Tuesday, 25 January 2011

useless speculation

ranjeeta sharma was [allegedly] burned to death by her husband, who has now left the country with their four-year old son. it's a tragic and awful death, and my condolences go to her family and friends.

i'm sure their grief is not made any easier by widespread speculation of whether or not this is an "honour killing", though there has been no evidence that i've seen in media reports to date which could give any rise to such speculation. it's enough that ms sharma is of indian ethnicity, and bride-burning happens in india.

isn't it enough that this is a crime of domestic violence, that this woman has been cruelly murdered by someone who was close to her? i don't understand why there's the need to add the extra level of sensationalism, especially at this stage. really, would fewer papers be sold, would fewer people follow the news of this if it didn't have the possibility of an honour killing? i would hope not, yet sadly i have to consider that it may be so.

at least one positive thing about the reporting is that there is no mention anywhere of her religion. had she been muslim, i doubt that would have been the case. yet the focus on her ethnicity rather than on the violence that lead to her death is disturbing. it not only serves to other the victim, it also has an underlying tone of othering the violence ie the violence becomes something "they" do and that "we" don't do, or at least not so much. it takes focus away from the fact that violence against women happens everywhere, and needs a strong response across the whole community.

in the meantime, i desperately hope they catch the murderer. i hope her son will find caregivers who can help him to deal with this tragedy and protect him from further violence. and i wish we could have more constructive conversations around violence and how to stop it happening.

10 comments:

Hugh said...

So do you think whether or not it's an honour killing isn't something the public needs to know about at all, or that it would be defensible to tell the public that it was an honour killing if there was evidence that there was beyond her nationality and (presumed) religion?

stargazer said...

hugh, i've said this to you many times before and i'll say it again. please put down what you think rather than asking questions. i've said what i think in the post. now tell us what you think - or don't. up to you.

Hugh said...

I'd love to tell you what I think but I don't fully understand what you're saying, so it'd be hard to make sure my response was relevant.

Ruth said...

Well done Anjum, you've responded to this dreadfully sad event with compassion and clarity. One of things that is a skill and a bane of journalism is the ability of journalists to reduce complex events into bite sized easily digestable pieces. The down side is that history and context are lost. I am hoping to write something (when I have a mo) about the use of culturalist and racialised explanations of things that have more to do with other 'isms.

stargazer said...

thanx ruth. praise from you is always highly treasured. if you do get around to writing something, please do consider having it as a guest post at the hand mirror. i'd have to check with our other writers, but given the quality of your work, i'm sure it won't be a problem.

Trouble said...

I don't know how you would tell the difference between a so-called honour killing and a garden variety domestic murder. It sounds as if the ethnicity of the victim is the main determining factor in the minds of journalists. An An Liu's murder was never described as an honour killing, despite a few similarities, and the reference one article made to a woman who was set alight at a petrol station by a rejected suitor - well, women of all ethnicities are harmed by rejected suitors, and I thought the hallmark of honour killings was to uphold family honour, not quite the same as avenging rejection.

But violence is othered all the time. Before anyone knew the ethnicity of the victim, a neighbour was quoted as saying "We don't want this to become like South Auckland. They can have that sort of stuff up there, not down here in the country." A crazy statement, but in some ways a natural response to reassure yourself that something that awful won't happen to you.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid that the otherwise finely argued point in this blog is rather undermined in the first sentence (and in the irony of the title: "useless speculation".)
stargazer criticises the media for speculating, without proper foundation, that the death of Ranjeeta Sharma was an honour killing, yet has quite happily tried and convicted her husband of her murder. However clear cut it might appear to any of us who have read about this case, the case against the husband is circumstantial until a trial has been held.
Graeme

stargazer said...

fair point graeme. i've amended the post accordingly.

sikhcentre said...

Anjum, your blog on Ranjeet Sharma's horrednous death hit the nail on the head especially when you pointed out "what if the victim had been a Muslim". What it illustrates is that some cultures/religions/nationalities have been "othered" in a far more widespread way. One of the comments on your blog-post mentions the gentleman from Huntly saying: "We don't want this to become like South Auckland. They can have that sort of stuff up there, not down here in the country." This is another example of "othering" when it comes to South Auckland and the rest of the country.
Essentially then what has been happening in this (and other such incidents) is that we quickly insulate ourselves from the victim and perpetrator, thereby shifting responsibility to do something to prevent recurrence of such criminal acts. In our minds, it simply becomes a case of "we do not do this". To take it to "we cannot prevent it", we need an elusive and undefined term called "cultural practice" - so what "we" cannot understand "we" cannot prevent.
The underlying hierarchy that gives rise to such thinking has been brilliantly delineated in Prof Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair's seminal work "Religion and the Specter of the West". [http://cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-14724-8/religion-and-the-specter-of-the-west]
The comments made about Ranjeeta Sharma stem from "politics of translation" - effort made to translate the "other" (culture) into "our own" idiom, guided by "our own" superiority (biases).

Mikaere Curtis said...

I'm not an expert in honour killings, but the ones I typically read about are where the victim's family do the killing in the name of restoring honour.

This clearly was not the case here, and even if the husband (assuming he is the perpetrator) killed her because of some perceived slight to his honour, it is sufficiently similar to other spousal murders in Aotearoa that the media should be treating it as such, and not some "suspected" honour killing.

That being said, I can see how they connected the various elements of the situation: fire, wife, Indian ethnicity. Sure, they fig-leafed it with "suspected", but I really don't think that is enough.

As Sikhcentre says, this is an excercise in unnecessary "othering", which in turn invites the kind of comments like that one about these kind of things only happening in South Auckland.

OTOH, if (in some hypothetical future event) there *was* an honour killing (as described in the first paragraph), I think it would be the media's duty to report it as such.