Published in Devlok, Sunday Midday on June 27, 2010.
Suddenly the newspapers are filled with reports of parents wanting to kill their children. They are being hacked, smothered, even electrocuted. The reason: honor. If a child marries outside the caste, it is dishonor; kill them. If children marry outside the religion, it is dishonor; kill them. If children marry outside the class, it is dishonor; kill them. If children marry inside the gotra, it is dishonor; kill them. If children marry outside the class, it is dishonor; kill them. If the children turn out to be homosexual, it is a dishonor; kill them. And if the government intervenes, demand the banning of marriage across gotra, class, caste, religion, and of course, ban homosexuality.
Not every one is so blatant. ‘Killing’ can be subtle: break all ties with the children, disinherit them, ignore them, harass them, abuse them and encourage others to abuse them. This has been happening forever. It seems to have peaked in recent times, for suddenly, thanks to the liberalization policy, the world has opened up. The television brings home tales of possibilities. Development brings home the resources to break free. Suddenly, children can make choices! And that bothers parents.
In our mythology, we celebrate the obedient child who sacrifices for the joy of the parents — Ram who willingly goes to the forest when his father asks him to, Puru who willingly suffers the old age of his father, Bhisma who sacrifices conjugal life so that his father can remarry, Sita and Amba who never go back to their father’s house when faced with misfortune. This is very unlike Greek stories where sons kill their fathers and uncles. Zeus kills his father Cronos, Cronus kills his father Uranus, Jason kills his uncle Pelias, Oedipus kills his father Lauis. So when we are talking about Westernization, what we are basically saying is the dominant narrative of our culture is changing: “Children are not submitting to the father. The father is being expected to submit to the child.” And we don’t like it.
And yet, in Indian culture, we have the story of a son who kills a father-figure. Krishna kills his maternal uncle, Kamsa, and the event is celebrated. Krishna moves out of his foster father, Nanda’s house, and Nanda does not berate him for it. Though like Ram, Krishna is an avatar of Vishnu, he behaves very differently, breaking rules, and still being celebrated. For what was appropriate for Ram is not appropriate for Krishna; both belong to different ages or yugas, each one faces a different context and challenge, and responds accordingly.
The issue is not about obedience or tradition. The problem is that for the ‘honor-killing’ parents, children are property. They want their property to behave as they want them to behave. They don’t want bulls that wander freely. They want to castrate the bulls who, as oxen, will be mild, docile, obedient, willing to bear the burden of the family cart. The relationship here is not about love, but the very opposite — power. Love is to allow children to grow up, be independent, take their decisions and be responsible for the consequences. Power is about control, dependence, domination, and the demand for obedience and subservience. Killer parents, and their supporters, may masquerade this as tradition, honor, culture, even love — but they are fooling no one.