New face of (dis)honour killings in Tamil Nadu

New face of (dis)honour killings in Tamil Nadu

New face of (dis)honour killings in Tamil Nadu


The gruesome manifestation of a patriarchic social order’s “total intolerance” towards girls in their family marrying a life-partner of their choice and the resultant torture/ elimination of the boy or even the couples as seen in Northern States like Haryana, has crossed the Vindhyas, albeit in new manner.Sociologists and social activists in Tamil Nadu are now wrestling its reappearance in a chillingly different form, albeit in the name of “Jaati (caste)” or ‘Samoogam (community)”, as the shocking murder of a 24-year-old youth Sivakumar of Sivaganga district for daring to marry the girl he fell in love with, shows.

Sivakumar, an auto-driver of K Pudukkulam village in the district had been wooing 19-year-old Mekala of a nearby village Kattikulam for a year. As the tragic tale goes, pieced together from the victim’s testimony and police FIR, the girl’s father Vijayan was dead set against their romance from the day one he heard of it. But this Romeo-Juliet of Sivaganga stood like rock.

In the normal course, given the social composition of the southern districts where the ‘Mukkulathors’ are a dominant caste, this couple ought to have been lucky as they both belonged to the same ‘Servai’ (a group of ‘Thevar’ community) caste, it turned a tragic lights out case.

On June 2 this year, Vijayan hastily got his daughter married off to 35-year-old Kalidas, much against her wishes. The forced matrimony lasted just 11 days as Mekala and Sivakumar took the greatest risk of their lives– fleeing their village. They lived in
hiding at several places until a month later in July this year they set up their home in Pudukottai, some 200 km away.

The girl’s father Vijayan, coming to know of this, met the live-in couple at Pudukottai with some of his other relatives. Foxily talking peace, he persuaded them to return to their village, “promising to get them married”. The guileless couple followed the old man only for  Sivakumar to be brutally hacked to death by Vijayan’s goons at Kattikulam. Mekala, a witness to this horror, was also brutally attacked, but survived. Though Vijayan was later arrested by police for Sivakumar’s murder, the village patriarch stooped to a new low “to save his family, village honour”.

“Such (dis)honour killings are quite common in the southern districts and the last two years have seen at least seven such murders,”says A Kadir, who heads “Evidence”, an NGO in Madurai, which has been tracking such extremely disturbing cases on the rise in recent years.

In the past, incidents were of ‘Dalit’ boys trying to win the hands of caste-Hindu girls meeting with such bloody fate-either the girl or the boy is mercilessly done away with as the price to be paid for daring the male hierarchy of the dominant community in a particular area. However, the latest ‘(dis)honour killing’ in Sivaganga district has broken fresh ground, explains Kadir.

As such brutal killings of tender souls masquerade as “upholding the honour of caste, family or the village neighbourhood,” this is all the more reason for the Supreme Court to look into such cases happening in Tamil Nadu also, Kadir told ‘Deccan Herald’.

Honour killing: Woman hanged, beaten, burnt on pyre

Bhopal, Oct 24 (IANS)

The dance of death – yet another instance of honour killing – played out for two hours in Lahar village of Murena district, police said. Murena is over 450 km from the state capital. Guddi, wife of Dhaniram, had fled with her lover. She was caught and her husband and in-laws killed her Oct 20 morning, police said. However, villagers did not let the matter reach the police.

Only on Sunday was an FIR registered after the woman’s father complained. Police said the woman was first hung from a tree. But on finding that she was still breathing, she was beaten up, doused with kerosene oil and set on fire.

Since the fire was not lit properly, they finally laid her on a pyre and burnt her to death, police said. The entire act played out over two hours near Bhumia Baba Temple in the village and the whole village watched, police said.

“Four people have been made accused in the case, including the woman’s husband. I have got information that one of them was arrested too. However, I don’t have much details right now about the arrested person,” Murena Superintendent of Police Sanjay Kumar Singh told IANS.

Khaps shouldn’t be allowed to have their way

English: A locator map of Jind district, Haryana

Image via Wikipedia

D.R. Chaudhry in THE TRIBUNE

The Tribune report “How Haryana changed its mind on honour crime laws” (December 1, 2011) underscores the state’s political elites’ fear of loss of their vote bank. An editorial (The Tribune, December 2, 2011) rightly stresses that the Haryana Government “has shown a perceptible tendency to soft-pedal action on the alarming practice of ‘honour killings’ in the state.”

Several documents accessed through the RTI channel shed more light on the issue. The Centre’s Ministry of Home Affairs (vide its D.O. No. 12/24/2009-Judl.Cell dated July 8, 2010) asked the Haryana Government to send its views on the issue as the Centre was contemplating suggesting strict legal measures to curb the menace of honour killings perpetrated in connivance with khap panchayats by amending the Indian Penal Code. The Law Secretary-cum-Legal Remembrancer to the Government of Haryana, on being asked to give his opinion, replied that “honour killing is the most barbaric act….The introduction of the Indian Penal Code and Certain Other Laws (Amendment Bill, 2010) is indeed a step forward in this regard.” This expert opinion was subsequently overruled.

It is to be noted that the media, both print and electronic, has played a commendable role in highlighting the problem. However, the Haryana Government has decried its role. The Home Department, Haryana (vide its letter No.14/26/2010-31(C) dated 8.9. 2010 to the Centre), cautioned New Delhi “to be wary of motivational forces, more so in the present-day climate rendered extremely vulnerable by megalomaniac media”. The Chief Minister of Haryana (vide D.O. No. CMH-2010 PSCpi/3453 dated 30.9.2010, addressed to Union minister Pranab Mukherjee) also cautioned “to critically examine the different manifestations of ‘honour killing’ in a wider context without being overwhelmed by exaggerated media reports.”

The above-mentioned letter states that there is no need for fresh legislation to deal with the problem, and firmly asserts: “The proposed amendment gives an erroneous impression that panchayats either connive with or instigate ‘honour killing….these murders are reportedly committed by the family members of the boys and girls and not under the dictates of panchayats.” This claim needs to be examined dispassionately.

The khap panchayat is a clannish organisation, now largely a Jat outfit, with bhaichara (brotherhood) as its raison de’tre. All its members are supposed to be blood relations. This led to several marital taboos — no same-gotra and same-village marriage, no marital alliance between neighbouring villages even if they belong to different khaps. There are several gotras of Jats bound by bhaichara and no inter-gotra marriage is permissible in these cases. Then, there are several other marital restrictions too. This has made marital alliances difficult now, especially in view of the highly skewed sex ratio in Haryana. Brides are bought from distant places to meet the deficit and no one bothers about their gotra and caste.

The process of modernisation has exposed the youth to the wide world around and intimacy between the two sexes is on the increase in the rural hinterland, rendering bhaichara a myth. The moment it takes the form of marital alliance, it is taken as a threat to the age-old tradition by the elders and often invites barbarous punishment.

Khap elements zealously guard age-old marital restrictions. They have fostered a culture of intolerance, making a family pariah in village society if its member happens to violate khap marital norms. The family is subjected to repeated taunts, making its existence unbearable. This drives some of its members to commit murder to restore family honour. It is this social milieu spawned by khap elements which leads to honour crimes. Then, there is enough evidence of the direct involvement of khap elements in honour crimes in the form of inflaming passions, organising social boycott of the family and such other acts.

The same-gotra and same-village marriage is the most important marital taboo in the khap belt. There is only one such instance of well-publicised case of Manoj-Babli marriage which led to the couple’s brutal murder. Ved Pal of a village in Kaithal district married a girl of a different gotra belonging to a village in Jind district in Haryana. He was lynched by khap mobsters for violating the taboo of marital alliance between neighbouring villages. Pawanjit Bhanwala is an important community leader of Bhanwala Jats — a gotra of Ved Pal’s wife. In a documentary on khaps produced by Nakul, a Delhi-based film-maker, Pawanjit is asked whether murder is justified in a marriage not acceptable to khaps. He retorts angrily: “What to talk of murder, those who pollute sacred relations must not be spared”. He, an accused in the murder, was acquitted for lack of evidence. Moreover, Ram Dia, the Pradhan of Bhanwala khap, has been awarded life imprisonment in this case.

In the above documentary, Ganga Raj, an important community leader, is shown proclaiming the panchayat’s decision of social boycott of the boy’s family in the Manoj-Babli case with a fine of Rs 25000 on anybody having interaction with the boy’s family. He was given life imprisonment by the trial court but ac operate behind the scene and thus escape the rigour of law. Others become the victims of their lethal rhetoric.

A Gehlaut boy of Dharana village in Jhajjar district married a Kadian girl of a village in Panipat district. Some Kadian families of Dharana objected to this marriage. The Kadian khap panchayat, presided over by Kadian khap acting president Raj Singh Kadian, held a meeting, declared the marriage void and ostracised the family. The khap decision came under sever criticism by civil society groups and the media. The khap had to revise its decision but imposed permanent exile on the couple. This was in August 2009 and since then the couple has not been allowed to enter the village even to meet their aged and ailing parents despite the Constitution guarantying the right of residence to its citizens anywhere in India.

A big congregation of khap leaders took place at Kurukshetra on April 13, 2010. It was decided to collect Rs 10 from every family to help the killers of Manoj and Babli. Examples can be multiplied. Whether khaps have any role in honour crimes or not is left to the readers’ perception.

Those who occupy seats of power by taking the oath of upholding the Constitution should see that its provisions are not allowed to be flouted in the narrow consideration of garnering some more votes. Khap custodians have a democratic right to pursue their demand for a ban on same-gotra-same-village marriages peacefully but they should relax other restrictions which have become impractical in the modern age. However, if someone violates these norms, there should no killing and persecution of the family. Khap leaders should change their worldview in tune with the changing times and concentrate on larger social issues like the crisis in agriculture, mounting corruption, galloping inflation, growing unemployment, foeticide and such other problems if they wish to acquire legitimacy in society.

The writer, a retired Delhi University academic, is a specialist on Haryana affairs.

Haryana cannot shy away from deterrence


IT is deeply regrettable that Haryana under the Congress government of Bhupinder Singh Hooda has shown a perceptible tendency to soft pedal action on the alarming practice of ‘honour killings’ in the state wherein a person is done to death for bringing perceived loss of honour to a family or families. The recent revelation in the columns of this newspaper that after taking a position before the Supreme Court in November last that it concurs with the Centre on amending the existing laws to provide for more stringent punishment for perpetrators of honour killings, a few months later the Haryana government took a new position through an affidavit dissociating itself from the pro-Centre stand it had taken earlier, unmasks the hypocricy of Hooda’s claims of being strongly opposed to such killings.

The State government’s volte face apparently had to do with political expediency and vote bank politics in a state that is heavily rooted in upper caste domination. The Hooda government evidently feared that it would be seen to be on the wrong side of the ‘khap panchayats’ which are dominated by certain castes and are known to hand down such punishment mostly to those who defy societal norms by marrying out of caste. It is indeed difficult to believe that the Centre’s tacit nod was not taken by the State before taking such a retrograde step.

Significantly, out of the five states most affected by ‘honour killings’, Haryana is the only one that has opposed changes in criminal laws, including booking all members of a gathering that orders such killings under murder charge, along with those who actually commit the crime. Mr Hooda had in August last disfavoured framing of any special provision to deal with the cases of ‘honour’ killing, saying that the existing law was sufficient to handle such matters. Whatever may be Haryana’s political fears, it is vital that changes be legislated to increase deterrence for such a heinous crime as ‘honour killing.’ An economically progressive state like Haryana cannot lag behind in such an important social reform.

Centre’s retreat on ‘honour killing’

Manoj and Babli after their marriage in Chandi...

Image via Wikipedia


Union Home Ministry’s affidavit filed in the Supreme Court stating that it does not interfere in the personal laws of a community, and that the police and public order are state subjects is an attempt to evade its responsibility to tackle the menace of “honour” crimes in the country, especially in the khap belt comprising some districts of Haryana, Delhi dehat, western UP and parts of Rajasthan adjoining Delhi. The mandarins who have drafted this affidavit show colossal ignorance of the personal laws of different communities. There has been no tradition of “honour killing” in the past, especially in the khap belt where it has assumed alarming proportions. The khap panchayat, an endogamous, gotra-centric clannish institution, became a powerful organisation in the area around Delhi in medieval times in the face of the fragile nature of law and order as a consequence of frequent forays of foreign invaders in this belt. It had a two-fold purpose: to provide security to its members and settle disputes among them.

Sorem, a village in Muzzafarnagar district of western UP, is supposed to be the headquarters of the khap institution. This writer recently spent about a week in the village to consult the old records kept there. There is no evidence of “honour killing”, ostracising a family, declaring a married couple as brother and sister and such other outrageous decrees for which the khap has acquired notoriety in our times. The emphasis was on bringing the deviant elements in the mainstream by imposing nominal fine, or, at the most, organising social boycott in extreme cases.

Under the impact of modernisation, the traditional structure of rural society has undergone a qualitative change, making the concept of brotherhood, a raison d’etre of khap, a myth, fostering individualism in its narrow form. Thus, often the decisions taken in the khap conclaves are motivated by settling personal scores or grabbing the property of a particular family. Same-gotra and same-village marriages are a taboo in the khap belt.

Some time ago, a Gehlaut boy of Dharana village in Jhajjar district married a Kadian girl of a village in Panipat district in Haryana — a different gotra, a different village and a different khap. Yet some Kadian families of Dharana objected to this marriage on the ground as to how they could accept a girl of their gotra as a daughter-in-law. The khap panchayat declared the marriage null and void and asked the family to quit the village by selling their land at Rs 5 lakh per acre while the market rate was Rs 50 lakh per acre. In fact, some elements wanted to grab the concerned family’s land and house at a throwaway price. The decree could not be implemented due to pressure from civil society groups and the media. However, the married couple is not allowed to enter the village even to meet their aged parents. Examples can be multiplied.

The aforesaid affidavit of the Union Home Ministry is a retrograde step when, as rightly stressed editorially by The Tribune (July 8), “an issue as vital as honour killings is under consideration”. It is at variance with the Supreme Court judgment and the recommendations of the Union Law Commission.

A Division Bench of the apex court has characterised the crime of “honour” as “ rarest of rare cases deserving death punishment.” A copy of the judgment has been sent to the high courts and lower courts, state chief secretaries, home secretaries and the police chiefs of all the states. The Bench has further directed all state governments to immediately suspend the district magistrates and police chiefs if they fail to apprehend those responsible for “honour killing” and prevent such incidents despite having advance knowledge.

The Law Commission, following a request by the Union Law Ministry to suggest a draft law to apply a check on “honour” crimes, has proposed that “not only conviction in an honour killing, merely participating in a khap panchayat-like congregation would render a person ineligible to contest polls and would attract a prison term of up to two years”. As a preventive step, the Law Commission has also suggested that the district magistrate should take immediate steps to prevent any such unlawful assembly and ensure safety of the concerned couple

In the light of the apex court judgment and the recommendations of the Law Commission, the Centre’s affidavit is a serious climb-down. The Centre is planning to enact a fresh law to curb “honour” crimes. The ends of justice would be met if the contemplated law brings into its ambit those who glorify such killings along with the actual perpetrators of the crime and infringement of any of the rights of a citizen guaranteed under the Constitution.

The khap protagonists want a legal ban on the same-gotra marriage. This is largely because of a false scare. Only 3 per cent of the documented cases of honour crimes involve couples married in their gotra, according to the survey conducted by the Central Commission for Women. In about two dozen such cases in Haryana in the recent past, there is only one case of a same-gotra and same-village marriage. The couple was brutally murdered, inviting strict punishment for the killers by the court. The rest belongs to the inter-caste marriage or alliances violating some other age-old tradition.

A collective psychosis has been spawned by the khap elements over the issue of tradition. Tradition, when untouched by modernity, starts stinking and becomes a drag on society while modernity, cut off from tradition, is shallow and spurious. It is the harmonious blend of the two that takes society forward. This elementary understanding of the societal change is beyond the comprehension of the khap supporters, who wish to perpetuate the culture of intolerance, pushing a section of society into the dark zone of barbarity and depravity.

Besides a stringent law to curb “honour” crimes, there is a need to build a counter-culture of tolerance and compassion. Charles Darwin made an important discovery in his Theory of Evolution of Species that those species who were flexible, caring and compassionate towards each other — “compassion” is the word used by Darwin — flourished while their counterparts, who were rigid and devoid of compassion, became extinct. This is the fate awaiting the hardbound khap elements.

In spite of all the modernisation in the khap belt, there are elements still living in medieval times who call the shots in society. This explains the paradox of the material growth coupled with cultural stagnation in this belt. Societal change takes place with the intervention of human agency. There is an urgent need to build a vibrant civil society, fragile in the khap belt at present, to usher in an inclusive and humane social set-up.

The writer, a retired academic from Delhi University, specialises on socio-cultural issues.

Centre’s affidavit

The official position of the Centre, as reportedly stated in the affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, in relation to honour killing is a shocking case of subverting the basic constitutional position by none other than the supposed guardians of law themselves. I agree with D.R. Chaudhry in his write-up, “Centre’s retreat on ‘honour killing’ ” (July 29), that the mandarins, who have drafted this affidavit, show colossal ignorance of the personal laws of different communities.

Anyone with an elementary knowledge of the laws of the land knows fully well that it was the fundamental right to life, which was brutally infringed by rabid caste elements in honour killing cases.

The affidavit in question is, therefore, not only obnoxious and offensive but also in contravention of the moves of the Centre to enact a separate law against honour killings. So, the Union Law Minister must immediately order withdrawal of the illegal affidavit, submit a fresh one, and take strict action against those who were responsible for this blunder.

Inderjit Singh, Secretary, CPM, Rohtak


I share D R Chaudhry’s sensible and thoughtful concern over the controversial affidavit of the Union Home Ministry filed by it in the Supreme Court about the ever-increasing honour crimes taking place in the rural areas of Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan (Centre’s retreat on ‘honour killing’, July 29). In fact, this move is fraught with dangerous consequences.

I fully endorse the view that this affidavit is “a retrograde step”. This will embolden khap panchayat leaders to take the law into their own hands because of the Centre’s puzzling neutrality towards their unlawful activities.

In Haryana, the different Chief Ministers, irrespective of their political affiliations, have always adopted a soft and friendly attitude towards khap elements because of their obvious concern for keeping their electoral graph intact. Whenever journalists and civil society in the state, led by the Left parties and women organizations, have brought such honour crimes to their notice, they have expressed their helplessness by saying, “It is a social issue. What can the government do?” Such lackadaisical responses towards honour crimes do not add up much to the cause of positive social reforms in Haryana.



Khap Panchayats

The Law Commission of India has informed that they have prepared a draft consultation paper on “Unlawful interference of Caste Panchayats etc. with marriages in the name of honour; A suggested legislative framework” along with the proposed bill titled “The Prohibition of Unlawful Assembly (Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances) Bill, 2011”. Giving this information in written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha today, Shri Salman Khurshid, Minister of Law and Justice, said that the said consultation paper is in the process of being placed in public domain to elicit view and suggestions. The Government shall consider the Report and the proposed Bill of the Law Commission in the matter when submitted.