Women and Family Honour

Two stories have erupted in the Indian media over the last month, both to do with young people, love and parental opposition. The first ended in tragedy, with investigation stil continuing into whether Rizwanur Rahman was murdered by his wife’s father (or arranged to have been murdered). Shocking ofcourse was the fact that the West Bengal police actively colluded in trying to separate the couple, on the grounds that they came from very different backgrounds. The second case, has a happier outcome, atleast till now – with Telegu film megastar Chiranjeevi’s daughter Sreeja leaving home to marry her boyfriend. Scary though, that she felt she had to seek police protection against her family, as she feared that they would meet the same end as Rizwanur-Priyanka.

Technically, Indian law is very clear on this – the legal marriageable age for women is 18 and 21 for men, and absolutely no statute exists that forbids people above this age to marry each other. (Well, atleast if one is male and the other is female, since Indian laws are still Victorian when it comes to homosexuality.) In practice though, as both these cases show, there is a wide gulf between law and public mentality.

Many people still view children as “property” or as some sort of owned goods who must repay parents for their good upbringing. Further instead of looking at people as individuals, there is a tendency to look at them as representatives of their families and families honour. Especially when it comes to women, their behaviour is seen as reflecting on the family’s honour. Hence, the number of insane websites where once can see Chiranjeevi fans berating Sreeja for “bringing down” Chiranjeevi’s name. (No, I am not linking to that rubbish!) Its not that sons are absolved of such expectations. Except that traditionally, society allows men a lot more leeway by giving them employment opportunities and chances to physically escape from the family network. For women, until very recently, such escape wasn’t possible, and even now, for many, it isn’t. The standards of behaviour for women are also so much higher that its easier to find fault. Things which are excusable in a son, for instance, are often not in a daughter. One hears of many families who are fine or atleast ok with sons drinking, but would be scandalised if a daughter did.

These things are slowly changing, and the tremendous public support for Rizwanur’s family and his case, is heartening. But sometimes, the change of pace is just so dishearteningly slow and the consequences so terrible.