Author Sonia Faleiro On The Cost Of Honour In Our Society

Sonia Faleiro, The Good Girls

In 2014, two teen girls from a small village in Budaun district of Uttar Pradesh were found hanging from a tree in an orchard. At that time author Sonia Faleiro was writing an expansive book on sexual violence against women in India. Initially, this incident was to be a part of that book, but when Faleiro went to Budaun, and lived in the village where this incident happened while researching the case, she realised, there was something more than met the eye, to this “ordinary killing”. This marked the beginning of Faleiro’s six-year-long journey to write her new book The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing, which comes out in 2021.

The author of books The Girl and Beautiful Thing: Portrait of a Bombay Bar Dancer spoke to SheThePeople.TV on what compelled her to tell this particular story about two girls from a small village in western UP, why honour manages to prevail over the right to choose and lives of women, and the challenges that deprive women of agency within their households.

According to Faleiro, “We continue to stand in the way of women’s progress and development because it isn’t in our best interest and by “our” I mean men, as many men continue to see it… to allow women equal rights, human rights, opportunity, and independence. A lot of the case that we are looking at, where women have been attacked, it is because of the fact that they have expressed some agency. I actually think that while we believe that these attacks, which start as small acts of harassment, happen because women are starting to assert themselves and are starting to utilize their power.”

This says a lot about where we are as a nation, observes Faleiro, further explaining, “Culturally and economically we are certainly in a flux, which is why we are seeing more of these attacks. But unless we address them holistically; looking at how we talk to girls and treat women in our family, how we educate boys and girls in schools, the employment opportunities that we offer and the social and developmental programmes that we have, I don’t see how we can make any constructive changes moving forward.”

Sonia Faleiro’s book comes amidst endless incidences of violence against teen girls and women, especially in the rural pockets of northern India, where communal living acts as added pressure to uphold the idea of “honour” or what is known in Hindi as izzat.  According to Faleiro, village life is not just about survival of a person, but also about surviving, living alongside, and fitting in with the rest of the community.

The village does everything together, even sharing each other’s successes and failures. “And that is a huge burden for people to have to carry because it means that the clothes that they wear, the food that they eat, the people they talk to, who they marry…in some parts of the world these are decisions that an individual takes, in some other parts of the world your family may take them for you… but in some villages in India… you have to take into consideration everybody else. Your village cannot see you doing or saying the wrong thing. And that burden means that people have to constantly check themselves, they have to constantly police themselves and they have to constantly police each other. And so a matter that is intensely personal or devastating, (in this case) the death of your child… is not just the death of your child, it is also viewed through the prism of what that death means to your village,” she says.

According to Faleiro, unless we recognise that women are individuals, they are not an attachment, they do not speak for your family or community, they are not responsible for your reputation, and that they should simply be allowed to who they are, we cannot inculcate the idea that individual autonomy is important even at the family level. “We often tell ourselves that the reason why we can’t give our girls freedom is because the world is a terrible place. And certainly, everything in the news confirms this belief. A lot of our behaviour stems from a good place and from the need to protect and care for. But I think we need to understand that by doing that, we are doing an incredible amount of damage to girls and women.”

Image Credit: Penguin Random House/ Jonathan Ring