Pin-drop silence. That was the atmosphere on a sleepy summer Sunday when Aruna Papp, a lay member of Greenbank (Ont.) United, took the pulpit.
Greenbank United describes itself as “a friendly, country church,” and the town is a go-to destination for butter tarts and country drives. It feels about as far away from the horrible reality of honour-based violence as you can get. But that was the topic of Aruna Papp’s sermon as she preached a hard message to the congregation that has embraced her.
Forty-nine years ago, as a young teenager growing up in India, she witnessed a beautiful girl in her community being burned alive outside her home. Papp’s young neighbour was killed by her brothers for refusing to marry a man twice her age, who was going to help the brothers with a business venture. Refusal was not an option.
It was the first honour killing Papp would experience. It would not be the last.
Honour-based violence is a topic she knows intimately. As a child in India, she herself was a victim of repeated honour-based violence, a story painfully and powerfully outlined in her 2012 autobiography, Unworthy Creature: A Punjabi Daughter’s Memoir of Honour, Shame and Love. Papp’s mother, father and grandmother physically and verbally abused her. Later, her husband did the same. “Being a girl, that was my fate. Everyone else was experiencing the same thing. I saw baby girls left on garbage heaps and girls set on fire,” she says. “In my context growing up in India, it seemed like the norm. I didn’t know there was an option.”
From that pain-filled beginning, Papp has transformed herself into an educator, activist and advocate on honour-based violence in Canada and around the world. Her journey includes an exodus from the Seventh Day Adventist Church in which she was raised, followed by years in the spiritual wilderness. She eventually found a new religious home in the welcoming sanctuary of Greenbank United.