Friday, December 14, 2012

An Assault on the Senses: Days 13 - 14

Day 13

Today, we went to the National Craft Mela in Chandigarh. The entire experience was just utterly beautiful, like an exotic flood of culture, color, and music.

There were stands set up along the entire perimeter, each manned by a seller from a different region of India, selling his or her own specialty handicrafts. There were Kashmiri shawls covered in threadwork, exquisitely designed silk rugs, colorful flower arrangements, wooden status of elephants and peacocks delicately hand-painted in bright colors, and jewelry made from tiny colored beads sewn together on string.

There was also a large selection of different foods from all parts of India – vadas and idlis, spicy noodles, kulfi, and pakoras.

Some Rajasthani dancers performed as people circled around them clapping, occasionally waving money in the air until the dancers shook their hips over to them and took the bills from their hands. Musicians wearing colorful turbans beat at large drums. Children pulled at their parents’ arms, begging them to let them ride the camel that sat by the gate.

Standing in the middle of the teeming crowds on the red soil that coated the ground, I found myself being washed over by the exotic colors, smells, and sounds of this beautiful country.

Day 14

Instead of court, I’ve started attending office hours at the firm so I get the chance to read some case files and watch client meetings. The cases I’ve read through so far are both depressing and thought provoking. I can’t help but find trends in them, like the issues of dowry, honor killings, and police brutality. It makes me sick to my stomach to think about these being everyday occurrences, but then again, this is India. There are human rights violations here that we don’t see in the U.S. And the main reason for these problems is the clash between globalization and the rigidness of Indian society. As media is allowing new ideas and views to flow across borders through the Internet, television, news, etc., these beliefs and ideas are hitting a brick wall of a traditional, patriarchal, family-oriented, and often stubborn way of thinking. And this is causing huge rifts between the older generations and the new, young, educated, and open-minded generation that is growing up in India.

A perfect example of this was a case I read today. The file detailed how a young man and woman eloped against the wishes of their parents. The girls’ parents were against the marriage because the status of the families “was not equal,” meaning they belonged to different castes. So after this couple got married, the girl’s family literally gave death threats to the couple, swearing that they would not let them live. The couple was forced to move away, and live each day in fear for their lives.

Had they been killed, this couple would have been another statistic added to the massive number of honor killings that have occurred in India. Honor killings involve the homicide of a family member due to the belief that he or she has brought dishonor to their family, and many honor killings are due to marriage by choice (as opposed to arrange marriage).

A report attached to the case file read, “Murder of couples that elope has become disturbingly common…if a lower-caste man is involved with a higher-caste woman, he is invariably killed, and the girl, whether belonging to the higher caste or the lower, is almost certainly eliminated.”

It went on to speak about how because of issues like honor killings, many of India’s westernized urban youth “remain fairly conservative when it comes to love. Most of them strive to find a partner who is roughly acceptable to their parents, even if not of their choice.”

Then, this section caught my attention: “Traditionally, marriages were arranged by the bride and groom’s parents and marriages were considered as a religious contract between families to hold the social order, and [were] cemented with the gift of a virgin daughter…marriages were not seen as a private agreement between two people in love.”

Firstly, note the traditional view of marriages. This view has unfortunately been the root cause of honor killings, as families hold onto this traditional belief that the marriages of their sons and daughters are somehow a matter that does not concern the children. And if the daughter chooses to find her own husband, outside of the traditional confines, this is seen as a “direct attack on patriarchal power. And in the name of family-honor, the woman is either killed or forced to commit suicide.”

Secondly, note the words “gift of a virgin daughter.” As traditional Indian society is highly patriarchal, instead of the marriage being viewed as a union of a man and a woman, the woman is seen as a gift, whose sexuality must also be indisputable.  The sexuality of the woman is seen as a “symbol of honor” and is “connected to the honor of the family.” And so, a further justification for honor killings is that a woman who elopes is projected to be a “promiscuous and a lustful woman” who “couldn’t even wait to get married.” The man on the other hand, is seen as “fulfilling the wishes of a promiscuous woman.” (Note how the blame falls on the woman.) Therefore, they are both bringing dishonor to their families. So they should die?
That’s the logic behind this epidemic that is ravaging the nation.

Thankfully, people like the lawyer I’m interning for are out there trying to fight this issue and get some justice. Hopefully one day I can join them.

I’ll be sharing more about the human rights violations I’m reading about and watching unfold.
In the meantime, please share your thoughts.

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