Again, Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate is a great show. Watch it, with tissue. I just watched the episode above, called ‘Is Love A Crime?’ The plot of most Hindi movies is star-crossed lovers, fighting family and societal disapproval at all turns. But they usually win. In real life, too often they don’t. Couples are separated or brutally ‘honor’ killed, or prevented from marrying at all. Under Indian law this is wrong, but the society is slow to change. But with programs like this, it is changing.
India is an amazing place. It is the best of places, it is the worst of places, but it is above all changing and alive. India is a nation still in the process of finding itself, or its selves as it were. Through legislation and much pressure India has broken much of the nefarious power of the caste system, but sectarian, family and other communal identities can have the same effect. No issue is perhaps more sensitive than marriage.
I say self and selves because the issue is fundamentally identity. What is a self? Is it the caste, is it the religion, or is it individuals? Under Indian and international law, the individual is the unit and marriage is between those units. Traditionally, however, the family or society is the unit and marriage is an operation of the above. There is much to be respected and even revered about tradition, but here I think it has to concede. On the fundamental issue of identity, the individual has to have freedom. Not that they can’t take counsel or refuge in tradition, but ultimately every person has to have the right to decide. And perhaps no decision is more important than marriage.
Hence the conception of honor. Today it is used in the sense ‘honor killing’ (a misnomer if I ever heard one) – killing a couple that breaks the societal mold. Programs like Khan’s, however, are redefining that honor in an Indian, democratic and ethical sense. I mean, watch the show. The people he has on are cheered on that stage, but in life they’ve had to face such tragedy and contempt. In the case of many of the couples, they were actively harassed, tortured and intimidated by the police. One young couple saw the wife forced to drink pesticide (by her own brother) and watch the husband killed in front of her. And after this, when the husband’s family complained, they weren’t allowed to buy milk or even a funeral urn by the community.
These people can feel often alone and easily crushed, but thankfully Aamir Khan’s stage is very large. He’s doing yeoman work towards making a Bollywood ending possible for many more lovers, or perhaps just survival and a human life. It’s really quite touching. I can’t watch a single one of these episodes without tearing up, and also feeling incredible proud.