May 22, 2022

Urgent Need for the Law against Crimes of Honour

Subhashini Ali

CRIMES committed in the name of honour persist despite interventions in recent years by high courts and the Supreme Court that have not only given protection to couples entering into inter-caste and inter-community marriages but have accorded stringent punishment to those who have used violence against such couples.  Tragically, there has been a parallel development in which many BJP-led states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and recently Karnataka have passed severe and possible unconstitutional laws which, in the name of coming down heavily on ‘conversions’ are actually aimed at relationships and marriages between consenting adults belonging to different religions.  In practice, these laws are being used to torment, imprison and punish couples in which the girl is a Hindu and the boy a Muslim.

Two recent incidents reveal not only the hypocrisy and vicious communal polarisation resorted to by the BJP but also fault lines and intolerance between communities that are, of course, being deepened and strengthened by the relentless propaganda of the Sangh Parivar.  The denial of choice to women in matters of marriage and relationships where caste and community barriers are transgressed is, unfortunately, an ancient feature of Indian social history where the preservation of the caste system is accepted as an overarching social duty.  The denial of the right to choose a life partner to women flows out of this since the exercise of such a right jeopardises the existence of varnashram dharma itself. 

On May 8, I visited Marepalli village in Vikarabad district of Telangana along with John Wesley and Skylab Babu, president and general secretary of DSMM, Telangana. This village is home to the family of Nagaraju, a young dalit belonging to the Mala community, who was brutally killed on May 4 by the relatives of the young woman, Ashrin Sultana, whom he had married.  They had both studied together and had been in love for several years.  Her brother, Mobin, had opposed this relationship strongly and had beaten his sister several times.  On January 30, Ashrin left home and the next day she and Nagaraju married in an Arya Samaj temple and Ashrin assumed the Hindu name, Pallavi.  The young couple started living together in a room in Saroornagar, Hyderabad.  Nagaraju worked in an automobile showroom.  Mobin was unforgiving and tracked the young couple down.  In the afternoon of the 4th, he, along with his brother-in-law, accosted Ashrin/Pallavi and Nagaraju while they were out on their two-wheeler, very near their home.  There is a heart-breaking report that Nagaraju was taking his wife out on an Eid-shopping spree.  The killers forced the young couple off the bike and attacked Nagaraju with an iron rod and a knife.  This was in broad daylight in a crowded locality but none came forward to help. They did, however, use their phones to shoot videos of the murderous attack. These videos show the very slight Ashrin fighting off her brothers like a tigress. Unfortunately, she could not save Nagaraju who died on the spot. 

Almost immediately, the BJP and its various frontal organisations organised protests and demonstrations holding banners that said ‘Hindus Awake’.  Since then, they have left no stone unturned to use this incident to fan communal hatred and have concentrated much energy on taking their communal campaign into dalit communities.

Nagaraju’s home is a small hut in the dalit part of the village.  It was, of course, a home in deep mourning.  Ashrin had been brought here in the early hours of the 5th by the police. This was the first time she was visiting Nagaraju’s home and meeting his parents. The trauma of that meeting can only be imagined.  When we entered the hut, Ashrin and her mother-in-law, Anasuya, were sitting huddled together. We sat with them for a long time trying to offer words of consolation.  Ashrin was very vocal both in Hindustani and Telugu. She wanted nothing but justice and the most draconian punishment for her brother and brother-in-law.  She said that they should be killed in the way that they had heartlessly killed her husband and repeated her apprehension that they would be let off by a lax government machinery.  She also demanded a stringent law that would discourage other such acts of violence.  I told her about the draft legislation against crimes of honour that AIDWA had drafted and which had been finalised many years ago in meetings with the National Commission for Women but which had been completely ignored by both the Congress and the BJP governments at the centre.  She was horrified by this.  Anasuya was also grieved and angered by her son’s murder but she kept speaking with affection to Ashrin and said that now Ashrin was both her daughter and her son.

Ashrin told me in whispered Hindustani that while her in-laws were being very supportive and affectionate, there was a whispering campaign underway in the village, inspired by the BJP, that she should be thrown out since, after all, she was also a Muslim and responsible for Nagaraju’s death.

Before leaving, we spoke to many of the villagers who assured us of their support to Ashrin and Nagaraju’s family. 

So far the government of Telangana has not reached out to Ashrin and Nagaraju’s family in a very positive manner.  While the administration acted promptly in arresting Mobin and his brother-in-law, no leader of the ruling TRS has visited Marepalli.  The BJP, meanwhile, is relentless in its campaign.  It is spreading lies like two murderers are still at large, one belongs to MIM and the other to TRS etc.  The intervention by the Left, AIDWA and several secular organisations and individuals had blunted their campaign for the time being.  The CPI(M) has demanded that the state government pay compensation to both Ashrin and Nagaraju’s parents, provide her with a government job and provide the family with accommodation.

On May 12, I visited Agra and, along with Bharat Singh (state committee member) and Tomar (district secretary), CPI(M) and Kiran, Rajendri and Saroj (AIDWA leaders) met the ADG, police and the district magistrate.  We were accompanied by Abdul Mughani, father, and Matloob, brother of Sajid who had married Rithika Jain in a Delhi Arya Samaj temple on April 12.  The young couple had studied together and been in love for more than 5 years.  Sajid ran a very successful gym and was helping Rithika to pursue her studies since her own family did not want her to study but to get married.  Soon before they married, her parents came to know about her relationship and, on April 11, she was badly beaten and threatened by her father who took away her phone. She managed to leave the house and went to Sajid’s gym. She told him that she could not return to her home and he left for Delhi with her.  He was able to contact some lawyers and on the 12th they married in an Arya Samaj temple.  They recorded a video in which she stated that she was a major and was marrying Sajid of her own free will and Sajid, in turn, said that he had converted to Hinduism, his name was now Sahil. 

Meanwhile, on the 11th evening, Rithika’s father contacted Sajid’s father and they met near the gym. Jain threatened Abdul Mughani with dire consequences if his daughter was not handed over by the next morning. He then went and filed an FIR against Sajid accusing him of abducting his daughter.  Mughani on his part gave Jain and the police Sajid’s number.  On the 12th, the police spoke to him after his marriage and he said that both of them would surrender to the police the next day in Tees Hazari Court.  On the 13th, the police brought Rithika back to Agra but left Sajid/Sahil in Delhi.  Rithika gave her statement before a magistrate and refused to go with her parents and was taken to a shelter first in Agra and, a few days later, in Mathura. 

Despite the fact that Rithika had been ‘recovered’ and that all the facts of the case were public knowledge, local leaders of the BJP organised a panchayat of people from neighbouring villages – both the families live in Runkata, a rural area that is now part of Agra city.  Meanwhile, Sajid’s family left their home and took shelter elsewhere.  On the 15th morning, another panchayat was held and the crowd that collected attacked the homes of Sajid and his relatives.  Cash, gold and jewellery were looted, household goods destroyed and the houses were set on fire.  After this, the crowd went to Sajid’s gym and destroyed all his machines and equipment there.

Sajid’s distraught family has been completely isolated.  It is AIDWA members who visited their homes and also met Rithika in the shelter.  Then CPI(M) leaders contacted members of the family and assured them of help.  No other political party or social organisation has had anything to do with them.

On the 12th, we spoke to police and administrative officers who assured their help and co-operation.  Several of those who attacked Sajid’s family’s homes have been arrested but no effort was made to recover their valuables.  No compensation of any kind has been given to the aggrieved family that has suffered losses going into several lakhs.  Significantly, they have not been able to take legal help in restoring Rithika to her husband because of their fear of further attacks.

We visited their ruined homes and Sajid’s gym and met women members of the family.  Their fear and desolation are palpable.  The CPI(M) district committee is now trying to arrange effective legal help for the family.

These two incidents illustrate the way in which the Sangh Parivar uses love between couples to foment hatred between communities.  They also tell us of the deep communal and patriarchal feelings that are so strong and prevalent in our society.  They also tell us about the great need for the law against crimes of honour that has been shelved for so long by both the Congress and the BJP.