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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 23, May 28, 2011

Daylight Murders

Thursday 9 June 2011, by Madhu Bhaduri

The National Women’s Commission objects to calling them ‘honour killings’ and would prefer to call them “dishonour Killings”. The Commission has yet to do anything beyond expressing this preference even when these killings are common-place today. Young couples who dare to marry within their Gotra are murdered in broad daylight under instructions from the rich and powerful who call themselves Khap Panchayats. This has been happening in the villages of Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and west UP. The media calls these murders “Honour Killings”.

A recent case reported in the press is that of Kuldeep and Monica who ran away from the critical public gaze and the knife of the Khap Panchayat of their village Wazirpur to the urban jungle of Delhi. Kuldeep was an MBA from Pune and Monica was a graduate from Delhi University. He had a job with the HCL and bright prospects. And yet the knife of the Khap was long, longer than they or we can imagine. The Khap wanted and got its price in blood money as its age, old caste ritual. After four years of marriage, men from Wazirpur chased and shot them both dead in cold blood in 2010 at the behest of their Khap. The families of the murdered, if they were daring enough to go to the police, are met with no cooperation, much less assistance, from the men in uniform who are themselves under pressure from the muscle and money power of the landed Khap Panchayats.

There have been some exceptions. In March this year, a session’s court in Haryana passed a sensational verdict. It convicted five members of a Khap Panchayat for the murder of Manoj and his wife Babli and passed death sentence on all the five who had ordered the murder of this couple for having married within the Gotra against the wishes of their parents. The widowed mother of Manoj had the courage to appeal to the court against the murder of her son and daughter-in-law. The sensational verdict of the session’s court created a storm among the self-appointed Caste/ Khap Panchayats of the region who then organised a Mahapanchayat which demanded the government to ban marriages within the same Gotra. And all this was publicly announced with much media fanfare in our secular democracy which claims that it treats caste discrimination as criminal.

WHAT is shocking is the silent approval given to this demand by the Congress Government in Haryana. The Congress-led UPA at the Centre did not disapprove either. On the contrary one of its smart young MPs from the business house of Jindal (which is making tall claims of contributing to the development of the nation) voiced his respect and understanding for the demand of the Khap which is viewed by many to be in conformity with our traditions. Today the Congress party of M.K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, that is in power, is a silent spectator to organised murders of the young who dare to step outside the confines of Caste/Gotra. Young Congressmen even express deep respect for the Khap Panchayat dictates in public.

The Constitution of India that was architected by Ambedkar is no longer considered worthy of protection by the Congress party of Sonia and Manmohan. What is emerging is that no political party is interested in soiling its hands to protect the ideal of fighting the evil of Caste. It is not surprising that the parties of the Right should not oppose the Khap Panchayats; but where are the Left parties? Their representation has been dwindling in Parliament. They seem to have lost direction and in the present state they do not seem to think it fit to organise opposition to the Caste-based social power in Haryana and the neighbouring States. Nor are they giving support to the traumatised people to stand up against the terror of the self-appointed castiest Khap Panchayats. Is it that Caste has still not penetrated the Class understanding of the Left despite the many daylight murders?

This shameful state of affairs has received so far a single ray of hope. The Supreme Court in its latest order of May 8, 2011 has directed that death penalty should be given to the murderers in such cases. This is definitely a matter of relief in an otherwise dreary scenario. The glaring case of the murders of Kuldeep and Monica in Delhi are no less gruesome than the killings of Jessica Lal and Priyadarshini Mattoo. The Delhi civil society took up their cases and brought some justice to them.

Khap Panchayats are a social evil far beyond the deranged individual killings driven by the arrogance of power and money. Babasaheb Ambedkar, the architect of our Constitution, was sceptical of the pivotal role of village Panchayats because they furthered caste oppression. He differed from Gandhi precisely here. But both were at least unanimous on the horrors of the Hindu Caste System. Nehru was more in tune with Ambedkar on this issue. Today’s Congress, in contrast, is a mute spectator both in Haryana, where it is ruling, and in Delhi, where it is leading the UPA Government.

The murders of Kuldeep and Monica last year in Delhi scream out to be heard in the terrorised silence of the people and the blindness of the police who have yet to investigate this case. Will the case be investigated? Will it receive justice through the process of law? Will any political party dare to organise support for justice in this and many other such cases? Will the ruling party in Haryana and Delhi be forced to hang its head in shame?

The author, a distinguished diplomat (now retired), is a prominent social activist.

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