Conversation With a Murderer: Amrita Pritam on “Masculinity” and “Izzat”

Killing seemed to be a better option than negotiation, what more worse can it get for a society? Men calling violence masculinity don’t know what it means.

It is 1980. Amrita Pritam learnt about a husband who has killed his wife to guard his family’s honor. Intrigued on knowing that the husband was an educated fellow, Amrita Pritam desires to meet him.

The area (Punjabi Bagh, Delhi, India), where this incident happened, as Pritam recalls, fell under Kiran Bedi’s command. In Pritam’s own words she thought “if he’s learned, then there’s a possibility that I can interact with him.” She contacted Bedi.

Bedi, who happened to be a friend of Pritam — the latter heavily praising the former for bringing revolution into the victim-correction laws and treatment of convicts in the Tihar jail — arranged for a meeting with the young man on Pritam’s request.

[Note: Below, in Amrita Pritam’s own words — translated from the Hindi as in the book “Deewaron Ke Saayen Mein” — is the conversation between her and the accused.]

“Deewaron Ke Saayen Mein,” Amrita Pritam.

Don’t Ruin My Family’s Reputation

Pritam: “You’re well-educated, if it was a bad marriage then you could’ve left the woman. But you murdered her. And, see, now you’re here, in prison; handcuffed and in custody. Do you realize what you have done?”

Accused: “I won’t say anything. Just hang me right away, but I beg you don’t write all this in newspapers. Don’t ruin my family’s reputation.”

Pritam was devastated by this appeal. She wanted to say to him: “You’ve blood on your hands. Can you simply wipe it off and feel respected in your own eyes?” But she decided against it. She didn’t say that. She calmed herself down and assured him that she won’t put his or his family’s name.

He continues: “You’re like my mother, but let me tell you: I hate all women.”

Pritam: “Leave all of them, but if you hated one woman then you could’ve just separated yourself from her. I just want to know that why would a learned, educated, young and working man kill his wife?”

Pritam describes him full of anger, but stricken with guilt.

Accused: “Why she loved someone else? I forgave her once — just for the sake of my family’s name…”

Pritam: “You forgave her for your honor, izzat and not because you loved her?”

Accused: “She used to lie. She used to say to me that she won’t meet him ever again, but she continued to do so…”

Pritam: “That guilt is on her. That lie was her responsibility, and not yours.”

As the conversation proceeded further, Pritam had one important observation to make. She describes him being hell-bent on one thing: he married her. And, as a consequence of which, he wanted to exercise complete control over her. In a befitting reply, Pritam says: “Marriage is a union of hearts. If you weren’t able to win her heart, what use was claiming your right over her body?”

She couldn’t have put it any better.

I sometimes wonder, (I’m also a man — but homosexual, and I’m not on heteronormative population’s side of the picture when it comes to marriages — I believe marriage is an institution of violence), that how difficult is it for Indian — or for that matter of any nationality — men to understand that:

· Their wife, or their partner, is not their property;

· Being a husband doesn’t mean you will decide where your wife should go, eat, stand and sit;

· They shouldn’t control her sexuality; and, needless to say, her rights.

But What About My Mardaangi, Masculinity?

The accused in this case was a victim — in a way how our society raises its men, they, too, become a victim — and a practitioner of patriarchy. He had only a single-minded agenda when he killed his wife, and that was: to prove his masculinity.

Pritam interjects when he explicitly blurts this out. She says, “What is meant by masculinity? Is masculinity there to reduce one person into a mere commodity, an object?”

He countered it with: “But society is the one which gives you respect.”

Whatever that should mean, it just reinforces, and hence, transfers power back to the society, which defines, controls and monitors one’s gender roles, performances and conducts. And whosoever doesn’t follow these rules will be responsible for attracting disrespect in his/her name and, inadvertently, his/her family’s name as well. (In this case, a daughter-in-law of a well-reputed and respected family falling in love out of wedlock.)

To which, the ever gracious poetess and writer replied: “For now, there are four people in this room: you, me, a police inspector and a sub-inspector. This is also a society, but each one of us has different opinions. What is respect for one may mean nothing to the other. And something which is dependent on the approval or disapproval of someone else, can it be called respect?”

He was quiet for a moment, and then he said: “I was full of rage; to calm myself down I thought only killing her is the only option. I could only silence this fire within me by killing her.”

Image Courtesy: Unsplash

Do we even realize what we turn ourselves into when anger controls our body? Do men have any idea how badly they’re harming themselves by continuing to practice patriarchy? Killing seemed to be a better option than negotiation, what more worse can it get for a society?

To talk him out, Pritam presented a hypothetical situation. To make him understand the gravity of the situation. To make him realize the immensity of the crime he has committed, she said: “Just tell me one thing. Suppose police didn’t get the news of your wife’s murder, and there’s no rule of law to put you behind bars. No evidence. No case against you. They weren’t able to find her dead body, then don’t you think your soul would be the sole witness against you? Can you eradicate and eliminate this inner voice? Can you ignore this inner churning? Can you delete 21st May from this year’s and your life’s calendar?”

Maybe I shouldn’t Have Done It

Finally the realization dawned upon him, and he confessed that he thinks that “what I did was wrong, and sometimes I think whatever I did… I shouldn’t have done it…”

Pritam, realizing that he is stable and understood what she wanted him to pay attention to, meekly submits her case: “Don’t you think if you would’ve spent your whole life thinking about this and being in the state of dilemma then you wouldn’t have to lend your whole life just because of one incident, this?” He replied: “I think so, yes. But it’s just about my family’s honor. There’s 302 on my name because I killed her, but there’s no question on my masculinity…”

Pritam says, she was enraged and said: “This. There would be umpteen number of people whose lives could’ve been saved, and there’d have been innumerous people who would be saved from doing this crime, if only people knew what ‘honor’ and ‘masculinity’ meant… Men calling violence masculinity don’t know what it means…”

He, with deep eyes, said to her: “You mean to say I should’ve left her, and not killed her? In that way, I would’ve been selfish for my life.”

Not able to digest this extreme form of foolishness to understand a simple thing that no matter what, it’s wrong to do what he did, and absolutely ridiculous on the grounds of protecting one family’s honor.

She took a deep breath, and using his initials, said: “No J. You wouldn’t have become selfish, you’d be selfless. This word ‘selfish’ also you’ve mistaken for something else like masculinity and honor…”

He kept quiet for a long time and kept on staring at the walls. Then he said meekly, “I don’t know…”

He loved his wife. According to Pritam, he regretted what he did, but he wasn’t able to digest that his wife loved someone else. But there was no one from his family and/or society who made him understand a simple thing: You can’t make someone an object of your desires. You can’t make someone love you just because you love them. That education was missing, according to Pritam, which led to what all happened.

That was 1980. But it is 2019. Almost 40 years have passed, but I feel that this education is still missing.

To conclude, in Amrita Pritam’s own captivating words, “At some point, people will be evicted from those exterior walls. But something which can change the face of the society and can transform it is getting liberated from the inside, breaking shackles of our own inner walls will truly liberate us.”

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