In The Name Of Honor

The bodies of Jasbir and Sunita were dumped on a dirt road in full display, to restore honor and balance to a village. honor They had done the unacceptable, and dared to love without permission.  Their bodies represent the angst of men from a bygone era, desperately attempting to hold on to power.  According to NewsDaily, “Among the Jat caste of the conservative northern state of Haryana, it is taboo for a man and woman of the same village to marry. Although the couple were not related, they were seen in this deeply traditional society as brother and sister.”

“Growing economic opportunities for young people and lower castes in Haryana have made “love marriages” more common, experts say, and the violent repression of them has risen in tandem as upper caste Jat men fight to hold on to power, status and property.” 

It didn’t matter that Sunita was 22 weeks pregnant and was just 21 years old, with an entire life ahead of her.  All that they saw was their so-called honor, and to cleanse it according to Reuters they viciously punched and kicked her in the stomach, as she cried for help from her boyfriend 22-year-old Jasbir Singh

Sunitas womb represented visible evidence of her desire for autonomy, and in attacking her not only did these men reassert their patriarchal privilege, they confirmed the social hierarchal power structure. By attacking her newly swollen belly, they clearly defined the bifurcation of gender vis a vis power.   In a region where women wear veils and cover their faces in public, a woman daring to follow her own heart  simply could not be tolerated. Not even her mother weeps for her.

“Nobody would drink water in our house,” Sunita’s mother Roshni is reported to have said. “My daughter’s action made us aliens in our own land. But we have managed to redeem our honor. She paid for her ill-gotten action.”

Women represent  family honor because their bodies are colonized and  constructed as weak.  Generation after generation of male control has usurped the authority of the feminine in order to exercise power, ultimately that is what an honor killing is, an assertion of power.  Female bodies only matter to the degree that they conform, otherwise they are dispensable fodder, or markers of consequences. Sunitas body was placed publicly to reaffirm the submission that is expected of women.  That her mother does not weep for her daughter is proof of how deeply ingrained the internalization of patriarchal priorities and sensibilities is. 

When the villagers express pride in this horrid event,  as Sing did in the following …”The people who have done this should get an award for it,” said 48-year-old Satvir Singh. “This was a murder of morality.” in actuality it is an expression of relief on two counts.  One they are happy that they themselves were not targeted with violence and two, that social order as they understand it and have become accustomed to has been restored.  They cannot imagine a world in which equality of the sexes exists, and frankly neither can I.  The difference is because I am a woman I do not find the idea of equality threatening.  For women equality is something that we  dream of the world over.  No group willingly gives up power, and so it is up to those of us that remain to continue to define ourselves as we see fit, thus carrying out the struggle in Sunitas name.

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