Death for honour

Death for honour

For Honour by Bela Lal, as the name suggests, is set in the backdrop of a community’s so-called honour or pride. The milieu is the village of Angratta, near Gurgaon. The author explores caste politics, and the dynamics of rural life, in this slim book. But most importantly, this is a story of an honour killing, a practice rampant in parts of North India. A chilling story indeed of Poonam, daughter of Om Khimja, a prominent villager of Angratta, and Anant, who works for Khimja.

Om Khimja cannot accept the love of his daughter and his trusted lieutenant Anant, though he knows his daughter is in safe hands and Anant is a good man. In an incident involving a love affair between a Khimja girl and a boy of Naau caste, he, as a village elder, has already ensured that the Naau boy is murdered. The helpless Khimja girl, Shyaama, commits suicide.

Om cannot now go back on his beliefs and openly support his daughter who has eloped with Anant. He secretly visits the couple who has settled in nearby Delhi and warns them that the rest of the family is plotting to attack them. The couple escapes one such attack later on, but eventually they are trapped and killed. For honour.

During the course of this story, the author also talks about the Gujjar agitation and caste dynamics. Gujjars and Khimjas seek inclusion of their communities in the Scheduled Tribes, akin to the Meenas, another tribe.

The author goes on to show how politics at the village level can barely be ignored by those in power. Also interesting is the social structure of this village, within a 50 km radius of Delhi, the national capital. New money, urbanisation touches the Khimjas early on.

When Om Khimja is just 25, he has to decide whether to sell a piece of land to a developer or retain it for farming. He chooses to sell some land and immediately becomes one of the rich farmers of the region. His is an important voice of authority in the village.
“Many houses now had gas cylinders. Some, less prosperous, used the kerosene oil stove. Only the very poor now thought in terms of cow dung cakes. And it was easier, by far, to just collect firewood...” the author notes. Lal further goes on to show how the winds of change have reached the village. “...Om Khimja who had always aspired to wear the white dhoti and kurta, and to tie the twisted white turban, which was the accepted dress code for farmers of standing in the village, changed his mind. He opted, instead, for a white shirt and a white trouser. After all, the city was inching closer to the village.”
Yet, urbanisation doesn’t change the thinking of the villagers much. Two couples fall victim to the Khimjas’ sense of pride and honour.

An interesting read, this. The story of Anant’s past, his childhood, seems to be the weakest link in this otherwise taut story. Anant has suffered at the hands of a possessive and selfish grandfather, and has run away from him, after unintentionally and accidentally killing the old man. He then meets Om Khimja at a fair and comes to Angratta village to work with him. And that is the beginning of the end of Anant and Poonam, two lovers doomed to die for honour.

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