Every society has its own established set of rules which, if compromised, bear severe consequences. These values and principles have been followed by every individual of the society for decades which has created a mental barrier in the thoughts, in the mindset of people and if anyone tries to cross the barrier or do something to change the rules and regulations of the society then that person is forced or made to face dire consequences. One such rule or principle of society is Honour and the repercussion of honour is shame. It is said that if honour is violated, it brings about shame. And as it is the society that dictates what is honourable and what is not, the consequences or the punishment is also decided by them. In this case shame becomes a social experience. This has led to the conception of Honour killing.
Honour killing is where a family member, mostly girls or women, are murdered by the other family member or relatives as they feel that the victim has brought disgrace to the name and prestige of the family and also has tried to breach or break the norms and principles of their community. This form of killing is justified on the grounds that the honour of the family was violated. As every community or society operates on some particular cultural codes of conduct that are performed regularly which are strictly internalised through collective reinforcement and the reason behind the occurrences of such killings, aside from societal pressure, is illiteracy, backward mindset, collectively following and upholding the rules and regulations set by the society, caste or religion.
In India, thousands of people are killed in the name of family honour and this concept is associated with preponderance of the patriarchal system. But as the time went on the ways in which honour killing was practiced also changed. However, even though India got independence and gave constitutional rights, some people still blindly follow the norms of society due to the backward mindset. The show ‘Paava Kadhaigal’, the latest Netflix anthology film, portrays the theme of honour killings in four different short films: A trans woman sacrifices her love and her life for her sister’s love; Twin sisters confront their father’s hypocritical nature; Parents have a hard time dealing with the rape of thier teenaged daughter; and, A preganant daughter sees her father in a new light.
Thangam: The first segment, set in the earlier era of 1980’s in a small town of Kovai district, is about an individual who knew they were different and had learned to live with it, a trans muslim person, Sathar, who was in love with her childhood friend, Saravanan, who is hindu. However, Saravanan confides in Sathar that he is in love with the latter’s younger sister, Sahira. This breaks Sathar’s heart, but she comes to terms with the truth and tries to unite them both. Word soon gets to both the families about their budding love and because of the religious differences, both the families oppose this relationship. But in spite of this both Saravanan and Sahira, decide to elope and get married after Sahira’s father physically abuses her. Sathar helps them escape and gives them the money she was saving for her surgery.
A year later, the young couple returns to their village with their new born baby and are very excited to be reunited with Sathar. But on their way when they asked how Sathar was doing they were told that after they ran away, Sathar was disowned, her ‘raashan’ cards were taken away from her and she had to live on the streets. On one such night, some drunk hooligans were harassing her and chasing after her. She begged her family and the village people to let her in but they didn’t. Instead her mother told her to die, at least that way it would be easier for them to marry the rest of the daughters off. Hearing that Sathar was devastated and willingly walks towards the thugs who violate and kill her mercilessly. Hearing this, Saravanan and Sahira are shocked at the heartlessness of the entire village and the misfortune they caused to Sathar. They don’t even get out of the car and just simply leave. The film ends with Saravanan going to the river side, the spot where he used to meet Sathar, and finds Sathar’s possession. He cries out and mourns the loss of his friend.
The themes that are visible in Thangam is interfaith marriage and gender identity. The director, Sudha Kongara, sensitively brings out Sathar’s tragedy in a combination of some melodrama and the harsh truth of how trans individuals are treated not only by the society but also their families. Being treated as an outcast by all and embraced only by a few, Sathar has to erase her own desire and sexuality in order to be accepted by the society, to be treated as an equal.
Love Panna Uttranum: In this piece, a superficially progressive politician finds himself in a challenging position when he finds out that both his twin daughters have dared to choose their own partners. Aadhilakshmi and Jothilakshmi are the daughters of a village lord. Jothilakshmi lives in the city with her friend Penelope while Aadhilakshmi lives in the village with her father. The father seems to endorse inter-caste marriages but his henchmen go about killing the couples who marry out of caste.at this point Aadhilakshmi innocently believes that her father has changed. She builds up the courage and finally reveals that she is in love with her family’s driver who is from a different caste. She confides into her sister and asks her to come to the village to meet them all. In the meantime, their father, under the advice of Narikutty, agrees to kill Aadhilakshmi and her boyfriend to maintain the honour and prestige of the family and the community. Aadhilakshmi gets electrocuted when she goes to take a bath while the driver is killed in a car accident.
At this point Jothilakshmi surprises her father by coming home with her friends and they find out that Aadhilakshmi is missing. In the meantime Narikutty, a diminutive man who firmly believes that oranges and apples cannot mix together and that if Jack had gotten Rose in the film Titanic then the movie would have been a flop, gets a hold of Bharani, one of Jothilakshmi’s friends, and beats him up thinking that he is Jothilakshmi’s choice of partner. This forces Penelope to disclose that Jothilakshmi is a lesbian and that she is in a relationship with Penelope not Bharani, who is just a friend. This horrifies the father and he threatens to kill everyone if the daughter doesn’t obey him. He forces Penelope and Bharani to leave Jothilakshmi behind and leave. The death of her sister and her friends leaving depresses Jothilakshmi and she begs her father to let her go or kill her the way he had her sister killed. Both Penelope and Bharani come back to pick Jothilakshmi up and, astonishingly, her father doesn’t stop her. Penelope calls Jothilakshmi’s father and tell him that his daughter is actually in love with Bharani and that their lesbian act to escape violence. A few years later, the father, now sincerely having a change of heart, escapes the village and the caste based violence behind and moves to France to live with his daughter.
Vaanmangal: “A family’s honour, its pride and prestige are borne by the women at home. In their bodies”. In this segment, Sathya and Mathi are a middle-class couple living in Madurai with their three children – Bharath, who is a college going boy, Vaidehi, their older daughter and Ponnuthaayi, their youngest daughter who is just 12 years old. This short is an unwavering look at the sexual assault of a minor, a loss of innocence.
When Vaidei reaches puberty, she is advised by her father that she can’t act like a child anymore, she must try to lead a dignified and an honourable life from now on as she has grown up. However, while he was asking Vaidei to protect herself and stay vigilant, Ponnuthaayi gets kidnapped and is sexually assaulted. The father is confronted with his worst nightmare i.e., the violation of his teenage daughter. The mother is equally devastated. Ponnuthaayi comes back home traumatized and the whole family is distraught by the incident. The mother doesn’t want to go to the police to file a complaint, even though Sathya and Bharath plead her. As a father, Sathya, struggles to cope with his day to day life, he is unable to even talk to his daughter properly. He tries to protect Ponnuthaayi from the prying eyes of the neighbours and relatives who get the wind of her brief disappearance. Both the parents struggle to protect their daughter from the vicious gossip, knowing full well that the culprit is will get away scott-free, while the girl will be blamed for it and will have to live with the ‘shame’ of rape.
It doesn’t matter whether a girl covers up or not, goes out at night or not, it doesn’t even matter if she is has come of age or is still just a baby, the society has proven time and again that if you are an individual with a vagina, that is reason enough to be raped. This Netflix segment shows how a girl is taught to talk, walk, sleep and behave like a woman. They are conditioned from a young age to safeguard their ‘honour’ and ‘purity’, that a woman’s body is seen and regarded as a vassal for family’s and the community’s honour. While Ponnuthaayi slowly recovers and her father reassures her that nothing will ever harm her again, the mother, who is clearly ravaged, for a brief moment imagines pushing Ponnuthaayi off a cliff to save the family’s honour and to save her daughter from further humiliation. However, she pulls herself together and is immediately ashamed of her thoughts. She decides to live with her head held high and help Ponnuthaayi through this so that she can, too, live her life the way she wants to and not based on the ways the patriarchal society dictates.
Oor Iravu: This last segment starts with a pregnant woman, Sumathi, being reunited with her family after being estranged from them. A lovely father-daughter relationship was in tatters when she had eloped and decided to marry Hari, a boy from a lower caste. She was cut off from her parents and siblings for several years. Both Hari and Sumathi are well educated independent individuals living in Bangalore and are now expecting their first child. When the father, Janakiraman, learns that his daughter is expecting his grandchild, he puts his animosity aside and shows up at his daughter’s doorsteps to make amends. But surely nothing is what it seems like. The true face of the father’s bigotry and classism is visible in the meaningful looks and sinister gestures.
At first it is seen that Janakiraman hesitates to accept his son-in-law, but then he agrees to let them come to his house for Sumathi’s baby shower rituals. Sumathi naively believes her father’s sudden change of heart and agrees to go back to their village. However, she is met with subtle and indirect hostility from the rest of her siblings for eloping but soon they start to warm up towards her. It is revealed a little later why her siblings treated her with hostility. Her brother faced humiliation at his college and his sisters were pulled out from their colleges so that they don’t follow Sumathi’s footsteps. They were told that education would lead them astray and were forbidden from studying even from home.
One night before the baby shower, everyone leaves for the reception hall except Sumathi and her parents. Soon, Sumathi falls sick and starts to throw up blood. When Janakiraman refuses to call the doctor, it becomes evident that he poisoned her drinking water. He forcefully locks up both the mother and the daughter in different rooms and waits for his daughter and the unborn child to die. He castigated her for marrying outside the caste and was carrying a lower-caste boy’s child. He says that her and the child’s death would restore his family’s honour and pride. Sumathi continues to beg for her life in spite of her deteriorating condition and at one point realizes that her child is no more. Soon she too succumbs to the pain and dies. Even though Janakiraman is grief-stricken at her daughter’s fate, till the end he felt that it was the only solution to his problem. Hari, Sumathi’s husband, finds learns about the tragedy that has struck his family and goes forward to file a murder case against Janakiraman.
Caste based practices and violence are deep-rooted and very prominent in India, especially rural village areas. For them living in cities is seen as a sign of freedom and liberation from oppressive systems. That is why Sumathi’s sisters wished even they could live in the city ‘free’ from all the oppression. After watching this Netflix series, one is left feeling an array of mixed emotions, apart form the sinking feeling which follows violence against women and it is mostly due to the fact that not everytime justice is served. How long will women’s bodies and minds be controlled by the oppressive patriarchal systems of the society? Women’s bodies are cherished as the ‘honour’ of the family and something that can easily be defiled. The notion of honour may be outdated in the larger parts of the urban areas in India but in the rural areas still operates according to these societal rules and regulations and this continues to create violence and humiliation.
At Pause for Perspective we believe that every individual deserves space where they can be themselves, be held and be validated for who they are. We believe a higher perspective is always present and all we need is to pause and stay present with ourselves in order to receive it. Psychological Counseling and Psychotherapy spaces provide opportunities for individuals to find themselves, and heal from difficult journeys on which they often find themselves in. Our counselors offer space and presence to help individuals understand themselves, live intentionally, overcome trauma, anxieties and life’s challenges. We believe that the problem is not in the individual but in fact in the system that we live in. We need to treat honour as a sensitive and delicate issue rather than something that has survived for eons as an archaic reform of the oppressive system of caste and gender.
This article is written by our writer Insha Fatima.