Love Kills: Are ‘Affairs’ the Fastest Growing Reason for Murder?
While the number of murders has gone down as per latest NCRB data, why have honour killings increased?
Video Editor: Abhishek Sharma
Amidst many encouraging trends, there is one that is quite distressing. First, the good news — the number of murders in the country has decreased as compared to the beginning of this century. The likelihood of personal vendetta or property disputes turning violent has gone down too.
Now for the bad news: ‘love affair’ has emerged as the prime motive behind murder, has reportedly become the ‘fastest-growing killer’. The number of such cases has gone up by 28 percent since 2001, as per recent NCRB data.
- Why is the so-called act of ‘honour killing’ (it is anything but honourable) more prevalent now than before?
- Who do you dine with and which family (yes, family and not the individual) do you ‘give’ your daughter to (in marriage) — was the fulcrum around which the caste system operated.
- In states like Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab and Maharashtra, it is the number one killer, and in Uttar Pradesh, the second most dubious motive behind taking someone’s life.
Incongruent Realities: 1980s Bihar Vs 19th Century US & Europe
Why is it so? Why is the so-called act of ‘honour killing’ (it is anything but honourable) more prevalent now than before?
Before making sense of this unusual trend, let us for a while rewind to the late 1980s, in a small town in Bihar where I grew up.
Of the many things that used to amaze me, the one that stood out the most was the depiction of women in English novels set in Europe or US in the 19th century.
I would find it hard to believe that women in 19th century Europe or US could roam around freely, interact with men whenever they wanted, choose their partners and perhaps marry them too, according to their respective choices. It was unusual because of the constant gossip all around.
Every now and then we would know about some ‘scandal’ breaking out somewhere about this guy’s brother writing a letter to someone else’s sister. The so-called moral guardians would be ever willing to issue certificates to women venturing out or found interacting with members of the opposite sex.
Even though we had co-education schools, there used to be a wall (more in the mind than in reality) separating boys and girls.
Talking to members of the opposite sex other than close relatives was almost taboo, and we had no option but to follow it blindly.
Control of ‘Beti-Roti’: The Basis of Caste System
The Delhi of the 1990s too intrigued me for what it was. It was not unusual to find girls and boys freely talking to each other. The partying together was not taboo, and having an ‘affair’ was not considered scandalous. It seemed then, to be a liberating experience.
I used to wonder why my Bihar was so different then. I got my answer when I studied the intricacies of the caste system and got to know that roti-beti (bread and daughter) was the core of the system. Who do you dine with and which family (yes, family and not the individual) do you ‘give’ your daughter to (in marriage) — was the fulcrum around which the caste system operated. The control of roti-beti therefore was key to maintaining the ‘purity’ of the caste system. Any deviation was derided.
With the ever-increasing reports of the caste system disintegrating under the weight of urban ethos and many other values derived from modernity, I expected the control over ‘roti-beti’ to ease considerably.
But the TOI report clearly indicates that nothing of that sort seems to happening. Not yet.
The report says that there were 21 percent fewer murders in 2017 as compared to 2001. The number of murders due to personal vendetta is down by 4 percent, and the same caused by property disputes has slipped by 12 percent. But murders caused by love affairs is the only thing that has bucked the trend. In states like Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab and Maharashtra, it is the number one killer, and in Uttar Pradesh, the second most dubious motive behind taking someone’s life.
Most of these states except Uttar Pradesh, have a significant urban population. What happened to the so-called ‘urban ethos’ that was supposed to weaken the stranglehold of the caste system? Incidentally, West Bengal and Kerala are the only two states where such cases are few and far between even now. And we all know that the hold of the caste system has weakened considerably in these two states.
Generation Gap: The Young Have Little Support From Elders
I think it is an inter-generational clash between the one that grew up with the mentality of controlling roti-beti and the one that has considers what to eat and whom to marry a matter of personal choice.
Wherever the young generation of men and women has begun to get empowered, economic or otherwise, they have begun challenging the status quo, and hence, the bloody clash.
The somewhat positive movement on the women empowerment front, especially at the grassroots level because of the election of women representatives in local urban and local bodies, has widened the gap between the generations.
That is the reason why we have begun to see such murderous attempts to keep the status quo intact. The old guard is unwilling to let go of the control over roti-beti.
Incidentally, we have begun to witness the same generational divide while protesting/supporting the recently passed Citizenship Amendment Act. The ones who are protesting are mostly young, with very little support from the elder ones.
(Mayank Mishra is a senior journalist who writes on Indian economy and politics, and their intersection. He tweets at @Mayankprem. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed in this article are that of the writer’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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