- 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
***The 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 Haryana—never 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. But the two Haryana policemen assigned to them deserted them at Pipli as they boarded a bus for Delhi. En route, a relative of Babli's pulled them out of the bus, killed them brutally and threw their bodies in a canal. "Till today, the main accused, Ganga Raj, has not been arrested, despite our meeting chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda at his Delhi residence," says Manoj's tearful sister Seema, whose complaint activated the Kaithal police. "He is a Congress functionary, attends party functions regularly and even garlanded the chief minister when the latter visited our village for a function after the incident." Seema even tried getting help from Om Prakash Chautala's Indian National Lok Dal where she worked as a party activist, but to no avail. Instead, she and her mother have been facing a social boycott in their village for daring to complain to the police.
Just as Jasbir's mother and five sisters are being threatened by Ballah villagers to withdraw their FIR against their son's killers. Their modest house in a narrow village lane has a sprinkling of mourning women sitting next to his mother Saroj. The family knows that when push comes to shove, even their neighbours will not talk to them. "He was the only earning member of our family," a weeping Saroj tells Outlook. "He used to drive a taxi in Panipat. They have killed him and want us to forget it all. The whole village has turned against us for registering the FIR."
Activists say that for every case of honour killing that's reported, lots more are hushed up in Haryana's rural badlands. Says Dr Prem Chaudhary, an independent Delhi-based researcher who, based on considerable field work in Haryana, has recently published a book on the subject, titled Contentious Marriages, Eloping Couples: "Instead of such medieval practices being on the wane, there is a noticeable increase in honour killings, and social panchayats who sanction such killings have hardened their attitudes. They do this to assert their importance, which has declined somewhat due to the influence of elected panchayats. The state functionaries restrict themselves to making token arrests and do not intervene substantially. Even those who feel strongly about it do not dare to speak out openly. It can endanger their lives. So, you find killers brazenly owning up to such crimes nowadays and acquiring halos."
A couple of days after the Ballah incident, chief minister Hooda and his legislators were camping in nearby Karnal to campaign for an assembly byelection at Indri. Far from visiting Jasbir's aggrieved family, there was not a word of condemnation from him; the politicos behaved as if the heinous crime had not even taken place in that vicinity. But for the record, whenever such an incident takes place (which happens quite frequently these days), Hooda has always maintained that "this is a social issue and we cannot interfere in the social customs of our people. However, the law will take its course." Of course, it never does.