about me feeling much safer here in the USA and replied with the usual litany of "India is doing better than alot of countires." I even got the 10$ laptop tossed at me, for showing the greatness of India. He says he is a patriotic person. I think the major fault with our people is our ostrichness. We bury our heads in sand and pretend it will go away. It is not wrong to point out mistakes and problems. it is not wrong to apologize. Blustering "we are better than..." and trying to lower he bar of standards is not love for the country anyhow! Indeed I feel these patriots- of which our country is chock full do a lot more harm to the nation as a whole. And it is not only as a nation- as families- as people, as races- we seem very beset by the disease.
Do not call them the "Taliban" because the Taliban were worse, is a common cry I hear. And I just wonder if people star arguing semantics just because they do not have a coherent argument and are trying to convince themselves.

Solilo said...

Surbhi, this is also the land of Kamasutra. We have taught the entire world but now we have even problem with a couple holding hand and if one is then they should carry some sort of proof. As usual woman would have a mangalsutra and sindoor. What about men? Oh well! nothing.

A girl having a tattoo is a crime but a man with god's images on god knows where and all is fine.

Battery too is an internal problem according to police. So don't be surprised if we have more of Kiranjit Ahluwalias because at one time they will lose all control.

Usha Pisharody said...

All of what you have so starkly mentioned is so true, so very true, and sadly intensifying as each day progresses...:(

Still there has to come a time, when enough is enough, and at lease now I think a few voices such as yours and others and being heard to make a move towards sanity and equality again.

But as of now, as you mention, it is just not there, and women, about whom the Vedas said, Where women are respected, there Gods reside, are, in their informed and worthy opinion, no human at all, except when it served for them to find someone to abuse!

Surbhi said...

Well, we all know now how patriotic the $10 laptop has made us feel. You are so right. I hear the constant justification "It also happens in America", as if America is the benchmark for everything, and as if anything is ok as long as it also happens in America.
As for the issue about comparison with Taliban, I have (seriously) heard someone compare rape with murder and say the former is a tad better since the victim is not dead! Now can you believe that?

Surbhi said...

Absolutely! I mentioned Kamasutra, saying it taught the world that lovemaking is not an act - its an art.
I just cannot fathom how anyone injuring anyone is not a culpable crime, regardless of who the perpetrator of the crime is.

Surbhi said...

Amen to your second line. We all so hope it happens sooner than later. Just today my best friend was saying that he thought simply raising our voice was not enough, that we need a solution. And I felt so utterly helpless at that.

Anonymous said...

Hi Surbhi,
A major problem is that most Indian men are taught to regard women as inferior and therefore not worthy of respect. Indian women, on the other hand are taught to forgive and excuse evry male transgression, whether it is domestic violence at home or harrassment on the streets. As women, we are expected to overlook male misbehavior and 'adjust'. Indian men expect the world from women but are prepared to give very little in return. Having lived in America, I know that misogyny exists in the developed world too, but violence against women is easier to inflict in India because the law and order machinery is dysfunctional to begin with. I agree with Alankrita, I felt safer in the US, though I had to deal with stray incidents of racism there. But give me racism over gender violence any day. In India, I only feel comfortable in women-only spaces. I distrust most men in India, because a lot of Indian men behave impeccably when they are with their families, but behave abominably when they can hide in the cover of anonymity. Indian mothers are responsible for this male neurosis -- they treat their sons as demi-gods, and these sons grow with huge feelings of entitlement in their interactions with other women, be it wives, other female members of the family, or women in general. The average Indian man is not a very secure individual. Read Sudhir Kakar's research on Indian masculinity.

Surbhi said...

Again, I have nothing to say except that I agree with every word you wrote, and to comment on it would simply be reiterating your points.
I'll surely get hold of Sudhir Kakar's works and read them.
I also hope you'll start a blog soon. That'd be another place I'll love to visit.
Take care! And many thanks for visiting! Keep dropping in!