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Family ‘Honor Kills’ Indian Newlyweds for Marrying Without Parental Consent

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A young Hindu couple in the Punjab dared to marry for love—but without permission from the bride’s family.

Sandeep Rani and his wife, Khushboo, knew enough to flee their homes and to seek a court order of protection, which the Punjab and Haryana High Court granted them.

They did not know enough to go into permanent hiding or to move far, far away. Instead, they returned to their home village of Mugowal and showed their court order to the local police in Hoshiarpur. Apparently, the police chose not to protect them. However, the police also claim that either the couple did not “accept protection” or did not advise the police as to their exact whereabouts. An investigation is underway.

In any event, on the night of January 3rd, the couple were killed by five masked men. They were horribly stabbed and hacked to death with knives and swords. This killing was up-close, ugly, and very personal.

One must ask why. According to our 2012 study in Middle East Quarterly (“Hindu vs. Muslim Honor Killings”), the main reason that Hindus perpetrate honor killings (and only in India, not in the West) is related to caste violations. Hindus are not supposed to marry out of their caste. However, this tragic couple belonged to the same caste—they were Dalits (formerly and shamefully known as the “untouchables” or as “the oppressed”).

However, they apparently grew up in the same village. Perhaps they were members of the same sub-gotra. Hindu perceptions of honor, known as maryada in many Indian languages and as ghairat in Urdu and Pashto, are different from Muslim perceptions. Among Muslims, first cousin marriage is preferred.  Hindus are not supposed to marry anyone from the same sub-caste (gotra). One wonders whether this was the killing offense. In addition, Hindus are not supposed to marry without parental or, really, paternal permission. Often, they are not supposed to choose their spouses. According to a Hindu Religious Council Leader, “Love marriages are dirty… only whores can choose their partners.”

But aren’t most honor killings due to female misbehavior, and aren’t most honor killing victims Muslim girls and women? The answer is: No.

We found that Hindus do perpetrate honor killings and one cannot claim that this is due to Sharia law. Tribalism may be the root of this custom. We also found that at least 40 percent of the time, unlike Muslims in next-door Pakistan and in the West, Hindus honor murder young men as well as women. Muslims rarely do. Khushboo’s family followed this pattern. In our study, the average age of honor-killed victims among Hindus was 22; Sandeep was 24, his wife Khushboo was 22.

Sandeep Rani’s mother, Udham Kaur, has identified Khushboo’s father, Sodhi Ram, as one of the killers. (She claims that his mask slipped). Also, Sandeep Rani’s father, Parkash, was stabbed when he tried to protect his son.

This suggests that the couple believed they had the support of Sandeep’s parents and may explain why they returned. Impoverished Dalits cannot survive without extended family networks.

Thus, Hindu views about the importance of arranged marriage, the Hindu definitions of honor where marriage is concerned,  the nature of poverty, the naïve but understandable attachment to one’s family and native village, coupled with police inaction, all led to this latest honor killing tragedy in India.

In sharp contrast to their Pakistani counterparts, Indian government officials have vigorously condemned honor killings. In 2010, a Haryana Court sentenced five men to death for the honor murder of a young couple who had married despite being members of the same sub-caste, while also giving life sentences to the head of the khap panchayat (religious council) that ordered their deaths.

Let us also consider that while religious and tribal traditions remain barbaric, the secular democratic Indian government is at war against these customs, and that young lovers are also daring to push the traditional boundaries.


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