I was browsing through Netflix after my last day of placement, and I stumbled upon this show. At first glance, I thought it was a Tamil movie (Tamil is a South Asian language). But then I watched the trailer, and honestly, shock does not begin to describe my reaction. After watching the show, I can definitely say this is a must-watch. Language should never be a barrier to watching a good movie or show. So don’t worry, it comes with subtitles.
‘Paava Kadhaigal’ translates to sad stories. It’s a series of 4 episodes that dive headfirst into the atrocities people are capable of doing in the name of honor. The stories are shocking and leave you wondering, is it real? Unfortunately, yes, everything the viewer witnesses in these episodes has, does, and keeps happening. Each of these episodes depicts a different story, but the core theme is honor throughout.
Honor vs. Caste
The episode that left me with a pit in my stomach was Oor Iravu. This story is about a woman named Sumathi who elopes with a lower caste man. Both of them are well educated and independent, living in Bangalore until her father shows up during her pregnancy. He had not seen her since they had eloped but claimed he wanted to hold a baby shower in their village for her. The whole thing seemed vaguely suspicious to the viewer, but I certainly did not guess the ending. She agrees to go back to the village, and on the night before the baby shower, she asks for water while eating.
The entire scene afterward is focused on the father grabbing the water and zooms into the water jug. But why? Poison. The symptoms only start an hour after the poisoning. She starts screaming in pain, and it spirals downwards from there. Her mother is locked away by her father, and all he does is watch. She continues to plead and ask why he is doing this. To which all he says is, “Your uncle said it would be quick and painless. I didn’t know it would be this painful.”
Shock and disgust were all I could feel during that episode. My dad chimed in during the Oor Iravu episode and said, “this is unbelievable. How is it possible to poison your child?” and that’s just it, it is unbelievable, and yet it happens every day. Caste-based violence is so prevalent not only in India but around the world. The importance of honor holds more weight than life itself.
Honor > Everything
The concept of honor is deep-rooted in Indian culture. It is so significant yet so easily tainted. A rumor completely based on lies can make parents question their children. Many people, in an effort to “hold their head up” in society, would rather listen to the neighbors than their own children. In this series, the concept of honor is a prevalent theme. Honor that is tainted by caste, gender identity, sexual orientation, and rape. In hopes of saving this honor, the characters do and say unthinkable things.
Honor vs. Purity
I distinctly remember the scene where the mother in the Vaanmagal episode starts aggressively trying to clean her daughter. The child is 12 years old and was raped the previous night. She was scared and confused. Rather than worry about the mental or physical health of the child, she is worried about restoring her “purity.”I watched the scene in absolute horror with my jaw on the floor. How is it possible to care so much about an arbitrary concept such as purity? The child was raped, and yet the honor of the family took precedence.
Watching this series definitely put a lot of these concepts in perspective. But it is easy to point fingers and look down on people. It is easy to assume these problems are black and white, but there’s a lot of gray. Many of us reading this article believe that the caste system is outdated. That even the very concept of honor is unnecessary and dangerous. However, this belief has only started in the past few decades. Change takes time and awareness. It takes shows like Paava Kadhaigal to help spread the message. The point of these shows is not to look down on others, but to be a proponent for change.
Honor vs. Identity
We need to look into our communities. One of the episodes called Thangam was about a transgender woman. Everyone in the village treated her poorly except for her sister and one friend. In India, transgender individuals are actually holy. In traditional Hinduism, the participation of transgender individuals in religious ceremonies is auspicious. How did that come to be?
When Lord Rama was exiled to Ayodhya, he told his followers, men, and women to go back. While they left, a group of people stayed, who identified as neither man nor woman. They were referred to as Hijras and waited in the forest for 14 years for Lord Rama to return. This led to their importance in Hindu ceremonies. Yet, many people continue to mistreat them. In this episode, everyone in the village would use her to open up their stores and for other auspicious activities. But would kick her out right after. It seems so violent and inhumane in the show, but that happens everywhere.
Even in western society, many transgender individuals are not treated with the respect they deserve. Purposefully missaid pronouns, hateful slurs, and violence are still prevalent. Everyone needs to learn from shows such as this one and move forward. It is as simple as adding pronouns to your bio.
After reading this article, I hope you have been convinced into watching the series. Again, the goal is not to point fingers. The goal is to take steps towards lasting change. Honor exists within each of us, irrespective of outdated concepts like purity and caste.
Hylton, S., Gettleman, J., & Lyons, E. (2018, February 17). The Peculiar Position of India’s Third Gender. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/17/style/india-third-gender-hijras-transgender.html