A young couple who were planning to marry was brutally murdered in Rohtak, which is a village in the Indian state of Haryana. Police are treating the case as an "honour crime", an instance that has become quite rampant in India. Dharmender Barak, 23, and Nidhi Barak, 20, were allegedly killed by members of Nidhi's family because the young adults decided to unite against their family’s wishes.
He was murdered, allegedly by the same people who had gathered at his funeral and had stood around and watched as his body burnt and became one with the ground. Police officers said his "hands were cut off, legs chopped off and head severed from the body".
The funeral was held a day or two later, and people gathered to watch as the two pyres burnt side by side. The young man and woman had to die to stay united in a world that forbade their matrimony as it did not meet its standards. It is disheartening that the woman’s mother has also been arrested for the murder. None who attended the funeral nor those who were detained showed any sign of remorse or guilt as they firmly believed that what they did was for the best.
"Who wants to kill their children? But whatever God wanted, happened," is what a relative of the murdered woman had to say.
What God wanted, that is how cold-blooded murder has been justified by this society. A society that is still plagued by ideologies that lost their prominence in the Dark Ages. "What was done to them was the right thing to do. We had to set an example", was what another relative of the woman had to say when asked to comment on the situation. What was the example for when you consider the larger picture? To forbade love? To prevent people from never falling in love again?
Rural culture in India is still mired by superstitions and a plethora of false moralities such as this. Women still live in the shadows, hidden by the darkness, behind curtains, afraid of what the world might say about them if they ever dared to venture out for themselves. The men still make all significant decisions, fend for the family and dominate over them, as they have done for centuries. Feminism is a word unheard of in such areas that still witness female genital mutilation and infanticide.
"The village doesn't approve of love affairs here. They were from the same caste, lived in the same lane in the same village. The man and the woman belonged to the same Jat community and shared the same gotra which made them brother and sister”, a man who had come for the funeral explained to the journalists and media personnel who had gathered around the pyre. It is disheartening to know that none in the village differed with him, they all believed that what the family had done was justified. That killing your daughter was more honourable than seeing her marry someone of her choice.
Falling in love is believed to ‘dilute Indian values and fill our homes with the decadent culture of the Western World’ and hence falling in love was to be prevented. India has stopped counting the lives it has lost to honour killings, no one bothers to keep a count anymore, but such occurrences are far from rare in the country. Experts say that though they are not as frequent as in Pakistan and Afghanistan; they do happen rampantly in northern India.
It is interesting to note that this village is barely 100 kms away from Delhi, our capital where it is perfectly reasonable to see a couple holding hands or even hug in public. Though the places are comparable geographically, the chasm in values and mindset was vast enough to swallow the young couple mercilessly.
Looking at these and other such recent cases, it’s hard to imagine that in this modern world women and girls still suffer such appalling violence based solely on the outdated notion of “honour”. Despite global media coverage, education and campaigning done tirelessly by women’s rights groups, the killing continues. This chain of violence can break only when the victims and the survivors come out and break their silence. The communities and factions responsible for such violence must learn to accept their mistake and address the issues that their population suffers from rather than burying it under several feet of red tape.
The World Health Organization estimates that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual violence in their lifetime and this number is nothing short of scary. At least 200 million women have undergone female genital mutilation, and about 250 million women were married before their 15th birthday, and half the world lives on oblivious to these statistics.
Why is it that men bask in honour while women carry the burden of shame? This attitude is what needs to change. There is no honour in murder; these are crimes driven by shame and guilt, the shame of a man or a group of men. This is why the honour must go to the women because if there is any honour left, it belongs to the Nidhis and countless other women who have lost their lives to such atrocities.
This is a form of violence that hides in plain sight. Violence done to prevent a woman from exercising her choice in marriage is not adequately documented, since India has no law to handle ‘honour crimes’ and this is what is being utilised by such factions to indulge in such actions.
In 2014, The Hindu tracked 583 rape cases decided by New Delhi's district courts in 2013. Strict curfews, bans on using mobile phones, punishments for talking to a man and dress codes are a few "safety" rules imposed on women in educational institutions and workplaces that refuse to reflect on the topic of honour killing. The term itself is misleading as it implies that such crimes are honourable and are done to preserve the culture of our society. Nothing could be further from the truth.
By Athulya Mohandas