|About the Book|
A decade ago when I was attending a study program at the Asia Pacific Centre for Security Studies at Hawaii, I chose ‘Identity Politics and Ethnicity’ as an elective subject. It was taught by the venerable scholar Robert Wirsing who, on more than one occasion informed us in a voice that could have stopped a cavalry charge, “Culture matters!”Culture matters to people. It gives them a sense of identity, even stability, and fuses unwritten laws into collective DNA with that blowtorch called ‘emotion’. It often holds rationality with disdain of the ill-informed and embraces past with dangerous naivety.In her first book, Chander Suta Dogra has traced the tale of a young couple, Manoj and Babli, who were brutally killed for having married against the dictates of their culture. This dastardly practice goes by the sobriquet of ‘honour killing’ and never has the word honour been put to a more severe test of irony.Her riveting account has a chilling opening. The contemporariness of the bloody incident – it happened in 2007 – is shocking and depressing even to someone who is aware that the practice exists in pockets of this region. But it is also a tale of amazing courage of a handful of women - the mother and sister of the deceased boy, an intrepid judge who sentenced the culprit to death and a NGO-worker – all of who refused to bow to the powerful khap panchayats (caste based local bodies) and risked their lives to secure convictions for the murderers. They climbed a steep curve and surmounted isolation, penury, hostility of a trenchantly patriarchal society, indifference and even criminal culpability of police and convenience of politicians. They provide the light that makes the prospects of traversing a long and gloomy tunnel tolerable.There is more to cheer about. It is evident that there is an evolving awareness that is beginning to germinate in dry sands of ‘tradition’. It is incipient and it is against all odds. But watered by the occasional drizzle of contact with modernity, it gives every indication of flowering someday.The writing style is easy and effective. It is an extremely well-researched work that rings true all the way. The sheer grip of the events makes it hard to put down- I read it in gulps. And the narrative has been garnished with dialogue to add life to the story.Both for inspiration and jolting middle-class indifference out of its stupor, I recommend this book.