India: Haryana's murders in the name of honour propped up by State silence & Public fear Print E-mail
 Magazine | May 26, 2008


Chronicle Of Deaths Foretold

Honour avengers run amok in Haryana as state/society prop them with their silence
Chander Suta Dogra

No sympathy here: The slain Ballah couple

Why No One Speaks Against Honour Killings

  • Social panchayats and the village community approve of this custom, especially common among Jats, encouraging more such killings
  • No political leader in Haryana has either condemned these crimes, or tried to punish the perpetrators. Haryana CM Hooda is on record as declaring: "We cannot interfere in the social customs of our people".
  • Taking the cue from politicians, state functionaries too make only token arrests
  • Even those who oppose it don't say anything for fear of losing their lives

T he mood in Ballah village, some 20 kilometres from Karnal, is defiant.
Groups of grizzled village elders gathered at the village chaupal outside the sarpanch's house or huddled around hookahs under trees, are strategising on how best to extricate their fellow villagers out of the clutches of the police. Ballah woke up last Friday morning to the gruesome sight of the battered bodies of Sunita and Jasbir, thrown outside Sunita's home. The young lovers had been killed by Sunita's father and brothers for daring to defy social norms. But if you thought Ballah would condemn the killing, you couldn't be more wrong.

Instead, Ballah has become only the latest village to enter Haryana's hall of shame, not only applauding with approval the brutal punishment of "the wayward couple" but also hailing their killers as heroes. "We have dispensed justice according to our social norms," says Ballah sarpanch Ranbir Singh Mann with disquieting pride. "The entire village is one in this matter and feels that the killings are justified. If the police and law look upon it as a crime, that is their business." In fact, so secure were the couple's killers in the belief that their community of Jats would bail them out that they triumphantly went to the local police station and handed themselves over.

Sunita and Jasbir were childhood sweethearts who were separated when Sunita's parents forced her to marry someone else against her wishes. A year after her marriage, Sunita left her husband and came to live with Jasbir. The social panchayat recognised her desertion of her husband as a divorce, but was silent on her relations with Jasbir. However, early last week, when her father Om Prakash learnt that she was pregnant with Jasbir's child, he decided it was time to take action. With three jeeploads of men in tow, he drove to Machhroli village near Panipat where the couple had taken shelter, pulled them out, bundled them into the jeep, and strangled them in Ballah's fields.

Honour restored, the Mann Jats of Ballah are now ready to flex their not inconsiderable muscle before an already supine administration, which prefers to react with indifference towards such cases. Indifference, because from the chief minister downwards, no political leader has ever condemned or even lifted a finger to bring perpetrators of such crimes to book in Haryana­never mind if it is touted as one of India's most progressive states. "Look at any of the recent cases," says an anguished Richa Tanwar, who heads the department of women's studies at Kurukshetra University. "What has been the state intervention in protecting such couples? Have you ever heard the chief minister say that honour killings should stop? Politicians and policemen come from the same society and do not take any action because most believe in honour killings."

Nothing vindicates her statement more than the case of Manoj and Babli of Karoran village of Kaithal district last June. Having married against the diktat of their community and fearing for their lives, the couple sought police protection from the court. They did get police protection, after testifying before a Kaithal court that they had married in accordance with the law.