The family must go

J Devika | Updated on April 06, 2018 Published on April 06, 2018

The concept of misunderstanding, a barrier in relations, denial of society. Barriers between people, prejudice.   -


No more than vehicles for upward mobility in Kerala, the institution has only deepened the cracks between genders and turned children into resources

The brutal murder of 22-year-old Athira Rajan by her father on the eve of her wedding has petrified many. She was hacked down in cold blood for having insisted on marrying her chosen partner, a dalit man. The agonising battle fought by another young woman, Hadiya, for her right to choose her faith and partner, against her father is barely over and, before we had a chance to share her joy, this terrible news struck us. After a pitched battle, finally, the Supreme Court had ruled in Hadiya’s favour, setting aside the High Court judgment that had annulled her marriage, and declaring unambiguously that her father’s objections to her free choice of partner could not be sustained. Indeed, it was hard to not feel that Athira’s father may have taken into consideration the defeat of Hadiya’s father — and so decided to annihilate her physically. He had put her off-guard, pretending to submit to the mediation of the police and agreeing to the marriage. He had not the slightest qualms in declaring that he killed her to defend his ‘honour’. Hadiya’s father had infamously incarcerated his daughter with ample help from the Kerala government and right-wing organisations in his effort to reconvert her, but Athira’s father decided to take no chances at all, since she seemed to be on the brink of escape.

I am shocked not because this is an honour-killing, and this is Kerala. No, honour killings were not unknown here — but the difference is that they were usually associated with upper-caste communities. Both the cases mentioned above involve men from the middle-caste Ezhava community, which has historically been associated with the anti-caste spiritual seer and one of the finest minds of his times, Sree Narayana Guru, whose faith has no space for any such inflated, violent, patriarchal conceptions of honour. But then, the leadership of this caste-community claims that the Guru has been quite unabashed about its Hindutva ambitions, and they have vulgarised the Guru’s teachings into a crude herd-building message. So one is hardly surprised at this.

What makes one go cold with fear at this is the knowledge that this is likely to be repeated: that young women who assert themselves as citizens and individuals may be butchered the same way again, given that the power hierarchies that structured Athira’s family are most common in Kerala today. The drunkard of a father, the mother who toils to hold the family together hanging on by the thin thread of Kerala’s neoliberalised welfare, and the young daughter who is treated more as a family resource than as a human being. And this was a hard-working young woman, well-educated and gainfully employed. She had managed to hold firm to her decision and the local police had to take her side, persuading her father to give in.

If such a woman could not escape foul murder in the name of honour, which woman can? This family-structure is common to almost all caste-communities in the State, and most young women are not fortunate to be employed — women’s unemployment is worryingly high. That is, most young women of Athira’s age are even more vulnerable.

I shudder when I think how close these young women are to murder by their own kin. Men in Kerala are going through a severe crisis of masculinity. Men’s work pays well here, but work opportunities are erratic and they find it harder than ever to be the breadwinner. Increasingly, the burden of supporting the family falls on mothers, who now have access to neoliberalised welfare. This has pushed up women’s workload quite significantly, and sometimes it leads to heightened power conflicts between spouses rather than gender equality. And men seek to assert themselves with greater violence. Athira’s mother, who took her side in this conflict, was probably being punished too, for having an opinion that went against her husband.

If Facebook is anything to go by, the numbers of people who have expressed sympathies for the murderer remind us that it is time we stop calling these socialisation-cum-sex-provision units ‘families’. ‘Families’ in Kerala are now merely vehicles for upward mobility, driven recklessly by individuals. Children are resources for that ambition. So no wonder that sentimentality replaces love, since sentimentality is glue-like, preventing the other’s mobility, in contrast to love, which can only ease movement for all. Who or what muddied our heads, I wonder, that we can no longer see the difference? Idiotic movies, mindless popular discourse? Whatever, it is now time to reject unambiguously this institution.

(Views expressed are personal)

J Devika


J Devika is a historian and critic based in Thiruvananthapuram

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Published on April 06, 2018
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