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Paava Kadhaigal: The Beast We Become When We Put ‘Honour’ Before Lives & Happiness Of Daughters

Posted: December 19, 2020

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Paava Kadhaigal, on Netflix, takes a close look at the question of honour – why women in general, and daughters in particular must bear the burden of it, and pay the price for its ‘loss’ in very violent ways.

About 8 or 9 years ago, my mother and I were talking to another woman, who also had a daughter. I don’t remember exactly how we came to the topic of love marriages, but the woman declared emphatically, that she would not allow her daughter to have a love marriage. “It may be different for you, but we have to show our face to society,” she said.

At the time, I was shocked at her insensitivity towards her own daughter. Didn’t she care about her happiness? Was what people thought so important to her, that she would let her daughter suffer?

Today, I think back to that and wonder how I missed the pain and fear that were weaved into her voice.

Women pay a heavy price for ‘honour’

“A family’s honor, its pride and prestige, are borne by the women at home. In their bodies. Between their legs. In their breasts, and faces, and their words. It is our alone to bear. And we can never unburden ourselves till the end of life. It is our society and caste that decides what ‘honor’ means to us.”

These are lines from Vaanmagal, (Daughter of the Sky) one of the short films part of the quartet Paava Kadhaigal (Stories of Sin), now streaming on Netflix. A common thread running through all the stories, is of parents killing their daughters (or thinking of doing so) for imagined ‘loss’ of honour.

There are problematic elements to the films – for example, Love Panna Uttranum (Let Them Love), engages in queerbaiting and fetishizing of lesbians, Thangam, yet again, has a cis het man playing a transwoman, and Vaanmagal relies on some stereotypical ideas for what ‘justice’ is, but on the whole, the collection quite effectively speaks of how violence is visited upon women for not holding up a ‘honor’ that they didn’t even ask to hold in the first place.

One of the reviews I read spoke disappointingly of how the stories were all too predictable. I wish that person had taken a second to reflect that if the stories are predictable, it is because they are, regretfully, stories that we hear too much of in real life.

Women are raped, beaten, killed, and abused – mentally, emotionally and physically, every day, in nearly every home (yes, even the ‘progressive,’ ‘modern’ and ‘urban’ ones), for just being themselves. They are killed, even in the womb, or as soon as they are born, just for being female.

The smaller violences

I am confident of my ‘nearly every home’ assertion, because even if we are not beaten or killed, every woman in India bears the scars of smaller violences that are inflicted upon her, under the guise of ‘keeping her safe’ or ‘protecting the family’s honour.’

One of the most poignant scenes, in Oor Iravu (That Night), is when Sai Pallavi, who has eloped and married a man from a different caste, is brought back home by her father. Happy that she has finally been accepted by her family, she excitedly shows her sisters, pictures from her new life – of her lovely house, and of her drinking with her husband. “Can we have freedom like this too?” one of her sisters wonders. “If you study well, the freedom will come on its own,” Sai Pallavi retorts. Her sisters then inform her, that after her elopement, their father stopped them from going to college. “But you can study from home,” she questions. “No, father says that you eloped because education led you astray. So he forbade us from studying,” her sister replies.

That scene broke my heart, because it is so true.

I know of a woman, who was forbidden from even applying to colleges outside her town, because her father didn’t want her to travel ‘too far.’

I know of talented women, whose families disapproved of them pursuing their talents –writing, singing, dancing etc. because they thought it was ‘inappropriate.’

I know of women who were forced to leave jobs they were good at because ‘women of our family don’t need to work.’

I know of women who are denied mobile phones, or whose access to the internet is denied because ‘what if they use it for ‘wrong’ things.’

Who amongst us has not been told not to stay out too late, or to not wear clothes we like, because if something happens, it would be ‘our fault.’?

Every day, our wings are clipped so that we cannot fly. So that we cannot be fully ourselves.

I wonder – Why can’t we take a stand and fight for their happiness?

Will there ever be a day, when we love our daughters more than we love (or fear) ‘society’?

Who is this ‘society’? Isn’t it just us?

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