Murders for 'Honour'

How much longer before the Government acts to take the honour out of cold blooded killings?


A

las! The lovers in Punjab and Haryana, who dare to conjure such dreams by circumventing the cast-iron societal norms, are doomed. The denouement for the recalcitrant is quick and violent. Life is often snuffed out from young hearts who dare to beat for each other without making allowance for the caste permutations.

While in Punjab, the fathers or brothers of the lover girl assume the task of a moral judge to decide her fate; in neighbouring Haryana, ubiquitous “Khap panchayats” (clan councils) keep a hawkish vigil on social behaviour of lovers and pronounce talibanesque diktats who defy their norms.

Incidents where the Khaps have ordered killing of boys and girls for deviant behaviour or social ostracisation of their families, are a legion in Haryana.
Khaps are self-styled panchayats composed of village elders and elite and are organised on the basis of “gotra” or sub- castes among the dominant Jat community in Haryana. In a complex web of sub-castes, traditionally, marriages between same “gotra” couples and also between boys and girls hailing from the same village are frowned upon by the
Khaps.

State capitulation

The fact that these medieval outposts of caste and clan kinship are surviving and operating with impunity in the vicinity of the national capital and amidst signposts of modern society, is as incredulous as the virtual capitulation of state machinery to their frequent unconstitutional verdicts.

In a recent instance of Khaps challenging the rule of law and authority of the state, the members of a Khap panchayat lynched a boy who had dared to marry a girl from an adjoining village in Jind district.

A posse of over 15 policemen and a warrant officer appointed by the court, who accompanied the boy, Ved Pal, to bring back his wife Sonia from her paternal home, failed to deter the rampaging mob from lynching Pal. The security men fled from the spot at first sign of trouble while the warrant officer suffered a fracture in his leg as he was fleeing from the spot.

The Khap members, who disapproved of the couple’s marriage on the plea that the two were like brother and sister for hailing from adjoining villages, were enraged at Pal challenging their authority and seeking the help of law to secure custody of his wife.
Barely a few days ago, a Khap in Rohtak district had asked a boy to annul his marriage with a girl since they both belonged to the same “gotra” (sub-caste). After the defiant boy refused to divorce his wife and attempted to kill himself, the Khap ordered the family to leave the village.

Extra-constitutional

Interestingly, no politician from mainstream political parties in Haryana, including the ruling Congress, uttered a word against the Khap’s behaviour in any of the above incidents nor any politician visited the victim’s families to console them. Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who is eyeing a second term in office with Assembly polls round the corner, murmured a “law will take its own course” line. Interestingly, Hooda evasively describes Khaps as a “social issue”, never alluding to the fact they are increasingly posing challenge to the rule of law through their extra-constitutional acts and in the latest instance, openly cocked a snook at the state police by lynching a person in the presence of policemen. Like any politician conscious of vote banks, Hooda, himself a Jat, is aiming to emerge as the Jat leader in Haryana and cannot afford to annoy the Khap panchayats organised on caste lines in the Jat-dominated state.

A lackadaisical approach in dealing with Khaps by his government has led to several incidents of Khap-ordered killings of boys and girls during his regime. Similar is the hands-off stance from Khap rulings of Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) led by Om Prakash Chautala, a party that claims to be sole representative of the Jat community. The only political party that has sustained a campaign against the parallel judicial system of the Khaps is the CPM, though it has only a nominal presence in the state.

In Punjab, the issue of honour killings has not gripped the public consciousness as in the neighbouring state. A disturbing trend of NRI-ordered contract killings of boys and girls by their relatives has been noticed, though.  Police say the NRIs take advantage of the legal complexities involving their stay outside the country as instances of contract killings to settle property disputes or order honour killings are mounting.

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