‘Honour’ killing claims 21-year-old Delhi University girl, parents held



NEW DELHI: In a horrific case of “honour killing” in the capital, a 21-year-old final year student of Sri Venkateswara, a leading college in Delhi University’s south campus, was allegedly murdered by her family because she had married a boy from another caste and region.

The victim, Bhavna, was allegedly strangled by her parents and uncle at their southwest Delhi home after which her body was taken to her hometown, Alwar, and quietly cremated, police said. Her parents — Jagmohan, a property dealer and local Congress party member, and Savitri — have been arrested.

Bhavna had on November 12 got married at an Arya Samaj temple to Abhishek Seth, 24, an assistant programmer at the Cabinet secretariat. Bhavna was a Yadav from Rajasthan while Abhishek is a Punjabi.

The girl was killed after the family persuaded her to come home, telling the couple that all was forgiven and that they would organize a ‘proper’ wedding ceremony, police said. Bhavna had come back to her husband after the family allegedly tortured her, but was cajoled into returning home a second time.

The girl’s parents were arrested for the murder on the basis of the evidence against them, Tejendra Luthra, joint commissioner of police (southwestern range) told TOI. Police are now looking for Bhavna’s maternal uncle, who played a crucial role in the murder, an officer said.

Bhavna lived with her family in D block of Bharat Vihar in southwest Delhi while Abhishek lived in Uttam Nagar, some 5km away. They had met through a common friend two years ago.

The couple secretly married on November 12 and then informed Bhavna’s family, who refused to accept it and threatened the couple. However, seeing the couple standing firm on their decision, Bhavna’s parents sought a truce.

Abhishek told TOI said that Bhavna’s father, Jagmohan, pleaded with them not to make the marriage public as it would destroy the family’s prestige.

“He told us that they would organize a proper marriage very soon so that they did not feel insulted in their community. After promising not to retract from his words, he took Bhavna away. I agreed, considering that their family prestige was at stake,” he said.

However, Bhavna’s parents began to torture her after taking her home. It became so unbearable that she ran away on November 14 and told Abhishek about her ordeal. However, her parents yet again landed up at his house, apologized profusely and took her back.

This was when, Abhishek believes, the family decided to kill their daughter. On November 15, Bhavna’s maternal uncle, Laakhan, called up Abhishek and threatened to kill both of them. “He was yelling and asking me to stay away from her. He said our marriage meant nothing and if I don’t mend my ways, he would shoot us both,” Abhishek added.

Soon after this call, Bhavna called him up and apologized for her uncle’s behaviour. “She asked Abhishek not to worry, saying her uncle was drunk. Bhavna’s mother too spoke to Abhishek and assured him that everything would be fine,” Abhishek’s friend Vishal said.

However, that night Bhavna was beaten up and strangled. The family then roped in a relative, Mahender, and asked him to get a car. The body was stuffed in a WagonR and taken to Alwar in Rajasthan, the family’s hometown. Her last rites were conducted before anybody got to know. A hunt is on to nab Mahender, who helped in the murder.

By the morning of November 16, Abhishek had got worried after Bhavna did not answer his calls or text messages. He called up Laakhan but he feigned ignorance. This was when Bhavna’s cousin called him up saying she had died and her body had been cremated.

Abhishek rushed to the police station and an FIR under sections of abduction (365 IPC) was registered. A police team was sent to Alwar. Bhavna’s parents told cops that she had died of a snakebite and they had brought the body to the hometown for performing the last rites.

“Our teams put them through sustained interrogation during which they broke down and confessed to have killed her. They were placed under arrest and sent to judicial custody to Tihar jail after being produced before a magistrate,” said Suman Goyal, DCP (southwest district).

The cops on Wednesday obtained police custody to interrogate them and gather evidence in the case. The site where Bhavna was cremated will be exhumed and samples sent for DNA testing so that her murder can be proven.

Sources said the cops will have to heavily rely on collecting scientific evidence as the family was careful in not leaving many clues.

“We are relying on circumstantial evidence and are obtaining forensic reports about the site and remains. We have also recovered some clothes. Apart from this, the last seen theory, call records, threats and torture allegations before the death will be our body of evidence,” said an officer.



21 states, UTs join Centre in fight against honour killings


NEW DELHI: Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh have joined 18 other states to empower the Centre to bring a legislation against honour killings, in what could be a turnaround moment for the effort to curb the powers of caste and community bodies which seek to be the final arbiter of social mores and arrogate unto themselves the power of judiciary.

In its affidavit to the Supreme Court the Union law ministry has said besides Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Kerala, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Rajasthan,, West Bengal and UTs like Chandigarh, Dadra and Nager Haveli, Daman and Diu, Lakshwadeep and Puducherry, have supported the “Prohibition of interference with the freedom of matrilineal alliances bill.”

Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh — all marked by poor sex ratio and high incidence of gender inequality — have been among the sites of gruesome instances of honour killings in the recent past. For them to sign up to the campaign against honour killings is significant because of the political class’s diffidence thus far about taking on powerful khaps. All the three states opposed an earlier move for a central legislation against against honour killings. In fact the group of ministers set up by UPA on honour killing could barely meet a couple of times in the absence of unanimity on the issue.

IndiaTv69a527_honourThe development is also significant because states can be extremely reluctant to delegate their law making powers to the Centre on matters concerning law and order.

Law ministry’s affidavit, comes in response to a writ petition by Shakti Vahini which is scheduled to be heard on November 19.

The proposed bill drafted by the law commission in 2012, was expected to check the high-handed and unwarranted interference by caste assemblies or panchayats with sagotra, inter-caste or inter-religious marriages. In view of the rising number of incidents where young couples were excommunicated, tortured and killed for marrying within the gotra under orders from the Khap panchayats, the law commission recommended a threshold bar on congregation of people for condemning a marriage on the basis that the marriage has dishonoured caste, community or brought disrepute to the family or community concerned.

The penal provision for such unlawful assembly was proposed at imprisonment of six months to a year and a fine of Rs 10,000. The bill elaborated that criminal intimidation of the couple or their families would invite imprisonment ranging between one to seven years and a fine of Rs 30,000. The bill also proposes to make all offences cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable.

The Injustice of Justice


When a ‘court’ in West Bengal ordered the gang-rape of a young woman this week for the ‘crime’ of having a liaison with a married man from another community and village, it, obviously and understandably, sent shock-waves across the country. But what few know is that such kangaroo courts, known as ‘shalishi adalats’, operate in vast swathes of Bengal, especially its rural hinterland, and have even been known to hand out death sentences. And rarely have those handing down such Talibanesque diktats been brought before the law.

Shalishi, a Bengali word of Persian origin, means mediation or arbitration. But what actually happens at these kangaroo courts is a mockery of mediation. Though they are supposed to handle and resolve only petty civil disputes, these adalats pass judgement, and more often than not very flawed and biased ones, on a range of crimes ranging from thefts and extra-marital affairs to rape. In most rape cases, the accused, especially if they come from relatively affluent or influential families, get away with just small fines.

Those who defy diktats have to pay a heavy price. Take the case of Munirul Haque of Betla village in East Midnapore district. A ‘shalishi adalat’ presided over by Nizamuddin Alam, a local Trinamool Congress leader, asked Munirul to pay a fine of Rs 25,000 for allegedly making a pass at the daughter a trader in the village in September last year. Munirul, a poor farm labourer, said that he could not pay such a huge amount and pleaded for a waiver of the fine. Nizamuddin, a cousin of the trader, then decreed that in lieu of the fine, Munirul would have to give his 16-year-old daughter in marriage to a 46-year-old man who already had two wives. Munirul had to agree because he had no alternative.

These courts are whimsical in dishing out sentences. Adultery, for instance, could attract anything from a death sentence to a fine of a few thousand rupees, while a petty thief could expect to be fined, flogged in public or even banished from the village. “It all depends on the financial and social status of the accused, the mood of the elders of the village who are members of the shalishi court and their relationship with the accused or his or her family. If a woman from a well-to-do and influential household is accused of an extra-marital relationship, chances are she would be let off with a warning and a fine. But the same ‘offence’ by a woman of a poor family would attract a much stiffer sentence, like being tonsured or paraded naked around the village. If a person accused of, say, drunkenness, belongs to a family that’s aligned with an opposition party, the sentence would undoubtedly be more brutal. “A lot of factors come into play here, but it is always those without political and financial clout who are subjected to the most ruthless sentences by these courts,” says Debanjan Mishra, a teacher of sociology at Calcutta University who has been documenting cases adjudged by shalishi courts over the past couple of years.

The death sentences imposed by the ‘shalishi adalats’ are usually executed in utmost secrecy and the whole village takes an ‘omerta’ or oath of silence, thus foiling any effort by the law enforcement machinery to bring members of such kangaroo courts to justice. Even the bodies of the victims remain untraceable. One of the known cases is that of Sheikh Sariul, 29, a van-rickshaw operator of Saramari village of Ratua block in Malda district. Sariul was accused of having an illicit affair with the wife of an affluent farmer of the same village and was summoned to a ‘shalishi adalat’ on August 27, 2010. The ‘adalat’, packed with members of the farmer’s clan, sentenced Sariul to death. He was beaten to death and his body dumped in the septic tank of the farmer’s house. An FIR was lodged and 10 persons arrested, but they are out on bail and the investigations haven’t progressed due to lack of evidence. The accused hold that Sariul fled the village just prior to appearing before the ‘adalat’ and fell into the septic tank while fleeing. The entire village, save for Sariul’s family, have stuck to this version and so the police have not been able to make any headway.

In most cases, the ‘shalishi adalats’ are patronized by politicians and political parties. This is more so in the backward tribal belt where the village headmen and his honchos pass diktats to vote for a particular political party and are, thus, sought after by the parties who do not want to upset or anger them in any way. Very often, the ‘shalishi adalats’ are used by the party in power to settle political scores over rivals. This particular practice started during the Left Front rule in Bengal. Countless supporters, activists and local level leaders of the Congress and the Trinamool Congress were fined, ostracized and driven out of their villages by these kangaroo courts for real or imagined offences. The Trinamool Congress, after coming to power in Bengal in mid-2011, has not shied away from using these kangaroo courts to subjugate and often snuff out its political rivals.

Nothing legal about it

In 2004, the Left Front government attempted to give a legal sanction to ‘shalishi adalats’ through the West Bengal Block Level Pre-Litigation Conciliation Board Bill (which came to be better known as the Shalishi Bill). Under this Bill, ‘Conciliation Boards’ were to be set up in every administrative block for adjudication of minor disputes. But the opposition Congress and Trinamool Congress cried foul and launched a series of agitations against the bill, and the government was ultimately forced to abandon its plans to introduce the Bill in the state assembly. The opposition parties’ contention was that the Left (primarily the CPM) would appoint only their own party men to the ‘Conciliation Boards’ and the Marxists would thus strengthen their grip on power in the rural areas. Nonetheless, the ‘shalishi adalats’ thrive and now, they serve to strengthen the grip of the Trinamool Congress on rural Bengal

Shalishi Panchayat Story

Stamp out kangaroo courts

Panchayat orders gouging lovers’ eyes

Panchayat orders gouging lovers’ eyes


The incident in Subalpur village in West Bengal’s Birbhum district, in which a 20-year-old tribal woman was gang-raped by a dozen men as punishment for alleged immoral conduct, is shocking in its unimaginable brutality and points to a larger malaise. The order by a kangaroo court led by a village headman is proof that a section of rural India is outside the pale of the country’s constitutional values and judicial system. Ill-informed men with medieval social attitudes and patriarchal prejudices are allowed to adjudicate on the conduct and morality of women and pass unconscionable forms of punishment, such as social ostracism, payment of arbitrary fines and, as in this case, sexual violence in lieu of monetary penalty. The Supreme Court and the National Commission for Women have taken suo motu cognisance of the incident, which has caused widespread outrage and revulsion. The West Bengal government, which has been sharply criticised in recent times for callousness and insensitivity towards crimes against women, has seen to it that the village headman and the 12 men who raped the hapless woman for a whole night have been arrested. And Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, upset that the police did not seek custody of the accused for questioning and allowed them to be sent to prison directly, has ordered the suspension of the Superintendent of Police. It is disturbing that the entire village, including women, backed the kangaroo court by whose verdict the man could get away with a fine, but the woman was punished for not having the means to do so.

Outposts of feudalism still thrive in vast swathes of rural India, ranging from khap panchayats in the north to caste-based gatherings of village elders in the south. In 2011, the Supreme Court wanted illegal khap panchayats that encourage ‘honour killings’ or other institutionalised atrocities to be stamped out ruthlessly. Over a year has elapsed since the country voiced its anger against sexual violence targeted at women and seemed to take a collective vow to ensure the protection of all women. The penal law on sexual violence and harassment has been strengthened significantly since then. Yet, India’s cities and villages continue to be unsafe for women. The locus of sexual violence is everywhere: in public spaces and private homes, under the cloak of darkness and in the open, and perpetrated by well-acquainted persons as also as by strangers. The Birbhum incident is a chilling reminder that legal processes, security measures and stringent laws are not enough. Social attitudes need to change, reflecting liberal and humane values, if the country is to ensure gender equality and protection for all its women.

Minors’ eloping to marry does not amount to an offence

Till ‘honour’ do them part

Crl. Misc. No. M-35035 of 2013

Decided on October 15, 2013


This is a petition under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure praying for directions to respondents No. 1 to 3 to protect their life and liberty which is alleged to be in danger at the hands of respondents No. 4 to 6 on account of their having got married against their parental consent.

Learned counsel for the petitioners contends that both the petitioners are major.

Even though this court is disinclined to entertain and to go into such allegations, but at the same time it cannot be oblivious to the fact that because of social friction and sectarian differences such incidents are not entirely unheard of and prima facie the case also appears to be covered by the observations of Supreme Court in Fiaz Ahmed Ahanger v. State of J&K 2009 (3) R.A.J. 692, which are as under:

“In such cases of intercaste or inter-religion marriage the Court has only to be satisfied about two things:

(1) that the girl is above 18 years of age, in which case, the law regards her as a major vide Section 3 of the Indian Majority Act, 1875. A major is deemed by the law to know what is in his or her welfare.

(2) The wish of the girl.

In the circumstances, we direct that nobody will harass, threaten or commit any acts of violence or other unlawful act on the petitioner, Chanchali Devi/Mehvesh Anjum and the petitioner’s family members and they shall not be arrested till further orders in connection with the case in question. If they feel insecure, they can apply to the police and, in such event, the police shall grant protection to them.”

Further, the Delhi High Court in Vivek Kumar @ Sanju v. The State, Crl.M.C. No. 3073-74/2006 decided on 23.2.2007 observed as under:

“There is no law which prohibits a girl under 18 years from falling in love with someone else. Neither falling in love with somebody is an offence under IPC or any other penal law. Desiring to marry her love is also not an offence. A young girl, who is in love has two courses available to her – one is that she should marry with the consent of her parents after obtaining the consent of her parents. If her parents do not agree to persuade them or to wait for attaining the age of majority and then exercise her right as a major to marry the person of her own choice. However, this is possible only when the house of her parents where she is living has congenial atmosphere and she is allowed to live in peace in that house and wait for attaining age of majority. This might have been the reason in the mind of petitioner No. 2 when she told her father that she was in love and wanted to marry Sanju, but the response of father when daughter confided in him, created the fear in the mind of petitioner No. 2. Her father slapped her and told that her action would malign the religion and bring danger to the religion. He even threatened to kill her and marry her off to some rich person. When once a such a threat is given to a girl around 17 years of age, who is in love, under such circumstances she has a right to protect her person and feelings against such onslaught of her relatives even if the onslaught is from her own parents. Right to life and liberty as guaranteed by the Constitution is equally available to minors. A father has no right to forcibly marry off his daughter, who is below 18 years against her wishes. Neither he has right to kill her, because she intends to marry out of her religion. If a girl around 17 years of age runs away from her parents house to save herself from the onslaught of her father or relatives and joins her lover or runs away with him, it is no offence either on the part of the girl or on the part of boy with whom she ran away and married.”

In view of this, the petition is disposed of with a direction to respondent No. 2 to look into the allegations as contained in the petition personally and take necessary steps in accordance with law if the situation so warrants.

This order shall not be construed to be conferring the legitimacy or authenticity to the factum of marriage having been performed as well as the age, as the Court is clearly deprived of any means to determine the aforesaid facts.

Copy of the petition along with a copy of this order be sent to respondent No. 2.

Right To Marry

Till ‘honour’ do them part


Till ‘honour’ do them part


Young and defiant boys and girls in Haryana end up losing their life over the families’ sense of ‘honour’. A feudal mindset is pitted against the youth that is embracing modernity, and love. Education, separate legislation for such killings and banning khaps are what some experts pin their hopes on.

The gates of the temple at the entrance of Garnawati village in Rohtak are shut. Even at 10 am. God has been locked in. He seems to be at the mercy of village residents, as were Nidhi Barak and Dharmender Barak on the fateful evening of September 18 when they were hacked as the sun went down.

Nobody even winced, let alone come forward to save the couple from the hands of rage-driven Narender, alias Billu, who executed the cold-blooded murders in his courtyard. He dismembered the bodies of his only daughter Nidhi and her beau Dharmender for the most ‘heinous’ of all crimes — falling in love. Their audacity was more pronounced since the two belonged to the same village and shared the same ‘gotra’ of the Jat community. They had put their love before family honour, which was, of course, unpardonable.

As dusk descended and darkness deepened that evening, ‘honour’ left the village, draped in a dishonourable shroud. It took the red hue from the blood on the family’s hands. It stole the crackle from the fires that lapped up Nidhi and Dharmender’s pyres. It also became the silence of the villagers.

Fear did not give birth to this silence that sewed up every mouth in the village. Neither did ignorance of what had transpired. It was the eerie silence of quiet acceptance that screamed that archaic beliefs of a regressive society carried more weight; were thicker than blood and far superior than a couple of human lives; that the social rules of the village were sacrosanct and anybody who messed with them would meet the same fate — death.

Less than a week after the couple’s senseless murder in Rohtak, Sat Narayan, belonging to the SC community and a resident of Bhapoli village in Panipat, allegedly murdered his 19-year-old daughter Meenakshi in the name of honour. She was killed and hurriedly cremated on the banks of the Yamuna for daring to marry a boy from the Gujjar community against her parents’ wishes.

While their paths may have never crossed and they lived oblivious of each other, Nidhi and Meenakshi met the same fate at the hands of a family that should have stood by them. Their barbaric killing, once again, brought the spotlight on the stagnant near-fanatic mindset of a closed society with no qualms and regrets about murder. Only the blood of their own can wash away the stain and stigma of dishonour, or so they think. The dust of dead customs, however, still clings to them.

Indoctrination for decades

In Haryana, honour is synonymous with expression of choice. The moment a youth decides to execute choice in marriage, the family honour takes a hit. This honour, however, gets away unblemished when the same family faces trial for dowry death, rape charges or even domestic violence. So, the question of honour of a family boils down only to the issue of picking a life partner.

Social observers feel that the roots of this honour go deeper than thought. Hindi writer and former academician, Dr Subha, puts honour killings down to one reason alone —property.

“Ours is a patriarchal society where a daughter is simply to be married off and forgotten. As progress is making inroads into this closed society and boys and girls are opening up to the many possibilities before them, the so-called traditionalists fear the youth will assert itself. If married in the same village, or to a boy of their choice, the society feels it is allowing elements of democratisation to take seed. This means the end of khaps. They fear a backlash in the form of girls seeking property and other rights. ‘Gotra’ rows, pressure building and whimsical pronouncements are the armour against openness,” she insists, adding the recent diktats asking girls not to wear jeans or carry mobiles or even venture out of homes alone are an attempt to keep a hold on people.

Having travelled extensively in Haryana, her experience is that the khaps do not recognise the right of a lower caste to agree or disagree with their decisions. What is once decided has to be adhered to without question. “They generally target lower castes or the financially weak while the upper caste gets away with everything. They may or may not be directly involved in honour killings, just the way they have washed their hands of the Garnawati case. But the truth is that they exert much pressure,” she says.

The boys and girls in the village are fed on the ‘golden’ rules by the khaps. Consequently, they grow up believing that all boys and girls of a village are brother and sister; falling in love is a crime; nobody can marry in similar ‘gotras’; and they cannot marry in the neighbouring village because it is detrimental to ‘village brotherhood’.

Three girls we spoke to at Garnawati were appalled that a boy and girl could marry anybody they chose without worrying about the caste and ‘gotra’. “We focus on our studies. Love figures nowhere. We do not want to meet the same fate as Dharmender and Nidhi,” they remark.

Need for separate legislation

Though such killings are rampant not only in Haryana, but also neighbouring states of Punjab and Rajasthan, the law seems ill-equipped to deal with the enormity of this crime. As in the Garnawati case, the panchayat shrugged off responsibility, claiming that the “issue was between two families and the village had nothing to do with it”. However, it is strange that there are no witnesses to the two murders. The case was registered on the statement of a police official.

The whole village speaks only in one voice — silence. This conspiracy of silence means that the villagers approve of the murders and nobody comes forward with any information. In some cases, the perpetrators of the crime get away with impunity for lack of evidence.

Dr Manjeet Rathi of All India Democratic Women Association says: “The present provisions in law are not enough to deal with ‘honour’ killings. Slapping a murder case against the accused is no deterrent. There is urgent need of a legislation that punishes not only those who murder, but also those who stand as mute spectators and are directly or indirectly involved with the murder. We drafted a legislation and submitted it to the Home Minister with one lakh signatures. However, nothing came of it.”

Though the Supreme Court has observed that ‘honour’ killings should be treated as the “rarest of rare crime and those perpetrating it should be sent to the gallows”, the killings have not got the attention they deserve.

Call it lack of political will or the fear of a backlash from the communities which have granted it sanctity, Haryana and other states are opposed to the idea of a legislation to deal with this menace.

The Central government had initiated steps to bring about a separate law on ‘honour’ killings, but it was shelved after a number of states failed to give a feedback, indicative of the disinterest in the subject. Resultantly, all the law provides for is to book the perpetrator of the crime for murder while the others get away.

The change has begun

Despite pessimism and the snail-speed with which things are moving, there may still be a ray of hope. The khaps and their parallel structures are crumbling. As more and more youth step out into the world and interact on various platforms, the divide between castes and ‘gotras’ is diminishing. Even though a big section of the villagers chooses to remain silent after a heinous killing, it does not necessarily mean it gives sanction to such crimes. It only means these people are too weak to break free and find their voice to stand up for what is right.

“Despite the killings, the fact that boys and girls are falling in love and standing by each other even in death is a sign that the influence of the khaps is waning. The identity of the khaps is being challenged from various quarters — whether it is the Dalit movement, women’s movement or law. They are being questioned and pressured into softening their stance. We, however, need a separate legislation and make everybody from the local MP, MLA, and the district administration accountable if and when such a crime happens,” says Dr Subha.

Claiming that an inter-caste or same ‘gotra’ marriage is not only seen as a stigma on the family, but also the entire village and democratic thinking is a taboo, Dr Ahlawat says that the elected panchayat also plays vote-bank politics by protecting the guilty. “Though every village may not have a khap, its representatives are spread all over. Sometimes, these members make up the panchayat also. Living in a village, it becomes impossible to flow against the tide since the earnings and livelihood of a family is connected to agriculture. Since youths depend on farming, they are unable to sustain themselves economically. They will be forced to return to the village and will be killed. Economic independence by way of better education holds the key to liberation from the clutches of regressive tradition.”

Recommending a multi-pronged strategy, Dr Rathi is clear that a separate legislation to deal with ‘honour’ killings is half the battle won. “A social movement to change mindsets, a ban on khaps, model punishments and involvement of a number of social organisations will also make a difference. Most organisations reach a village after a crime has been committed. A continuous comprehensive engagement with villagers could go a long way in checking such crimes. This is a fight between tradition and modernity and the more violent the khaps get, the closer they are to extinction,” she says.

Nothing stays forever. A straight tree falls first during a storm. Survival for too long, given their rigidity, is an uphill task for the khaps. Whether they will come to terms with the change or break as the winds blow against them is their call. Either way, love will find a way.

Khaps in a time warp

Nidhi and Meenakshi’s is not a stray case in patriarchal Haryana where all honour talk seems to converge and rest on the shoulders of women who have no choice but to drag the dead weight all their lives. Despite carrying this burden in a male-centric society, they remain unwanted.

In a state notorious for foeticide and a sex ratio that brackets it with the ‘poorest performers’ in the country, the rising economic indices have little meaning. This upward swing is eroded and negated by a society living in its past, stuck in the quagmire of meaningless norms, wary of shaking off its blinkers. While prosperity has multiplied and demographic dynamics have altered, this is one society that refuses to grow, is averse to social change and deflects ‘newly fangled’ ideas with a wave of the hand.

‘Honour’ killings, common in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, UP and a few pockets of Delhi, draw blood as also a sense of legitimacy from the very society these thrive in, with the support of a powerful force that works behind the scenes and within it.

These undisputed torchbearers of tradition are the khaps, instructing and ensuring the social fabric remains untouched by ‘defiled’ influences of modernity.

The khap leaders are a handful of self-appointed, self-styled protectors of the ‘purity’ of the Jat community in rural Haryana. Baljit Malik, a leader of the Jathwala khap, says: “We do not subscribe to these killings. It is the families that execute such murders. Khaps are needed today like never before, given the exposure to the outside world. The village cannot depart from conventions which form the basis of civilisation.” He is speechless when asked why they do not issue fatwa, osctracising families indulging in such killings or repressing women.

The authority the khap has in a village makes its leaders demigods. Their word is law and any digression is enough to invite the severest punishment.

“Since the times of the Mughals, the khaps have been traditional village councils. They played a constructive role in protecting communities and property from invaders. But they lost relevance when panchayats took on the role of taking decisions. Unwilling to let go of the glory, the khaps are trying to save themselves from extinction by fuelling negative emotions and issuing preposterous diktats,” says Dr Neerja Ahlawat, a sociologist at Maharishi Dayanand University, Rohtak.


Manoj and Babli from Karora village in Kaithal district were murdered by the latter’s relatives in June 2007 on the diktats of a khap panchayat for marrying within the same ‘gotra’. The were killed near a toll plaza. In March 2010, a Karnal district court had awarded death sentence to Babli’s brother, uncles and cousins for killing the couple. A leader of the Banwala khap was awarded life sentence for hatching the plot.

Monika (18) of Neemdiwala village and Pradeep (19) of Manheru village, Bhiwani district, were found hanging from a tree in June 2010. The couple was killed and then hanged to give an impression of suicide. They were planning to marry but their parents were against the alliance. A case of murder was registered against six persons, including Monika’s parents, two brothers, uncle and aunt.

The decomposed bodies of Inder Pal (22), a farmhand, and Maya (18) were recovered from the fields of Phoolkan village, Sirsa, in September 2010. The couple were neighbours and wanted to marry. They were killed by the boy’s family. Inder was forcibly married two months before the couple was killed.

A mob lynched Vedpal Mor of Matour village, Jind, when he accompanied a court’s warrant officer to get back his wife Sonia of Singhwal village, Narwana, in July 2010. They had married in court against their parents’ wishes. Sonia had returned to her village and Vedpal had filed a petition in the High Court. A case was registered against Sonia’s family.

Never A More Hateful Word Than Love



Both the author of the book and Penguin, her publisher, deserve to be complimented for bringing out a timely, well-researched book, imaginatively reconstructed from facts. It recounts a chilling saga of brutal torture and murder of Manoj and Babli of village Karoran in Haryana in 2007. The couple had violated the caste norms of gotra (patrilineal clan) and village exogamy by eloping and getting married. For this they were brutally tortured and murdered by affluent and influential family members-cum-‘well-wishers’ of the girl, instructed, gui­ded and fully supported by khap panchayats and politicians. Although a chilling account, it is also, curiously, a heartening one. It underlines the triumph of human rights and human spirit over customs that decree violence and death. Written by a journalist who was involved in inv­estigating this murder—declared an ‘hon­our crime’—it shook up India’s conscience as never before, leading to the mooting of several changes in law. The media played an important role, carrying out a relentless expose of the case for days. This case culminated in a landmark judgement delivered by district session judge Vani Gopal Sharma in 2010. The five accused were given death sentences, and one was sentenced to life.

Written in a lucid style, the book captures the sight and sound of the village and its daily life, besides being a mine of information. Along with Nakul Sawhney’s film Izzat Nagri ki Asabhya Betiyan (The Immoral Daughters Of The Land Of Honour, 2012), on the same case, Manoj and Babli: A Hate Story should go down as archival material for researchers.

In this sordid saga, two heartening features relating to women and youth in Haryana emerge. One, women’s agency comes to the surface; as they man­age to assert themselves with heavy odds sta­cked against them. Chanderpati, the wid­­owed, illiterate mother of Manoj, fou­ght a determined, prolonged, costly court battle, and withstood socio-economic boycott; Seema, the young sister fighting for justice for her slain brother and his wife, worked full-time to support her fam­ily; Jagmati of the AIDWA, who relentlessly pursued the case with other women activists; and finally the female judge of Karnal who, in the face of life threats, delivered a bold judgement. These are empowered women who are charting a new way and represent a gro­wing change among Haryana’s women.

The second bright point is the evidence, however faint, of the growing opposition to injustice among Haryana’s youth. Slowly but surely, they are picking up courage to defy the unjust norms which go against all human rights and the constitution of the country; they are also raising their voices against repression and violence. As opposed to these, there are politicians of all hues and ages, whether current Chief Minister Hooda, former CM Chautala, or a foreign-educated and youthful Naveen Jindal, who blindly support the khap panchayats and their violent, illegal and dictatorial ways. All of them are concerned more with their elusive votebanks than with lives of people or violence inflicted upon them. The tragedy of Haryana lies in the contradiction of being a ‘modern affluent state’ minus a modern mindset.

(Prof Prem Chowdhry is the author of Contentious Marriages, Eloping Couples: Gender, Caste and Patriarchy in Northern India, OUP)

Couple who went against kin to marry found hanging from tree

Couple who went against kin to marry found hanging from tree


The bodies of a young couple, who got married against the wishes of their parents four months ago, were found hanging from a tree on Monday at Ahmedwas Khera village in Bhiwani district’s Loharu. Though the police are considering it to be a case of suicide, it is yet to rule out the possibility of foul play.

Residents of the same village, while Tejpal (24) belonged to the Swarn Samaj, his wife Sushila (20) was a Dalit. The duo went missing on August 10 after their parents objected to their marriage. They got married at an Arya Samaj temple at Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh and got their marriage registered on August 14. Following this, they started living at Pilani in Rajasthan.

According to the police, Tejpal and Sushila had come to Ahmedwas on Sunday. Sushila’s parents informed the police and raised apprehension about a clash between them and Tejpal’s family. Following this, the police provided protection to the couple and brought them to the police station. However, the couple gave in writing that they did not want police protection and were returning to Pilani. The couple left the police station on Sunday evening.

On Monday morning, the police came to know that the couple was found hanging from a tree near the cremation ground in Ahmedwas. “So far, it does not appear as a case of murder but the possibility cannot be ruled out. Prima facie it appears to be a case of suicide and since the boy’s family had not raised any suspicion so far, we are not considering it to be murder or honour killing,” DSP Suresh Kumar said.

The police said that Sushila had completed her higher secondary education and wanted to join the Haryana Police, for which she was taking coaching classes in Rajasthan. For the last few days, Tejpal and Sushila were visiting her school in Loharu for getting her 10+2 certificate. As the girl’s family had confiscated her educational certificates, Tejpal and Sushila had even moved an application before the Bhiwani sub-divisional magistrate for duplicate copies. The fate of their application is pending, said police.

“It appears to be a the case of suicide, but we are investigating the matter. I have spoken with both the families and it does not look like a case of honour killing. We are working on various theories,” said Bhiwani SP Simardeep Singh.

When contacted, Tejpal’s uncle Ravinder claimed there was no foul play involved in the case. “Tejpal and Sushila got married against the wishes of their families. We had not harmed them ever. We do not suspect any foul play. Since, they did not have any support from their parents and had no adequate means of earning, they may have committed suicide,” he said.


Put prohibitory orders in place against Khap panchayats: SC


The Supreme Court on Monday suggested its amicus curiae to devise a strict legal regime to contain honour killings, wherein the focus should be on enforcing prohibitory orders against khap panchayats rather than on securing the arrest of its members that often leads to law and order problems.

The SC spoke of its mind following the report by amicus curiae senior advocate Raju Ramachandran and advocate Gaurav Agarwal. In their report, they urged the apex court to adopt harsh action including arrest of khap members in north India who, of late, conducted themselves as “Taliban-like” groups passing and executing judgment against innocent youths indulging in same gotra/caste marriages.

The bench of Justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Desai, however, felt the amicus curiae’s suggestion may be “impractical” considering the huge influence wielded by khaps in certain pockets of north India. “We are wondering how the order requiring arrest is to be implemented. At some areas it may cause law and order problems,” the bench observed and suggested to consider the Law Commission report recommending prohibitory orders.

The amicus report called for a set of preventive measures to be adopted by the state machinery and district police to ensure such khap meetings do not take place in the first place. Despite warning from the police “if the members of khap panchayat still plan to hold a gathering, which may cause reasonable apprehension of harm to the couple, the SP of the district would be duty bound to cause arrest of the members of the khap panchayat.”

At present, khap members could easily get away despite instigating deaths of young boys and girls who marry out of their own wish due to the vacuum existing in law. A PIL filed by NGO Shakti Vahini pointed out that killings of this nature are extra-judicial and khaps should be accountable for ordering such deaths not just in Haryana but in UP and Rajasthan as well.

The Law Commission in August 2012 came up with a report on the subject framing a draft law on Prohibition of Unlawful Assembly Bill which provided for prohibitory orders, violation of which would entail action under the Indian Penal Code. The bench adopted a middle path asking the amicus to consider this suggestion while posting the matter for hearing next on November 22.

Five condemned to death for India ‘honour’ killing


NEW DELHI — Five members of a family in India were sentenced to death on Friday for the torture and “brutal” murder of a young couple from Delhi in a so-called “honour killing” two years ago. The parents, uncle, aunt and brother of Asha, a 19-year-old woman killed along with her boyfriend Yogesh in 2010, were all condemned to hang by additional sessions court judge Ramesh Kumar.

Yogesh, a taxi driver, wanted to marry Asha, the daughter of a vegetable vendor, but the girl’s family was against the alliance because the boy belonged to a lower caste. India has seen an upsurge in such killings, which mainly involve young couples who marry outside their caste or against their relatives’ wishes and are murdered to protect what is seen as the family’s reputation and pride.

Autopsy reports revealed that the young couple had been tied with ropes, beaten with metal pipes and electrocuted, local media reports said. “Medical examination had revealed that the two had died due to the thermoelectric shock from repeated electrocution,” said the Indian Express newspaper.

Public prosecutor P.K. Verma told AFP: “All the five persons were handed the death penalty because it was proved beyond doubt that they tortured and killed the young boy and girl just because they were in love and wanted to marry.

“The murders were brutal and deliberate,” Verma added.

The convicted family can appeal against the decision in a higher court.

Last year, India’s Supreme Court said the death penalty should be given to those found guilty of “honour” killings, calling the crime a barbaric “slur” on the nation. It only allows the death penalty in what it calls the “rarest of rare” category.

Ravi Kant, a New Delhi lawyer who has been fighting to bring in a law which will provide specific, severe penalties to curb such killings, welcomed the punishment handed out Friday by the city court. “Such a punishment will certainly have a huge impact on the society. It will serve as a strong deterrent to one and all. The sentencing is also in line with the Supreme Court directive and it must be lauded,” Kant told AFP.

There are no official figures on honour killings, though an independent study in 2010 suggested that as many as 900 were being committed every year in the northern states of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.

Many cases go unreported, with police and local politicians turning a blind eye to what some see as an acceptable form of traditional justice by families seeking to protect what they see as their honour. Prisoners can often languish for years on death row in India, with only one execution having taken place in the last 15 years — that of a former security guard hanged in 2004 for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl.