Albeena, Zicou and Jagmati address audience at a film screening organised by SFI at Koyna Hostel Mess/JNU
Even as songs of love are brutally silenced by khap panchayats, using marriage codes rooted in their history of denying women the right to natal property, a documentary celebrates stubborn resistance to this bloodlust of feudal authority Shaweta Anand Delhi
Surprisingly, the night show was houseful. Despite the freezing temperature, a lot of people turned up for the screening of a documentary film 'Izzatnagari ki Asabhya Betiyaan' (Immoral Daughters in the Land of Honour) by Nakul Singh Sawhney. The protagonists in this 93-minute film were people targeted by khaps (unconstitutional, upper caste panchayats), who refused to be cowed down and continued to offer firm resistance despite the odds.
Through finely blended multiple narratives, the film captures the emotional loss faced by bereaved families of victims (mostly from socially and economically insecure backgrounds), on the one hand, while airing the views of khap leaders, on the other. The film also depicts the challenges faced by Jat women in the rural and urban/city settings, while acknowledging the significance of education and activism in their lives.
For instance, Seema, (late) Manoj's sister, who is determined to become a magistrate, shares in the film how their family continues to be threatened, boycotted and psychologically tortured after they challenged khaps in court. In 2007, Manoj and his wife Babli had been beaten to pulp for marrying within the same gotra (clan) as the khaps believed their relation to be incestuous. As a final punishment for violating family 'honour', their limbs were tied with ropes before sinking them in a canal, silencing their songs of love in a cold, watery grave. This happened despite the court's prior intervention and police protection to the legally married couple.
Mukesh, the other powerful protagonist in the film, decided to leave home for good and become a full-time women's rights activist in Haryana after she was being forced to opt for arranged marriage. Geetika and Anjali, Jat girls pursuing education in Delhi, spoke about their experience of opposing 'honour' crimes through the medium of street plays and academics respectively.
Gaurav Saini, whose wife Monika was forcefully taken away from him as their marriage was inter-caste, soulfully narrates his experiences of being tortured by Monika's family, and also what it means to live without one's partner of choice.
The film's highlight was candid interviews with khap leaders, some of whom got defensive and claimed they have "nothing to do with honour killing", while others, including a woman leader, audaciously proclaimed that honour crimes were bound to recur if such 'aberrations' (i.e., alliances between so-called siblings or inter-caste alliances) were allowed. According to them, it would "disturb social order" and "destroy society by promoting immorality".
"But now khaps are unable to wash their hands off this issue as more people associated with khapsare getting convicted for 'honour' crimes," said filmmaker Sawhney. He was speaking in the context of Ramdiya Banwala, a member of Banwala khap, who was convicted in the Ved Pal case of 2009. Pal, a medical practitioner, had been lynched by his wife Sonia's relatives for violating the norms ofbhaichara (brotherhood) as he had married a girl from the adjoining village.
As far as future strategy is concerned, Jagmati Sangwan, activist and head of the Women's Study Centre at Maharshi Dayanand University, Rohtak, said, "The two groups of people who are specifically targeted by khaps are the youth and the Dalits. We must work with them so that this scourge can be effectively dealt with." Sangwan participated in the making of the film and was present at the screening.
"As is well-known, all codes of marriage are rooted in regulation of women's sexuality and property. So the khaps' demand for a ban on sahgotra (same gotra) and bhaichara marriages is integrally linked to their history of denying women natal property rights. This link should not be forgotten," said Albeena Shakil from the All India Democratic Women's Association, also a participant.