“What Is Wrong In It?”

Less than a week after Asha Saini and Yogesh Jatav were tortured and murdered in New Delhi by members of Saini’s family—for the “crime” of pursuing an inter-caste love affair—Monica and Kuldeep Singh, who four years ago had eloped and married outside their caste, were slain by members of Monica’s family.

The same men then proceeded to kill Monica’s cousin, Shobha Nagar, for both supporting Monica, and pursuing an inter-caste love affair of her own.

Shobha’s younger sister, Khushboo, and her new husband Ravi, who recently eloped and married against family tradition, are currently receiving police protection.

While the men who committed the killings were on the run, friends and relatives defiantly told the police and public that their actions were justified. Says Dharmaveer Nagar, uncle to Mandeep Nagar, who shot his 20-year-old sister Shobha in the forehead at point-blank range:

“This is not at all wrong. What is wrong in it? Murder is wrong but this is socially the best thing that has been done. This cannot be termed as wrong.”

“[Inter-caste marriages] will break our society, bring down self-confidence. I would say that the youths have done the best thing. This will send a message in society.”

Prior to shooting his sister, Mandeep and two other men killed Kuldeep in his car, then shot Monica at her home, after gaining entrance on the pretext of delivering food for her parents’ marriage anniversary. One of the killers was her brother.

The New York Times is meanwhile reporting the case of Nirupama Pathak, a woman from a Brahmin family who became secretly engaged to a young man from a lower caste, then “suicided” in late April, only hours after informing her mother that she was pregnant by that man. Her mother, Sudha, has been arrested on suspicion of murder. An autopsy disclosed that Nirupama had been suffocated.

The Times reports:

In India, where the tension between traditional and modern mores reverberates throughout society, Ms. Pathak’s death comes amid an apparent resurgence of so-called honor killings against couples who breach Hindu marriage traditions.

This week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ordered a cabinet-level commission to consider tougher penalties in honor killings.

In June, India’s Supreme Court sent notices to seven Indian states, as well as to the national government, seeking responses about what was being done to address the problem.

The phenomenon of honor killings is most prevalent in some northern states, especially Haryana, where village caste councils, or khap panchayats, often operate as an extralegal morals police force, issu-ing edicts against couples who marry outside their caste or who marry within the same village—considered a religious violation since villages are often regarded as extended families.

Even as the court system has sought to curb these councils, politicians have hesitated, since the councils often control significant vote blocs in local elections.

New cases of killings or harassment appear in the Indian news media almost every week.

This is similar to what was reported by the Washington Post two years ago:

Even though India legalized inter-caste marriage more than 50 years ago, newlyweds are still threatened by violence, most often from their families. As more young urban and small-town Indians start to rebel and choose mates outside of arranged marriages and caste commandments, killings of inter-caste couples have increased, according to a recent study by the All India Democratic Women’s Association.

In the past month, seven so-called honor killings have targeted inter-caste couples. In the latest incident, a Hindu youth in Bihar was beaten by villagers this week and thrown under an oncoming train because he sent a love letter to a girl of a different caste. The attacks continue despite decades of government decrees intended to dismantle the bulwark of caste, which is widely seen as the glue of traditional Indian society but is considered among the most corrosive features of the emerging new India.

In the Post piece, Shashi Kiran, a lawyer before India’s Supreme Court, and a woman who married outside her caste, asserted that “[t]he recent rise in violence actually shows that the younger generation—especially women—are slowly gaining individual freedom in marriage. But the older generation still cling to the old ways where marriage is still a symbol of status, not emotional love. It shows a society still in transition and wrestling with deep change.”

This is undoubtedly true. But as Girija Vyas, a member of the Indian Parliament, and president of the National Commission of Women, noted after Nirupama Pathak’s murder: “There should not be these things in the 21st century. These things must be stopped.”


4 Responses to ““What Is Wrong In It?””

  1. 1 Julia Rain (the daughter) September 4, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    This story, besides being utterly tragic, is really bizarre. So these traditional people name their daughter “Monica” and then murder her when she doesn’t follow tradition?

    I also find it rather bizarre that a family who is so traditional that they would actually kill their own child for marrying outside her caste would not be traditional enough to just arrange a marriage for her?

    I am saddened that honor killings also occur in Hindu society. I always thought so highly of Hindus. I suppose in a strange way it is good that it is not something that only Muslims do, so the bigots cannot use such a fact in their rants.

    The names Mandeep and Kuldeep sound Sikh. I thought the Sikhs had to give all of their children either a “deep” or a “dip” in their name. All of the Sikhs I went to school with were like this, anyway. This makes it even stranger that the poor girl’s name was Monica. Are Sikhs and Hindus allowed to intermarry?

    • 2 bluenred September 5, 2010 at 10:01 am

      The family may have tried to arrange a marriage, but Monica rebelled—she did, remember, elope.

      Hinduism is an old religion. Like all old religions, it has ossified. As a result, adherents are required to hew to things that are senseless. It is changing, as is, say, Catholicism, but, also like Catholicism, it is changing slower than people are.

      It is my understanding that among certain devout Sikhs and Hindus they are not “allowed” to marry one another. Sikhs and Hindus still occasionally fight and kill one another in India. Indira Gandhi, for instance, was assassinated by two Sikhs, seeking revenge for a bloody government attack on Sikh separatists holed up in a shrine. After her death, 5000 Sikhs were killed in anti-Sikh riots.

      So it goes.

      • 3 Julia Rain (the daughter) September 6, 2010 at 9:36 pm

        I’m sad to hear that. I think I like my religious theory better – cherry-picking the best of what there is, mixing it together and then adding a heavy dose of “but whatever”.

        Of course, people don’t like it when you say you’re “fascinated by religion” because that implies you think they all have some merit. Which, when you actually Belong to any religion, is seen as Wrong.

        So I’m always saddened when I realize that adherents of religions I think are so cool would think I’m a blasphemous heathen.

        • 4 bluenred September 7, 2010 at 10:57 am

          Your approach sounds good.

          All religions are human constructs, so all are fallible, because all human beings are fallible.

          And decent people, regardless of religion, wouldn’t write you off as a heathen. ; /

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