The Big Story: Beating love with hatred
New Delhi witnessed a shocking crime on Thursday night, when a 23-year-old man was stabbed to death in full public view by the family of the woman with whom he was in love. The woman’s family apparently did not want her to marry a person who was not from the same religion as they were.
The woman was Muslim, the man Hindu.
If one went by the definition of the Supreme Court, this incident falls squarely in the category of so-called honour killing. Such murders, the court said, result from the perception that the “defence of honour justifies killing a person whose behaviour dishonours their own clan or family”. This sense of honour is tied to the woman, who is expected to adhere to her parents’ or wider community’s wishes in choosing her partner.
India has witnessed many gory murders committed for the sake of this flimsy notion of honour, across castes and religion. In 2013, a young couple was butchered in Rohtak, Haryana, their bodies mutilated in public view by the woman’s family. In March 2016, a man named V Sankar was hacked to death outside a bus stand in Tamil Nadu by goons hired by his wife’s family. In November 2016, a young man was shot dead in Sonepat after he was invited by his wife’s relatives to ostensibly talk about a reconciliation. Between 2014 and 2016, India reported 288 such murders.
On the weekend, Altnews, a fact-checking site, reported the exisitence of a Facebook page called “Hindutva Varta” (Hindutva Talk) that posted a list of 102 couples – Hindu girls in relationships with Muslim boys – and called for Hindus to come forward and attack the boys.
At the heart of this problem is a clash between conservative societal and religious norms on the one hand and the freedom and liberty guaranteed to every citizen under the Constitution. Inter-caste and inter-religious marriages rattle the blind adherence to authority that most Indian communities cherish.
This has led to heightened moral policing on the streets. The post-liberalisation generation, which has aspirations and norms that are increasingly unmoored from traditional structures of hierarchy, is often being denied individual autonomy by groups that take the law into their own hands. Fanatical caste and religious groups, such as the khap panchayats of North India and the jadi sangams of South India, are suggesting that love is a dangerous choice for young people to make.
The state’s response has been weak. Despite repeated suggestions from the Supreme Court, the government has failed to pass a strict law against so-called honour killings. In the police files, these killings are treated as any other murder, shielding the perpetrators from public glare. This kid-gloves treatment of violent groups has undermined efforts of the government to promote inter-caste and inter-religious marriages, even offering economic rewards to the brave couples who choose love across communitarian barriers. Surveys show that only 5% of Indians marry outside their caste.
The battle that Hadiya – who converted to Islam defying her Hindu family in Kerala – is fighting in the Supreme Court to protect her marriage is a classic example of the failure of the state to protect individual choices. The right to liberty, which means the right to make personal choices, is a crucial aspect of right to life. It is the duty of the state to clamp down on all elements that threaten the liberty of citizens. After all, a life without liberty is a life without dignity.
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