Thursday, November 25, 2010

Patriarchal Honour

Good grief, backward societies revel in their suppression of women. All religion-based patriarchal societies seek to control women, to maintain their stifling authority over women, from cradle to grave. In India, where widows were traditionally burned at their husbands' funeral pyres because their lives were entirely subsumed by those of their husbands', women were an appendage, entirely subservient to male will.

If the village elders of some backward states in the country had their way nothing would change, even though the country itself is steadily advancing as a technological giant, yet still mired in ancient cultures. The Dalit, the traditional "untouchables" cast are deemed by an act of Parliament to be equal in social status to the Brahmin class, but not if tradition has its way.

And, shocking as it is, in such backward cultures as those which are common in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, honour killings are still practised; those women who bring 'shame' to their family name, to their community, are seen to be deserving of death. In a country with 1.3-billion people, representing various ethnicities, religions, languages and traditions equality of the genders, let alone tribes is difficult to achieve.

Then there is the anomalous situation of a country beset by indigenous poverty in the countryside and wealth in the teeming cities. Those same cities where in the suburbs, people live in rabbit warrens of cramped, inadequate housing, little hygiene and hungry people. According to United Nations figures 366 million people living in India have no access to proper toilets.

But roughly 600 million people own mobile cellphones; an acute absurdity; one a dire necessity the other a relatively frivolous accessory. Yet it is the proliferation of the cellphones that is causing some societal upheaval, not the lack of proper hygiene. Because with the use of the mobile phones young men and women are now able to access one another unchaperoned.

"All parents were told to ensure their unmarried daughters do not use cellphones. The boys can do so, but only under their parents' monitoring", a village spokesman in the northern state explained. The council of elders who dictate cultural and social behaviours in Uttar Pradesh have been incensed at the growing incidence of young people eloping.

"Love marriages" are looked upon as cultural atrocities. Marriages are traditionally arranged, young people don't have the freedom to determine for themselves who they will spend their lives with in conjugal bliss; their futures are planned by others, their parents in conjunction with the village elders who influence all such outcomes.

Tradition holds it that unions between couples from the same village are not to be countenanced, considered to be incestuous. That, even when the bride and groom are not related. The provenance of such a ruling makes sense when historically people tended to remain in their original place of birth and people were distantly related to one another.

And young people who have entered into proscribed marriages with others from their village face threats and violence. The situation is so dire that authorities have taken steps to protect these couples, by establishing safe houses in the face of an upsurge of "honour killings".

Modernity and with it human rights and enlightenment come slowly to vast complicated societies steeped in traditions.

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