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There is nothing honourable about "Honour" killings - Vibha Gulati

By Armin Sethi Friday, Aug 31, 2018 12:58: AM

Vibha Gulati took a personal story of a dear friend as the reason for speaking out. And speak out she did – through her short film Forbidden. Inspired by a true story, Forbidden makes one sit up and take note of the horrifying act termed “honour” killing but as Vibha says, there is no honour involved at all. It is murder. Vibha takes time out to chat with us after Forbidden is played for the audiences at IFFSA 2018. We catch up in Toronto.

I ask her first about how she separated her personal life from her professional life when the story is based on something so near and dear to her. She replies candidly, “It was very difficult – it comes from a very personal space. When you know someone that deeply, it is very difficult to step aside and look at things objectively but I had no choice in the situation. One of the benefits though was that, because I was so close to the family of my friend who was killed, and I still am, her siblings, we had a long discussion about this. They are very proud of the fact that I made the film, but they wanted me to change some of the facts of the story. Because of that, I was able to kind of separate myself from her story and create additional elements to her back story that were a bit different than what was in reality.”

So how did you cope? How did you manage, I ask her: “I started treating it more like a story. Of course, elements of her character were definitely there. But I had to make that transition in order to shoot this objectively and without getting myself so emotionally involved that it would make it difficult for me to shoot.”

One of the things that stood out during the Q&A session that followed the film was Vibha’s statement that it is the power men hold in society that leads to this kind of violence. I follow up on this and ask her, with films like these and rising awareness, will times actually change so that women are no longer fearful within their own homes?

“See, that’s a very difficult question to answer because the problem is that all of this stems from power and control and the system of patriarchy that has been passed down from generation to generation. They allot their honour, they allot that package to this individual who is a woman. So the woman holds the honour, whether it is through the way she dresses, the way she conducts herself in society, or the way she interacts with individuals in society. And they have attributed all of that to honour – like what will people say? The common phrase men will say to the women in their lives. They are more concerned about their standing in society than they are about the lives, and the individuality, and the independence of the women in their household.”

I agree with her but ask her what we need to do then to bring about the change: “To change that mindset, it will a lot of time. It will take a lot of understanding, communication, education, dialogue within the community. A lot of these communities, however, encourage and support the mindset that engages honour killings. They want them to be a role model for them – so that these women in their own communities do not have the courage to do what the other woman did. So that they cannot stand up for their own independence and not succumbing to family pressure.”

She recalls an interaction she had with a mother who killed her own daughter, and it sent chills up my spine:  “The problem is that I had a very close encounter – I spoke to a woman in jail who had murdered her own daughter. I wanted to speak to her because I wanted to understand this issue. When I asked her if she trembled when she killed her daughter, she said “no, absolutely not. I am a mother – if I have given birth to this child, I have the right to take her life because she has dishonoured me, my name, my family, my community. I will not be able to stand here with my head held up high unless I teach her a lesson. My daughter’s lesson will be a lesson for the entire community. No other girl will have the courage or the conviction to follow her heart. She will have to succumb to family pressure, she will have to do what I say, she will have to honour the family.”

After recalling that story, she emphasizes again that change cannot just happen: “It’s a huge task. It is not something that will happen overnight. Most people deny the whole thing – that it doesn’t happen in our religion. Religion has nothing to do with it! They just keep pointing fingers! When I was making this film, the Sikh community I was around blatantly told me this doesn’t happen – that it doesn’t happen in our faith. I was shocked – every nationality, every ethnicity is engaging in this and it is happening on a global level.”

Awareness, understanding, and changing the mindset comes after acknowledging that the problem actually exists. And we hope Forbidden will showcase to the world and the community that these problems do in fact exist and we must do something about it.

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