Tuesday, June 22, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Honour killing: Between life and love


Honour killing: Between life and love

Nandita Sengupta and Sukhbir Siwach, TNN, Jun 22, 2010, 06.27am IST

DELHI/CHANDIGARH: Honour killings are being reported at an unnervingly
quick clip, but what escapes attention is the fast and furious
increase in numbers of couples seeking protection, fearing for their
lives once they decide to marry. Advocates say the Punjab & Haryana
high court receives as many as 50 applications a day from couples
seeking protection, a staggering ten-fold rise from about 5 to 6 a day
five years ago. Such is the pressure that the high court recently
ordered district and sessions judges also to hear petitions.

The increase has been stark in the last five years. Advocate Rajeev
Godara says the bulk of his work is now helping young couples. "I've
received even 20 couples a day," he says. Thousands of petitions have
been filed, prompting Justice Mohinder Pal to comment, "For how long
can the state play mute spectator. How much can courts provide solace?
I have before me young married persons running pillar to post, chased
by musclemen or police."

Police protection hardly helps, say activists. Standard operating
procedure in the case of a runaway man and woman ends up with the
woman's family filing a case of kidnapping and/ or rape against the
man or his family. The woman shows up as 'missing' in Haryana police's
records. From November 2009 to May 2010, of the 686 people filed as
'missing' on Haryana police's website, a largish 30% are females aged
between 15 and 28 years.

Police hunt the couple down. If the girl is under-18, she is forcibly
returned to her family. If her age is suspect, and she refuses her
family, she is packed off to a nari niketan and the guy is jailed.
This usually takes place in the month between a couple's registering
their wish to marry and the registration, which has mandatory month
in-between: a provision begging to be altered. "Fear of cases filed
under section 363 (kidnapping) and 366 (compelling/ inducing woman
into marriage) against the 'husband' drives the couple to court. If
registration is immediate, such cases can't proceed," says advocate
Kulbir Singh Dhaliwal. Jaipur-based activist Kavita Srivastava moots
the idea of same-day registration. "The more time you give, more the
problems for the couple," she says. Many couples also surface to
protect their families. In the headline-grabbing Manoj-Babli murder,
for instance, the posed picture of the two garlanding each other was
taken for Babli to prove that she married Manoj of her own accord.
This was the only way to ensure that the kidnapping case against her
mother-in-law Chandrapati, of Karora village in Kaithal, could be
quashed. It was on that visit that the two were murdered.

As is clear, not every couple is killed. Activists say barely a
handful are murdered: what determines the fate of the target is the
couple's financial independence, political clout or wherewithal to pay
off the khap. Lawyers say 90% cases are 'solved'. "Nobody says a word
when a politician's children decide to marry against norms. It's very
selective," says Aidwa's Sudha Sundararaman. Or when couples can pay
the 'fines' khaps impose, in short paying their way out. Matters come
to a head if the woman marries a lower caste guy. Her succession
rights can mean property going — via the girl — into a lower-caste
family. Inter-caste, intra-village, intra-gotra are the big daddies
frowned upon. But again, selective. "A khap had declared a couple
brother-sister recently and nullified their marriage. We intervened
and as the boy was Delhi-based and had clout, their khap revoked the
decision," says Sundararaman.

In a twisted manner, making the most of couples' plight are escort
services that sprang up in Chandigarh to help couples get away, seek
protection and marry, providing everything from the necessary
documents to basic wedding finery. One-room gurudwaras, temples with
pundits and all included in the 'package'. "The government ordered
closure of two such 'agencies' operating in one-room set-ups," says


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