Honour killings are new form of 'Sati'


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pproximately 300 years ago, a Bengali girl named Lila, was forced to be a Sati, at the pyre of her dead husband. It was her good fortune that a young Englishman named Job Charnock appeared there like Gabriel and rescued the girl. In those times, pimps and middlemen of notorious brothels used to visit the cremation grounds to pick up unwilling Satis and sell them in the flesh market. In Bangla language, the term “Ranr” is  synonymous with a prostitute as well as a young widow. From this word we can derive that prostitution was the fate of the young widows.

Burning the widow of a dead man on his pyre was an honour killing. It was a ritual performed by the Brahmin families for long. Nobody dared to protest against this cruel, inhuman custom because of societal norms until a great reformer like Raja Rammohan Roy raised his voice against these socially organised murders and had it banned.

Although the then Governor General of East India Company, Lord Bentinck, supported him, Hindu conservatives and bigots protested and called it sacrilege.

As in other parts of India, in Bengal also women were considered a commodity, who could be beaten, tortured, killed or sold in the name of  marriage. In Hindu upper castes, women were ‘doled’ out to men, irrespective of their age. The men received dowries in cash and kind. Males of lower rungs did not get brides. Thus, polygamy and “Koulinyo” system  made Sati out of young widows or pushed them into flesh trade. Endless social customs treated a woman as a subhuman being. All these were done in the name of religion and honour (ijjat). We were fortunate that great men like Raja Rammohan Roy, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekananda and Ramakrishna made yeomen contribution to the emancipation of women. This was the process of conferring “Honour” on women and the right to life and property.

Eye wash

Although the present century witnessed achievements by Indian women in every walk of life, the attitude towards women has not fully changed. In Rajasthan, Gujarat and some other states, honour killings are perpetrated, thanks to the superstitious caste orientation. Young couples are murdered for making a free choice of life partners, disobeying the systems of their caste or creed. This is another form of Sati. We are unfortunate that there is no Vidyasagar or Rammohan Roy today. It is not only Shah Bano, a Muslim woman, who was made a pauper by a legal indictment ‘sponsored’ by the political leaders. India has always made an eye wash of women’s emancipation by appointing women Governors,  President and Speaker of Lok Sabha.

Passing a Bill against honour killing will not solve the problem. This kind of killing must be treated as cold blooded murder and all the persons involved should be punished under IPC. Until class hatred, dowry system and treating women as commodity prevails, the killing of innocent people will continue in the name of “Honour”.  

(The writer is one of the leading female film directors of Bengal. Her film ‘Anu’ has received critical acclaim in various international film festivals.)

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