Saturday, May 8, 2010

An honor kiling a day - any fix seems still a long way

Just this morning's newspaper reported killings related to inter caste love marriage (news1, news2, news3, opinion1, opinion2).

It comes in all types - brother kills sister's MBA lover, or mother kills journalist daughter, uncles kill both girl and boy that elope - all this even if they are educated, police protects them and charges even police chiefs that abet these murders, courts even convict past khap panchayat (caste court) killers to death. When I was in the US, I never imagined that honor killing was such as an epidemic as portrayed by the media. I thought some of this was property related, with family members indulging in such extremes. There are other explanations.

The states where these killings are happening have also been indulging in female foeticide, infanticide for decades. Now there is an adverse male to female ratio, and they are having to marry women from out of state. This adverse supply demand situation is manifesting in a subconscious need to keep women from going out of their caste boundaries - and, these day-to-day killings serve are expected to serve as a deterrent to millions of other youth in the community. The khaps are even demanding a law to ban marrying across "gotras", and even have ex-police chiefs in their ranks for support.

That may work, but the big strides in economic growth, modern education, empowerment from employment are all subconsiously pulling the youth towards freedom to choose their partner. That will result in more loving couples, and attempts to escape the prevailing customs of thousands of years. This is a larger generation gap compared to what may have existed between previous hundred generations, and the tensions between traditional and modern perspectives are way too high.

The folks with modern outlook are demanding a separate law to check these honor killings. Given past Indian laws to curb dowry, terror or other menace, my suspicion is such a law will be poorly written, improperly enforced and used for a variety of false cases, extortion and bring a host of other evil. The change has to be comprehensive at all levels - planning, implementation, training, enforcement, responsibility and accountability. Perhaps, some lessons can be learned from how Lord Bentinck put an end to Sati system back in 1800s (or at least kept a tight lid on killing widows) in these same communities. I was surprised to learn even at that time, there were supporting perspectives in favor of killing widows, from reputed leaders in society. As well, the British had a difficult time selling and enforcing progressive ideas in a society rooted in tradition, and finding responsible officers at all levels to enforce and implement in the true spirit of law.

What is unfortunate and intriguing is that with women bearing the brunt of these crimes, the leaders at a national and state level are also women (the President of India, a proxy Prime Minister in Sonia Gandhi, Chief Minister of Delhi & UP are all very powerful leaders).

Part of India's growing pains, or just lack of proper planning & implementation, or just being slow, insincere and insensitive? Time will tell if and how the problem will go away!

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