A few years ago, I remember writing about Panchayat elders in Katleri village near Karnal, Haryana, who snatched away a ten day old baby away to punish his young parents for daring to marry within the same gotra. When the child was reunited with the parents, not one of the interfering old men or even the girl’s family showed any remorse. So deep-seated is this aversion to marriage within the convoluted configuration of family names and clans in Haryana that even the police tries not to interfere in `family matters’ and ministers like the appallingly uncultured Meena Mandal (who had then snapped at the TV cameras, claiming she did not know that a baby was involved in the whole case) refrain against taking a clear stand against the rigid and sometimes murderous caste systems. No wonder then that a marriage against the community’s wishes ends up in the tragedy of Manoj and Pinky. Jassa and Sunita. From a brother in Rohtak murdering his sister to the countless cases of reported and unreported murders in Punjab and Haryana in the name of family honour, the trail of blood and reeking morals is long and twisted and the sad thing is, neither the media, nor the government wants to take a committed, long term stand on the issue. The Khaps in the meanwhile are growing more and more powerful.
Every collective idea is if you think about it. Everything fundamental to an individual's existence is being mined away or is being vitiated. From our forest reserves, green lung spaces, water bodies to the right to fall in love and speak our mind. Inner or outer, individual freedom is becoming a tough thing to have and to keep.
What is it about institutionalized ideas, hegemonies of religion, politics, marriage or caste that people want to impose them upon an individual by force?
And are willing to forget the basic tenets of humanity? Is it that people identify themselves so strongly with their names, their religion, caste, their political ideoligies that anything even remotely threatening provokes them into defensive rage? Every bloody war or riot or street fight through history has been fought to defend the collective identity of one group against another.
Any society where individuality is considered less important than collective identity will always engage in dehumanizing practices. A righteous mob or collective ideology without a conscience is the most dangerous thing in the world. Whether it takes a baby away from his parents or bombs Hiroshima or attacks Iraq or spawns suicide bombers or takes on the Babri Masjid with Trishuls in the name of Rama or turns WTC towers into melting human and steel rubble in the name of Allah or rapes and murders in the name of honour/revenge, the justification is always the same. Every murder, every bomb, every crime is always about avenging or reiterating a cause that is bigger than the individual. The human cost of such beliefs is immeasurable and yet, there is no respite. Or maybe, there is. Atleast, now the media can report such falsehoods and we can see through those who proclaim that they are acting in our best interests. Most of the time however, the media also chooses its battles erratically and not all causes get air time. The rights of children for instance get no visible bandwidth in the media or in public life. Be the Nithari episode or the Aarushi murder case, justice comes slowly and painfully and sometimes not at all.
And when our own system undervalues its citizens, why should not the others follow suit? A few years ago, I received a call from a Delhi correspondent of an Irish newspaper, asking for information about the sweat shops being run by an international denim brand in Bangalore. I did not know of any such practices but a few days later The Guardian reported that workers in Bangalore make clothes for prime UK brands for a pittance in a 48-hour week. For a long time, we have known about companies from Europe and America callously labour shopping in our hungry third world but nothing has been done to stop this. Or to help the 10,000 children in Punjab who stitch footballs for foreign brands or kids working in local fire cracker industries, cheap eateries, homes. How many laws, inquiries and newspaper reports will it take before businesses, both big and small learn the importance of ethical practices? And how long before the idea of honour becomes about validation rather than negation of human life?