India’s forbidden love

Nineteenth-century American essayist and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson believed that all the world loved, a lover. However, Indian society does not seem to be agreeing with Ralph’s belief.  In India, falling in love with the wrong person is deadly.  Every day, couples are brutally murdered on account of bringing dishonor to their families by falling in love, defying caste system and for rejecting strict social boundaries.

 In 2002, the entire nation plunged into shock when Nitish Katara, an MBA graduate and the son of IAS officer was murdered by his girlfriend’s family. The case fought by Nitish’s mother, Neelam Katara, went on for 15 years. However, not much has changed in the past 16 years. In fact, the situation has got even worse. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Between 2014 and 2015 alone, the number of honor killings in India leaped by 798 percent.  States such as Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh are leading in such extrajudicial killings. “ 

In 2016, the evil of honor killing came to the fore once again when a young 23-years-old photographer, Ankit Saxena was murdered last year.  Falling in love with a Muslim girl was his only fault.  According to a BBC report, year after year 20,000 women were being murdered the world over, especially in Asia for falling in love with men whom their families and communities considered unsuitable.

Jagmati Sangwan a social activist in Haryana who has been fighting for this cause from very long time says, “Honour is just a sham, this term in itself is wrong because there is nothing honorable in this act.”

 Saviours From Honour killing

“Falling in love for us, was just like committing a sin,” says Zainul who fell in love with a Hindu girl Neha from Siliguri. Neha told, “I was beaten up by my family and had to stop taking classes when my family got to know about my relationship with Zainul”. Zainul and Neha eloped and reached out to for help after going through a traumatizing period of two months. The couple found a safe haven in Delhi provided by an NGO called Dhanak. The NGO helped them get married too.

“Falling in love for us, was just like committing a sin,” says Zainul who fell in love with a Hindu girl Neha from Siliguri. Neha told, “I was beaten up by my family and had to stop taking classes when my family got to know about my relationship with Zainul.” Zainul and Neha eloped and reached out to for help after going through a traumatizing period of two months. The couple found a safe haven in Delhi provided by an NGO called Dhanak. The NGO helped them get married too.

“Loving beyond social boundaries is fraught with many challenges in India,” says  Anish a cinematographer by profession who fell in love with a Muslim girl Tayyaba. The pall of gloom fell over the familywhen the family came to know about their relationship. When they saw that their family will not accept them they took help of an NGO Dhanak and they helped us in getting married.

Caste system stood in the way of Aarti and Ravikant’s story. Aarti belonged to the so-called upper caste Brahmin family while Ravikant belonged to the Jat community. Fearing death at the hands of her family, Aarti decided to leave Bhopal and come to Delhi.  The story of Arti who belongs from upper-class Brahmin community and Ravikant who belongs from Jat community also sought the help of NGO and after staying in a shelter home provided by Dhanak, they finally got married a few days back. Dhanak an organization based in Delhi is providing shelter, legal and financial help to couples from all across India. Dhanak was born in 2005. When few interfaith couples decided to get together with the intention to form a front.

“The idea was to help couples from similar backgrounds to come together and form a support structure for couples,” says Shabana, Secretary of Dhanak. All the members and members of Dhanak has the same stories to share. Shabana a psychologist by profession married Rajeev way back in 2005 after facing lots of odds in their life.  “Standing firm in face of societal opposition requires elephantine courage and when it is about Hindu Muslim marriage the obstacles in the way gets double,” so few couples like us with the thought that what we faced in life shouldn’t be faced by anyone else. Thus we created this forum to help out other couples cutting across caste and religion.  Shabana who got married to a Hindu guy in 2003 says: “Marrying against the wishes of the family is like striding on a thorny road. It has been 15 years of happy married life but still, everything is not normal, riders imposed on us from both sides of the family are still persistent.”

“While doing work on ground level the issue that shook our conscience was how couples were murdered in broad daylight, be ita case of Manoj- Babli or Be it a case of Nitish Katara that pricked us up about the legal void existing in Indian law to target the perpetrators of the crime,”says Ravikant a supreme court lawyer and President of NGO Shakti Vahini in Delhi. This legal void prompted Shakti Vahini to file PIL in 2010.  A bench hearing the PIL delivered a remarkable Judgement earlier this year that, “ Khap Panchayats has no right to act as conscience keeper of society.”

“We have won half battle as apex court of the country has directed the central government to frame and implement a stringent law identifying honour crimes in India. We as an organization will keep on fighting for this cause,” says Ravikant. 

Honor Crimes: Unholy Alliance of Patriarchy and Feudalism

A steep jump of 796 % was seen in the ‘honour’ killings according to the NationalCrime Record Bureau NCRB data in the year 2015. 28 murder cases were recorded in 2014, while the number jumped to 251 in the year 2015. States like Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh are the infamous states where honour crimes are most rampant in the country. Lack of a separate law, shared interests of political leaders and archaic institutions such as Khap Panchayats in overlooking the gravity of the matter and societal pressure to toe its line are the main roadblocks.

Demands for the enactment of a separate law on honour crimes have fallen on deaf ears, says Jagmati Sangwan, General Secretary, All India Democratic WomenAssociation. “When we met the then Law Minister Sadanand Gowda in 2014 and demanded the new law he said that the government would look into the demand but the actions of the government have not been forthcoming.” According to experts, there is no mechanism to recognize a crime as honour crime and the cases get registered under the murder and other IPC provisions cloaking the hideous nature of this crime where one gets killed at the hands of her near and dear ones.

Demanding a separate law against honour crimes on the lines of DomesticViolence Act 2005, Sangwan says, “In honor crimes your family members are the main culprits. In such a situation, it is very hard to establish the culpability of the accused as the crime is not reported to the Police in the first place and even if reported it becomes very hard to collect the requisite evidence. When you have a separate law like the Domestic Violence Act 2005, the onus will be on the accused to prove his innocence and not on the state machinery to prove his guilt.” Once a separate law gets enacted, it will be difficult for the accused family members to secure bail and get away with the crime, addedSangwan.

Apart from inter-caste and inter-religion marriages, marrying within the same Gotra(Clan), Guhand (neighbourhood), and a person from the same village also invite the wrath of archaic elements which results in consequences such as ex-communication, exile and violence against the couples. Aarti Tiwari, a 25year old Brahmin girl, married Ravikant who comes from the Jat community only to be abandoned by her family. Longing for her mother hopelessly and afraid for her husband’s safety at the same time Aarti says, “Sometimes I think of going to Bhopal to meet my mother and family but then… better sense prevails. It’snot safe in Bhopal. The only problem my parents had was Ravi’s caste. They would not have abandoned me if I had eloped with a Brahmin boy.”

Not withstanding the beliefs and age-old association of people with such issues, one can see through the vote bank politics and a political economy as part and parcel of honour crimes in the country. “Due to very bad sex ratio in Haryana, thousands of youth get married to women who are trafficked and ‘bought’ from poor states like Bengal and Bihar. Do they ascertain their caste and clan before marrying them? No.”. Highlighting the economy associated with the whole issue, Sangwan says, “If this was an issue linked to marriage only, the reaction would have not been this loud and violent. Their (upper caste) thinking is- today the girl’s hostile about her marriage; tomorrow she could become hostile for the property as well and ask for her share. The shift of land and property from the propertied class to have nots of our society is their biggest fear. Patriarchy and Feudalism are hands in glove on this issue.”

Through snail-paced, the political machinery is being forced to acknowledge the gravity of the issue and take action on the same front. “Couple Protection homes are being built across the country where the couples can stay in a safe and protected environment. Also, the Apex Court has also laid its guidelines where the District Superintendent of Police will be held responsible if a couple is harmed under her watch,” says Ravikant, President Shakti Vahini, an NGO working on the issue. However, these developments are the small steps and the movement has a long road to tread  


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