From Tajikistan, a family affair to forget.
On August 25, a court in Khatlon province ruled that Oigul Pardaeva and Safargul Hodjaeva conspired to murder and burn the remains of Norgul Azimova, their shared mother-in-law, in circumstances that remain a mystery.
Pardaeva was sentenced to 22 years in jail for the killing, which was committed in December. Hodjaeva got 21 years.
Azimova’s sons, residents of the village of Takhti Sangin, had phoned the police with a missing person report in January. Her charred remains were later found in a river by investigators.
News of the sentencing and the gory death, relayed by Tajikistan’s Asia Plus news agency and other independent outlets, throws up more questions than answers.
For one, what role if any did the sons play? Asia Plus’ report provides few clues, but mentions that Pardaeva’s husband, Dilovar Azimov, was sentenced to two years of correctional labor for bigamy as part of the same case.
Hodjaeva was presumably not Azimov’s second wife as the report refers to their husbands in the plural. But the report does not explain the connection, if there is one, between his bigamy and their murder.
Most importantly, the motive for this ghastly crime is unclear.
The typical kelin, or live-in daughter-in-law is expected to be the epitome of servitude in most rural Central Asian families. Her mother-in-law on the other hand, is a character of unrelenting wickedness, as evidenced by her portrayal in many Central Asian films.
Take as an example Saida Rametova’s character in the well-known Uzbek comedy flick Super Kelinchak, who makes her Slavic daughter-in-law’s life a living nightmare by constantly criticising shortcomings in her vegetable-chopping skills and in other household chores. Or Turakhan Sadykova’s character in the Kazakh film Kelin, which one reviewer described as “an old hag with mystical connections to nature.”
The parody in many cases will be close to the truth, and it might have been relentless bullying that drove the wives to carry out their wicked deed.
But it is the relationship between these two pillars of the family that makes a village household tick. With the menfolk either at work, in Moscow or exercising their patriarchal right to laze on the family couch, all of the domestic labour falls on the women.
This explains why older women are happy to see their sons married at a young age, as well as why practices such as bride-kidnapping find support across the gender divide. It is their opportunity to take their feet off the pedal.
In this context, Pardaeva and Hodjaeva’s violent mutiny should shock traditional society to the core. In a less closed society it would likely provide fuel for talk shows and public naval-gazing about family values.
As it is, the case was not reported by the state agency Khovar.