Honour (?) in the modern world

As is my wont to ask random questions, I once put forth this query to someone I knew: “What is your take on honour killings?

He replied: “I think it’s acceptable under some circumstances.”

I was – and still am – aghast that an educated person could think that a ritual as barbaric as honour killings was not wrong.

Sadly, this is the case in India – honour killings are common and practised by rural and urban people alike. In a case that’s been in the news over the last few days, a man killed his sister’s husband because their family did not approve of their marriage. Another case: a female journalist was found dead and her mother has been arrested on the charge of murdering her. What was the motive? Apparently, Nirupama Pathak (the 23-year-old journalist) made the mistake of falling in love with a boy from another caste. That was enough to have the family in an uproar. It also seemed a good enough reason to kill her rather than have the “shame” of the daughter of the house marrying someone from a different caste (Coverage in TimesOnline).

The crime shows yet again how ‘honour killings’ cannot be considered the curse of rural India where panchayats often order the execution of young couples who dare to cross caste borders.  Nirupama’s father worked at a bank, her brothers were PhDs, the family had helped Nirupama to move far from home to follow her dreams.

Read about similar cases:

At this point, I digress towards the critiques of the modernization paradigm of developmental journalism. According to Servaes (1999: 17), the modernization paradigm…supported the transfer of technology and the sociopolitical culture of developed societies to “traditional” or “underdeveloped” societies. The problem many found with this paradigm is that Western ideologies were imposed on an undeveloped nation or developing nation without taking into account the socio-political and cultural situation of the country that needed to be “modernized”. Also, the way of “modernizing” the indigenous population employed a top-down approach rather than involving them in the development process.

In my last post, I discussed the concept of digital divide as it applied in India as well as the aspect of how the modernization paradigm doesn’t always work as technology and development should be adapted to the needs of the country in question. However, there is another way to look at it.

On one hand, it can be argued that countries resent a Western ideology being imposed on them and the Western way of thinking is definitely not the be-all and end-all goal to reach. However, if practices such as honour killings and dowry have seeped into the “culture” of a country, then do we keep quiet? Does it mean that those who oppose the modernization paradigm stand back and sit quiet because hey, let us not foist our ideas on the indigenous population? Do we tell the people who think it’s alright to kill someone for the protection of their inflated and false sense of “honour” to keep thinking the way they do? Do we not even try to change their minds? It’s sad because those who practice this kind of behaviour will turn around and tell those who want to change their minds: “Don’t try and talk to us about how what we’re doing is wrong. This is how we do it in our culture. Keep your Western ideas out of it.”

While Western ideas are NOT all there are…there are some concepts that transcend the East and West. The concept that killing people because they married someone you didn’t like is wrong. The concept that dowry is not acceptable in any circumstance whatsoever. The concept that murdering female babies/children is barbaric. These concepts are not Western. They’re humanitarian.

What is scary – to me anyway – with regard to honour killings is that when even educated people (cases in point: the family of Nirupama Pathak and the person who made the comment at the beginning of this post) think that this is a sanctioned way of behaving, what hope do the proponents of the modernization paradigm have in bringing light to these misguided souls?


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