Indian 'honour killings' up as young shun customs
By Beatrice Le Bohec (AFP) – 9 hours ago
NEW DELHI — The uncle was unrepentant about savagely killing his niece
and her fiance who had the audacity to want to wed each other in
defiance of Indian marriage traditions.
"I have no regrets and I would punish them all over again if given
another chance," the uncle, Om Prakash, told the news media after his
arrest by New Delhi police, asserting he had acted to save the family
Asha Saini, 19, and her 21-year-old boyfriend Yogesh Kumar were found
stabbed to death in mid-June with their legs and arms bound and their
bodies covered with electric shock burns.
The murders came amid a spurt in so-called "honour killings" of
couples who seek their own partners, breaching deeply entrenched
tradition which dictates that the parents decide who their children
Asha Saini's family believed it would bring dishonour if the girl,
whose father was a prosperous vegetable wholesaler, married her
boyfriend, a poor taxi driver.
Even more importantly, the couple were from different Hindu castes.
Such "honour killings" have multiplied even among upwardly mobile
social groups that are often considered less conservative as new
conflicts emerge between generations, say experts.
"The number is rising because women are more educated, they feel they
have the capacity to take their own decisions about their lives," said
Anand Kumar, a social studies professor at New Delhi's Jawarharlal
Last month, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ordered a cabinet-level
committee to look at imposing heavier punishments for "honour
killings" which are most prevalent in India's northern states.
There are no official figures, but one independent survey cited by New
York-based Human Rights Watch said 900 such murders occur a year in
the northern states of Haryana, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh alone.
Indian parents choose partners for their children most often for
religious as well as financial reasons.
The rules are complicated and choosing to marry within the same
sub-caste or outside of one's caste can both lead to a couple paying
the ultimate price.
Weekend newspapers have supplements jammed with marriage ads
specifying caste as one of the main sought-after attributes along with
a good job and a "fair" complexion.
"The new generation faces a double challenge: it wants to eliminate
the authority of the patriarchal family and reject the caste system,"
They want marriages "based upon love" -- a concept which has become
increasingly popular as India becomes more Westernised, Kumar adds.
In another case that has gained national attention, police are probing
the death in April of Nirupama Pathak, 22, a journalist at a leading
financial daily, the Business Standard, who wanted to marry a man of a
caste lower than her own.
Pathak belonged to the Brahmin caste, the highest in the ancient Hindu
hierarchy, while her fiance, a journalism classmate, came from a
middle-upper caste called Kayastha.
Her death shocked India because she came from an educated and affluent
family. Her father was a bank manager.
Just days after she returned home to northern Jharkhand state, she was
discovered dead in her bedroom. Police said she was suffocated -- the
family initially insisted she was electrocuted, then said she
Police have arrested her mother on suspicion of murder.
"Nirupama took her decision to marry, even though she knew her parents
would not agree," said 23-year-old Deepthi Bathini, a close friend of
The director of the New Delhi-based women's rights group
WomenPowerConnect, N. Hamsa, also says honour killings are rising
because of "a clash of generations."
"The young generation does not believe in the family (decision-making)
structures because there are more opportunities -- more girls have the
courage to make their own decision," she said.
Cases of honour killings are also rife in rural areas, where village
caste councils -- "khap panchayats" -- wield huge extra-legal powers.
While under the constitution people are free to wed whomever they
choose, the councils often issue edicts against couples who marry
outside their caste or religion and condemn marriages within a kinship
group or "gotra" -- considered incestuous even though there are no
In March, a court in Haryana state sentenced to death five people who
had killed a young couple who had dared to wed despite being deemed
"brother and sister" by village elders.
Underlining how hard it is to change tradition, when the court passed
judgement, village councils in the region staged big protests and
demanded that the government change the law to ban such marriages.
Nirupama's friend Deepthi Bathini believes "honour killings" must stop.
"For whose honour are they killing?" she said. "Every person must
become aware of their rights and be able to defy these traditions."
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