The horror of honour killings

  • Letters
  • Monday, 28 Jun 2010

Far from feeling remorse at the gruesome killings, the family elders are defiant, justifying that such killings are necessary for the society at large.

ULTIMATELY, it boils down to tradition versus modernity, doesn’t it? The unending series of murders of young boys and girls marrying against wishes of their parents has become a huge headache for the authorities as well as lawmakers.

Even as liberal, urban-bred people wince with disgust at the cold-blooded killings of newly-married couples by their own brothers or fathers, such acts continue to enjoy popular support in the caste-based village communities.

“Honour killings” is what the traditionalists dub it, justifying these heinous cold-blooded murders as the inevitable price for marrying within one’s own caste.

The modernists call it “horror killings”, excoriating its perpetrators for seeking to perpetuate a medieval custom which can have no place in the 21st century India.

A case of triple murder in the heart of the national capital recently has yet again shaken the conscience of modern India, spotlighting the grotesque practice of bloody reprisals against those defying the strict code about who one can marry.

Three bodies were found by the police in a span of two days, all had been shot in the head. They were soon identified as Monica Singh, 24, a Gurjar who had married her childhood friend Kuldeep Singh, 26, a Rajput, against the wishes of their families.

Kuldeep was shot dead in his car while he was returning home. Monica was shot dead while she was asleep in her bedroom.

A day later, Monica’s cousin, Shubha, 20, was found with a bullet in her head in a small car parked barely a few hundred yards from the local police station.

Shubha had fled home last month to facilitate the elopement of her elder sister, Khushboo, with her Kashmiri boyfriend a couple of weeks later.

Kuldeep, a computer technician, married Monica back in 2006 after quietly fleeing their village.

When her younger cousin Shubha too followed in Monica’s footsteps, their families decided to act against all three. They held Monica responsible for setting a bad example and bringing a bad name to the family.

Shubha, too, had a Bihari boyfriend who did not belong to her caste. She had eloped to help her elder sister, Khusboo, marry her Kashmiri boyfriend. The police suspect that Khusboo was also a target.

Monica’s brother, Ankit, Shuba’s brother, Mandeep, and their friend, Nakul, are wanted by the police for the triple murder. All three disappeared and the police have declared an award of US$1,100 (RM3,577) for anyone providing information leading to their arrest.

Meanwhile, as is the normal police practice, they detained without any formal warrant a number of elders from the families of the suspects to browbeat them into providing information about their whereabouts.

Far from feeling remorse at the gruesome killings, the family elders were defiant.

A paternal uncle of Shubha was quoted by television channels justifying the crime.

Praising his nephew and Shubha’s brother Mandeep, Dharamveer Nagar, 45, said these killings were necessary for the society at large even if some individuals consider them as wrong.

While the triple murder in north Delhi has evoked an outcry in the national media, within the week, there were reports from Haryana about the murders of Asha Saini, 19, and Yogesh Kumar, also 19.

They were killed by Asha’s father and the latter’s brother for having brought “shame” to the family. The two had eloped against the wishes of their parents and married in a local temple.

Following their arrest, both her father and uncle justified the killings, arguing that it was the only way to salvage the family honour.

Quite clearly, there is a gross contradiction between modern marriage laws and tradition.

Village elders were heard echoing only one sentiment: you cannot marry within your caste and that boys and girls from the same village are like brothers and sisters.

“For 400 years, no one has married a girl from the same village. This is incest. Tradition does not sanction it. And if it happens in my family, I too would kill ..,” said a village elder.

Sociologists reckon that fast urbanisation of the hinterland and the exposure to Bollywood films, satellite television channels, modern education for girls, growing incomes in the post-liberalisation era are some of the factors for the conflict between traditional mores and modern influences on youth behaviour.

In a clear sign of the urban/rural divide, a recent survey revealed that in Haryana, the epicentre of “honour killings”, 81% of the people did not support same-caste marriages while 69% wanted a legal ban against them.

Indeed, 2% openly justified the death sentence pronounced by village councils against the eloping couples.

In urban areas, on the other hand, there was little or no support for a legal ban on same-caste marriages while no one approved the killings of young couples.

Meanwhile, thanks to media pressure, Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily has promised to enact a law against “honour killings” in the coming session of parliament.

Also, concerned over the growing number of “honour killings”, the Supreme Court recently issued notice to eight state governments, including Haryana, asking them to detail the steps they had taken to prevent such killings.

Barring those dependent on votes of these traditional-bound villages, at least a majority of lawmakers are no longer looking the other way when village elders issue edicts for murder of young boys and girls. That is a hopeful sign.

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