Noose family ties

There is much heat and little light in the media and civil society debates on "honour killings". I have previously offered two hypotheses regarding the intensification of khap activism and honour killings. Regions where both phenomena predominate are typically low sex ratio areas propelling "deadly" competition over marriageable women (considering that marriage in India remains compulsory and age at marriage remains abysmally low, the competition kicks in while girls are quite young). Equally, parents are losing hold over deciding who their children will marry — the beginning of a momentous shift in a country that is known for two sorts of seminal intergenerational contracts — one, that sons will look after old parents and two, that parents will arrange the marriages of their progeny. Both today are being challenged by self-choice marriages. An equally important third factor is the "in process" challenge to caste restrictions on marriage. In a caste-bound and hypergamous society, where the rule is that a woman must marry up and never down, inter-caste marriages in which the women are often higher caste and the men lower, often Dalit, brings on the ire of the upper castes. Intra-caste marriage reproduces caste exclusivity while inter-caste marriage strikes at its very roots.

But let us take another perspective on "honour killings" — I would prefer to include these in a category I call "family murders". Other similar murders that can be included in this category are dowry murders, involving husbands and in-laws; female foeticide and infanticide, involving "to-be-parents", parents, and grandparents; crimes of passion in which people are involved in an intimate relationship, or jilted lovers taking to murder. What shocks us about such murders is that they are perpetrated by close and trusted relatives, by those who we normally expect to love, nurture and protect us. Family murders strike at our self -image as a society of close-knit, resilient families in a world where we feel the family has largely self-destructed.

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