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Romeo and Juliet: Brutally Beaten To Death and Burned Before a Mob in India

Earlier this week, an Indian man, Jairam Manjhi, aged either 36 or 25, and Parvati Kumari, a 16-year-old girl related to her lover’s wife, were kidnapped by the girl’s family and brutally beaten to death; the girls’ family publicly burned their corpses while 100 villagers stood by and watched the entire grisly episode.

Although accounts are unclear, it seems that both were members of the same caste: Dalits, formerly known as “untouchables.” Also, the teenaged Parvati was related through marriage to her alleged lover: she was the niece of her lover’s wife, who was therefore possibly her paternal aunt. If so, their crime was not one of caste violation which, according to my pioneering study on this subject, was found to be the dominant reason for “horror”/honor killings among Hindus in India. Like Muslims, Hindus do “horror” kill, but mainly in India. They do not bring this tribal/religious/ethnic custom with them when they immigrate to the West.

However, a love match is considered a filthy, radical, and unacceptable option both among Hindus and among Muslims. Arranged marriage is the only and/or preferred option. This allegedly adulterous Romeo and Juliet scenario, so common in in the West, is seen as a capital crime among tribal people. Among Hindus, if someone has grown up in the same village or has known someone for a long time, this is often considered “incestuous;” in addition, if one belongs to the same sub-caste or gotra, that too is considered “incestuous.”

Shockingly, the mob who beat the couple to death with was composed of more women than men. The police have already arrested six members of Parvati’s family including Baby Devi, her aunt. The women said that the girl “had brought disgrace to the society.”

This heinous “horror” killing is also more typical of Hindu honor killings in India than of Muslim honor killings in Pakistan or elsewhere. In my study, the torture-murder rate for Hindus stood at 39% as compared to a 12% torture-murder rate in neighboring Pakistan. The European Muslim torture-murder rate stands at 59%. In addition, and as in this case, 40% of the Hindu population killed both the girls and the boys. This is rarely true in Pakistan and only 14% of the time among Muslims since men are helped to flee (women are not helped) and men are allowed to ransom their lives economically (women usually do not have the same access to money).

Also puzzling among the early reports is the fact that Jairam Manjhi, the older married lover, has been defended by his wife, Sharda Devi, who claims he was “innocent and was killed for no fault of his.” She is quoted as saying “My husband told me over the phone that he was at the residence of a relative with the girl and would be returning on Wednesday.” If this is true, it suggests that something else entirely might have been going on.

For example, in Pakistan among Muslims, according to Muhammad Haroon Bahlkani, an officer in the Community Development Department in Sindh, Pakistan, a “man can murder another man for unrelated reasons, kill one of his own female relatives, and then credibly blame his first victim for dishonoring the second. Or he can simply kill one of his female relatives, accuse someone rich of involvement with her, and extract financial compensation in exchange for forgoing vengeance.” Bahlkani has a name for this: The “Honor Killing Industry.”

Or, the women of the girls’ family, long used to possibly unhappy and very abusive arranged marriages, could have been seized by a mad envy which turned them murderous.

However, thus far, all the reports remain either contradictory or unclear as to whether this illicit relationship truly existed; whether it was condemned because it was too “incestuous,” a forbidden love choice, or an opportunity for someone’s hidden economic advancement.

Hopefully the Indian police and the court will discover the truth of the matter. Unlike Pakistan, largely Hindu India has condemned “horror”/honor killings and has arrested and prosecuted many such killers.

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