Monday, February 28, 2005

Man(un)kind

The recent Hindu-Sikh riots in Raipur district (two teenaged cousins eloped with two Hindu boys; hence the rioting) got me wondering all over again... How is it that women can be, simultaneously, a source of such dangerous fear and the guardians of male 'honour'.

I'd like to know how it all began. Who was the first man to stand up and say, "If my daughter decides to have sex without my permission, my honour gets sullied."

And how was it that the rest of mankind bowed their heads and nodded grave assent. So much so that whole communitites now burn, rape and kill each other, if a woman happens to fall in love with someone who was born into a different religion?

I still get gooseflesh when I recall - I often do recall - a news report I'd read some nine years ago - a widow (I forget her name) lived with two young children and her old mother. She fell in love with a muslim guy from the neighbouring village. Knowing it would be impossible to break with tradition in the region, the two eloped and got married.

The village wasn't satisfied with their self-imposed exile. The Panchayat (all men, incidentally) had the widow's two young kids confined to a hut, held hostage until their mother returned. The old mother was tortured and later succumbed to the injuries, I think.

Word spread. The widow and her lover returned, to trade their lives for that of the children. The lover was hacked to death and strung up on a tree, so all may learn a lesson. The widow was first stripped, then gang-raped, then killed.

The panchayat's honour was thus avenged.

Now, I keep wondering what will happen if these two teenaged girls are found and brought back to Rajnandgaon, Raigarh. Will more blood be spilt?

At the other end of the spectrum, there is a need to kill women when things are going wrong. Almost every other month, I hear of some 'witch' being burnt or lynched or thrown out of the village.

In Bongaigaon, Assam, I remember eating dinner sitting across Nirila, a very active activist who refuses to venture forth after dark. Her sister-in-law had recently been hacked to death, after being branded a 'witch'. Witch-hunts and subsequent killings are a monthly occurrence, in fact. We just hear about the ones that get reported.

What is it that makes women such convenient targets? And why does it continue in 'civilized' nations? Right from Joan of Arc to Sati, Phoolan Devi to Bhanwari Devi, Harpreet Kaur, and now these two teenagers in Raigarh... it just goes on and on.

5 comments:

Morquendi said...

Control of your woman's sexuality = control of her reproductive capabilities = the future of your bloodlines.

If the other rapes your woman, then you no longer control her sexuality.

We're animals, we're born, we reproduce, we die. As long as we're animals the woman's sexuality has value and she might be killed to stop it from falling into enemy hands.

Makes perfectly warped sense huh?

ps- I had no clue about the witch hunts. How do these people define witch?

annie said...

I don't buy the 'animal' bit, Morq. In the animal kingdom, the female has the right to choose. ALWAYS! Whether she wooes the male or the male wooes her, the choice is ultimately with the female. the male of the species is SUPPOSED to prance, dance, fight and make a complete fool of himself to win her approval. Even if he's got to get his head chewed off... which, by the way, is an excellent idea. :) [Your work is done, man! Snap... Goggle! Grin]

To answer your question, a 'witch' is someone who is supposed to have super-human powers or indulges in black magic... villagers suspect a woman of creating havoc - causing a drought, a flood, making kids sick, drying up the milk in a cow's udders, making dogs howl... it could be anything negative, really. As if a woman could do any of this!
It doesn't strike anyone, I suppose, that if a witch could kill people or foretell events, she'd kill her killers before they killed her.
In India, and Nepal, killing 'witches' is fairly common. Surpringly, witch-hunts often happen in areas known to be better off, as far as the attitude to women is concerned...

jaygee said...

Women are convenient targets because a combination of being a minority to a lack of education preventing women from actually taking steps to acquiring a position of power.

Though there are instances where a woman gets elected into smaller towns and panchayats, these tales are still few and far between.

We think its men who will protect us.. but thats a mistaken belief. They are protecting what they think it their's whether the woman's body or the now famous honour..

Infact if we followed animal patterns life would be simple indeed. Like the female mantis who rips the head of her mate, after mating!

Morquendi said...

Well as for the 'were animals' comment, what I meant to say was that people are 'animals' to the extent that we give great value to reproduction.

This is what makes people subject sterile women to all kinds of inhumane treatment. (Why this doesn't apply to sterile men is an altogether different debate)

Like you said, in the 'animal kingdom'(non-human) it is almost always the female who choses her sperm donor! We've all seen those NatGeo docus about how the males are always wooing the females. Again, placing value on the female's fertility.

So the way I see it, humans have taken this biological premium placed upon the female's fertility and and attempted to quantify and contain it in the same way we developed a sense of land (ex: mine, as opposed to yours)

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