Why these honour killings?
In the past few months there have been innumerable occasions when stories related to honour killings have appeared in various sections of the media. Some people in Haryana who acted at the instance of a Khap panchyat to kill a young couple some years ago were also recently convicted for the double murder. Now the news of a young journalist, Nirupama Pathak reportedly being done to death by her own mother has shocked everyone. Nirupama was strangulated and smothered and at the time of her death is believed to have been 15 weeks pregnant. Her parents were apparently unhappy with her after she fell in love with a boy of a different caste and tried to talk her out of the relationship by quoting scriptures and Sanatan Dharam principles as against the Constitution of India.
While it is for the investigators to determine whether Nirupama was killed because she was having a relationship with a boy of another caste or because she was pregnant, her murder has brought to fore many other issues.
The first and foremost is that we continue to live in a society where caste is the first identification (in a very large number of cases) of an individual. This factor is exploited by not only political parties but also those belonging to the same caste. Therefore it is not surprising that there are parties and leaders in India who have based their politics on this identification with castes or communities. Secondly, there are social groups which only encourage liason between members of the same caste and others who forbid any kind of relationship which is intra sub caste. It is not as much a failure of the government alone but also of civil society that has not been able to reconcile the beliefs of a traditional society with those of modern India. Without trying to psychologise the issue as has become a habit of many analysts, I think it is very important to educate as many people as possible. Education is the greatest empowerment tool available to any society and it is only through it can all the deeply set beliefs be set aside.
We are all seeing a strange kind of transformation taking place at a very great pace. This has got pronounced with the TV, radio and other instruments of mass communication playing a major role. However, many a times, the failure to properly process these changes occurs. And it is on numerous occasions due to both lack of education and awareness.
In Nirupama’s case, it is possible she was killed because she was pregnant without being married. In our country, there has been a huge debate on homosexuality but none whatsoever on abortion or medical termination of pregnancy. I think NGOs and government departments would do well to have such a debate so that getting pregnant does not become a taboo for single women.
There are other steps amongs many others which should also betaken. For instance any political party which exploits caste and religion should not be recognized by the Election Commission. It is true that every party does field candidates in constituencies based on the caste equations. And it is not going to be an easy task to get around it. The fact that we attach so much importance to castes and communities is borne out in the matrimonial advertisements which appear in the media. There are no short cut solutions to this problem. Honour killings will continue in the kind of society we live in. This observation is neither a justification nor an admission of helplessness but a status report. One way to curb this is by involvement of civil society and the government as also various local social groups.
Second is through education and more awareness. None wants to see any person meet the gory end of Nirupama Pathak, smothered to death by her own mother.