To speak of the crudest definition of taboo, it is an inhibition or ban that results from social custom or emotional aversion. Something which cannot be used, approached or mentioned because it is sacred, is a taboo. Such prohibitions are virtually present in every society. “Breaking a taboo” is usually considered questionable by the society.

“Taboo” has been a very intriguing word for me. Always. While digging deeper, I came to know that taboo first originated in the Polynesian cultures in the South Pacific and the word taboo comes from the Tongan tabu. And as we know today, it has crept into every culture, with varying shades.

Today I am going to talk about a taboo very prevalent in India, which slowly is metamorphosized into fanaticism ending in grave crimes. Inter caste and inter religion marriages are considered a taboo in our nation. Sadly, even in the 21st century it is criticized, smirked at and considered to be intolerable. Such mindset pretty much explains why only 5% of marriages in India are inter caste. Indeed, such statistic is abysmal and the percentage must be enhanced because inter-caste marriage is in the interest of the nation for it erodes the deeply rooted, repugnant caste system.

A new face of crime “Honor killing” finds its genesis in this taboo, supported and encouraged by millions of Indians. This 5% of inter-caste marriages which have been recorded were found in urban areas while the situation in rural India is much more deplorable. Caste has always been considered a fundamental part of our Hindu society. Our Shashtras talk about the four Varnas and the stratification of society on the basis of these varnas. There always have been talks about the annihilation of caste but all in vain. We have accepted the caste system with all our might and main and their total eradication is an uphill task.

Speaking of honor crimes, it is nothing but an ugly manifestation of how inconceivably intolerant people are towards people of other caste and how the madness to preserve false pride can cross every limit and murder human relations without an ounce of guilt or regret.  

Such social malaise is due to the patriarchal conventions flowing through the veins of the society.  India’s crime records do not list honor killings as separate crimes, and thus there is a dearth of official statistics but it is not an oblivious issue at all for every morning our newspapers are covered with such incidents and people do know that something heinous is happening around the country, which clearly is stripping off the individuals of the basic right to choose their own life partners. Although the court of India clearly maintains that any person who is aged 18 years or above is free to marry of his/her own choice, yet it provides no protection for the couples who have eloped and married outside their caste. Under such circumstances how is it possible to curb the incidents of honor killing?

The reason why this taboo and this crime dare to raise its ugly head again and again is because it is not only directly supported by the victim’s family but also by the villagers, the police, and the court who prefers to wear a nonchalant, indifferent approach to such matters and often fail to protect the lives of the couples. Many a time the convicts are backed by politicians, civil servants, lawyers, police officers and even judges. No organ of the society, be it the legislature, the executive or the judiciary, is separated from patriarchy and casteism.

However, this practice of honor killing isn’t just centered around India. This is a practice that continues to be prevailing in North and South America, Africa, Turkey and many other countries. But the thing that has to be kept in mind is that the number of incidents relating to this crime is very low and there is a very strict punishment for committing this crime in other countries. One interesting thing to be pointed out in the context of honor killing in India is that it isn’t a novel practice. It isn’t something happening recently.

This tradition was first viewed in its most horrible form during the Partition of the country in between the years 1947 and 1950 when many women were forcefully killed so that family honor could be preserved. During the Partition, there were a lot of forced marriages which were causing women from India to marry men from Pakistan and vice-versa. And then there was a search to hunt down these women who were forced to marry a person from another country and another religion and when they returned ‘home’ they were killed so that the family honor could be preserved and they were not declared social outcasts from their region. At that time, the influence of religion and social control was much greater and hence there were at least a couple of honor killings a day, if not more. The partition years can be seen to be the beginning of the tradition of honor killing on a large scale.

Thus we can see how a taboo has got magnified to a dangerous degree, causing an alarming situation for a country already fighting from so many bugbears. There are myriad of gruesome instances of honor killing and it has shown massive expansion in the last five years with Haryana (with its system of Khap Panchayats) being the epicenter of this.

We can clearly see how an inhibition at first alludes people’s mind into consuming it into their very system and later molds them into fanatics who would go to any extent to keep such poignant practices alive and breathing. Murky and dismal! 

-Yashika Kant 

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