Bollywood is looking to raise awareness about so-called ‘honour killings’, as the Indian government comes under pressure from its own judiciary and human rights groups to tackle the problem.
“Aakrosh” (Anger), starring Ajay Devgn and Bipasha Basu, is being billed as the first Hindi-language film to address the issue, which the administration in New Delhi has described as “a national shame”.
The United Nations has said there are about 5,000 “honour killings” around the world each year. One recent report said some 1,000 women a year are victims in India, mostly in northern states like Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.
Deaths often involve young people who have married outside their caste, village or religion or have broken strict conventions on kinship in rural areas.
The killings are carried out by relatives to protect the family’s reputation and pride.
“Aakrosh”, a thriller due out on October 1, is directed by the film-maker Priyadarshan, who was behind the family drama “Bumm Bumm Bole” inspired by the Oscar-nominated 1997 Iranian film “Bacheha-Ye Aseman” (Children Of Heaven).
“Films can’t change society. But they can be used as a tool to bring about an awakening,” Priyadarshan was quoted as saying by the Bombay Times on Tuesday.
News of “honour killings” appears regularly in the Indian media.
In July, Indian police arrested five members of the same family in Uttar Pradesh for allegedly murdering a 20-year-old woman after she secretly married her lower-caste boyfriend.
A month earlier, the Supreme Court ordered the government and several states to outline what steps they have taken to prevent “honour killings” after a spate of murders, including that of a pregnant journalist on a national daily.
Global rights monitor Human Rights Watch has urged the government to crack down on powerful village councils — or “khap panchayats” — that order killings, and the local politicians and police who often turn a blind eye.
“Officials who fail to condemn village council edicts that end in murder are effectively endorsing murder,” HRW’s South Asia director, Meenakshi Ganguly, said last month.
“Politicians and police need to send these councils a strong message to stop issuing edicts on marriages… Murder is murder and customary sentiment should not prevail over basic rights and the laws of the land.”
Calls for laws to be tightened have sparked opposition, with some political groups and “khap panchayats”, which deny sanctioning killings, fearing a threat to traditional values and their way of life.
Researchers attribute the phenomenon, which affects all religions in Hindu-majority India, to deeply conservative attitudes and a traditional society where strong family ties are paramount.
In Islamic countries, religion is used to justify the killings while in India it is tradition and caste, they say.
The film is the latest Bollywood production to tackle contemporary issues.
Recent weeks have seen the release of “Hello Darling” about sexual harassment in the workplace, “Peepli Live”, on the growing divide between urban and rural India and “Red Alert: The War Within” on India’s Maoist rebels.
“Aakrosh” star Basu also featured in “Lamhaa” (The Moment) about life in violence-wracked Indian occupied Kashmir.
“From time to time Indian film-makers have been tackling socially relevant and current topics,” Devgn told the Bombay Times.
“For an actor it is challenging to be part of such a film because such films are often a mirror for social crimes. There is no honour in honour killings.”