Romeo and Juliet – Not a ‘love’ story

One of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, Romeo and Juliet is ostensibly about the passion, drama and tragic actions precipitated by young love. But in actuality, the play is a telling tale about the destructive influence and nature of family.
Loyalty and obedience are obligatory with family and religion and have been for centuries to varying degrees in different cultures.
In some cultures and some families, it’s a matter of life and death.
Convicted in January, 2012 in Ontario, Canada of the first degree murder of the Shafia sisters Zainab, 19, Salar, 17, Geeti, 13 and Rona Avie (their mother), Mohammed Shafia, 62, his wife Tooba, 45, and son Hamed, 24, in July, 2017, claimed they are entitled to a new trial because
of ‘cultural stereotyping’ and ‘overwhelming prejudicial evidence’. The deceased were members of the polygamous 10-member Afgan family that arrived in Canada in 2007 and settled in Montreal.
According to the National Post, during the trio’s “…sensational three-month long trial…”, jurors heard that Shafia was enraged because he felt his teenage daughters had violated cultural rules requiring sexual modesty, they were disobedient and the two eldest girls had boyfriends. Rona wanted a divorce and supported the girls in their pursuit of western lifestyles. Rona wrote in a diary entered as evidence that she and Tooba clashed frequently; she was abused, humiliated and isolated.

Jurors were told that Shafia concocted a plan to murder the four in a bid to restore his tarnished honour, in an ancient cultural practice that places family honour above human life. This honour is rooted in the modesty and subservience of the female family members to the patriarch. Several witnesses testified during the trial that Shafia spoke openly, before the four died, of wanting to kill Zainab. Prosecutors told jurors that Shafia enlisted the help of his eldest son and second wife in the elaborate but flawed plot to conceal the killings as a car crash.”
More recently, in September, 2017, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that a woman and her brother should be extradited to India to face justice for the honour killing of 25-year-old Jessi Sidhu in India in 2000.

According to a CBC news report, “…India had requested Malkit Sidhu and Surjit Badesha, the mother and uncle, respectively, of Jaswinder (Jassi) Sidhu, be extradited to face trial for a charge of conspiracy to commit murder in the 2000 death.

Jassi Sidhu’s body was dumped near a canal after her throat was slashed, allegedly targeted for secretly marrying a man of much lower social status instead of the older man her family had arranged for her to wed in Canada. Her husband, Sukhwinder (Mithu) Sidhu was badly beaten and left for dead, but he survived…”.

Canada’s Boomers, still the largest segment of the nation’s population, who were educated historically on human rights and the emancipation of women, were so horrified by these and so many other senseless killings of young, first generation immigrant girls and women in the name of “honour” that the then-federal government implemented public policy condeming these ‘barbaric practices’, which are still on the books, despite the change to a Liberal government and a young Gen X-er named Trudeau.

So along with the massive socio-cultural shifts that saw young Canadian women and men move from their home turfs to urban cities and their disengagement from religion and church and traditional mores and beliefs, today’s millenials in their 20s and 30s more often than not identify with, are loyal to and attach themselves to friends and co-workers, not distant parents and uncles and aunts and extended family.

Generally speaking, today’s contemporary couples in Canada are unshackled from the mores and beliefs of their families. Instead, they seek acceptance and inclusion irrespective of their choice of lifestyle, career, gender identity or sexual partners.

It’s a far, far different world than the one described by Shakespeare. Sort of. In the play, Romeo kills himself with poison after he kills Paris, the man Juliet’s family wanted her to marry. When Juliet awakens and realizes Romeo is dead, she kills herself with his dagger.

Did Juliet kill herself because Romeo was dead? Although Shakespeare wrote the play in 1595, when women were chattel and at the beck and call of their male masters, it made perfect sense for Juliet to kill herself in the tomb since her family undoubtedly would have targetted her for an “honour killing” because she loved Romeo rather marrying Paris. Setting the deaths of Romeo and Juliet in a tomb, Shakespeare illustrated that their love for each other was doomed by the obligatory nature and decrees of loyalty by family.

Consequently, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is just as relevant in 2017 as it was in 1595. The characters may have changed, but the nature of family and male domination still has major and dire consequences for some young Canadian women.

But not for the majority. Seen strolling on a very public sidewalk in Calgary, Alberta on September 15, the young couple in the accompanying photo are casual and open with their body language and conversation.

The last thing they have to think about is family, which is currently being redefined as a restrictive, limiting and occasionally destructive social construct.


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