Bengali kidnapped, gangraped

By Bijendra Ahlawat ,Jind, July 19

A 23-year-old girl from a poor family, who was allegedly kidnapped from Jalpaiguri district in West Bengal a few weeks ago, has been recovered from here last evening. The victim was allegedly held captive and gang-raped by three persons. The police has shifted the victim to Nari Niketan in Karnal till her repatriation. An NGO has approached the police here to help it to handover the victim to her parents. Though a case has been registered, no arrests have been made so far.The girl told the police that she was abducted by some persons, including a woman identified as Bala Devi on June 14, when she had gone for a medical check-up at Jalpaiguri Sadar hospital.

Her kin looked for her at every possible spot, but they did not get any information till yesterday when the parents of the girl and NGO Shakti Vahini got a call from the police about the missing girl.The girl was traced in Jind, according to Rishi Kant, a spokesperson for the NGO. He said he contacted the police in Jind after he got a feedback about the victim and found that she was gang-raped by three persons, who were still to be identified.

Sadar SHO Suresh Pal said the girl had revealed the name of a woman, but did not know the names of other accused.The girl’s father has been informed. He along with a police team will come to Jind on July 21. The girl was likely to be produced in a local court on that date, said Kant, who claimed that his NGO would repatriate the victim at its cost.

The girl could be a victim of human trafficking mafia that had been active over the years and involved in bringing girls from poverty-stricken regions of West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orrisa for the purpose of selling them as brides in the region, claimed Kant.

http://www.tribuneindia.com/2010/20100720/haryana.htm#9

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A matter of shame

Honour’ crimes are a matter of great shame for any country that calls itself a democracy. This was one conclusion common to all speakers at the discussion titled ‘Honour’ killing or violation of human and legal rights’ at the India International Centre on July 13, 2010. The event was organised by Women Power Connect (WPC), an NGO.

“We have traditions in India but they shouldn’t turn into a sickness in society wherein people are getting killed for marrying in the same gotra or lineage. The issue of the so called honour killings has to be seen at different levels – socio-cultural, political and economic,” said Dr Ranjana Kumari, president, WPC.

“Why do those who get killed or are made to leave the village mostly belong to lower or lower middle classes, bearing the burden of tradition in society? Why are their families socially ostracised? Why are brothers killing their sisters? Does that have something to do with the sisters’ right to property that she might exercise after marrying someone of her choice? It’s is a gender issue, where especially women get targetted,” said Kumari.

“There are dishonour killings,” said Supreme Court advocate Ravi Kant, also the president of NGO Shakti Vahini. “Khaps comprise Jats in Haryana but these are few people playing on Jat emotions for bhaichara (brotherhood) with political aspirations in mind. Jats have started asserting their identity only after the Manoj-Babli case in which the duo (from same gotra) eloped but were caught and killed,” he said. Kant has extensively worked the area of women and child rights.

“As per our study, the main issue is of inter caste marriage not same gotra marriage. Also, more than 90 per cent killings are executed from the girl’s side. The centre and state governments should break their silence on this issue and come out with a statement, without indulging in jat vote-bank politics,” he demanded.

Yasmeen Abrar from the National Commission for Women (NCW) opined that there were enough laws in the Indian judicial system that need to be implemented well. Also people need to be sensitised about the definition of ‘honour’ itself and in doing that help in changing rural mind-sets.

Zohra Chatterji, member secretary, NCW was of the opinion that the real issue also is that of generational gap between parents and their children with the latter having education and exposure to take decisions that don’t go well with parents.

The final and the most applauded speaker was Dr Kiran Bedi, retired IPS officer. She demanded written statements about efforts made towards preventing dishonour crimes from the prime minister and states where they are rampant. She also demanded similar statements from various ministries like home, law, women and child welfare, Panchayati Raj, human resource development, youth affairs, information and broadcasting and even bar councils.

She asked media houses to come in campaign mode against this social evil. It’s also a governance issue and all these departments are accountable and can help improve the situation, she said.

Others speakers who expressed solidarity include Rashmi Singh, director, Mission Convergence, Delhi government and Mr Mani from NHRC.

At the end of the discussion, it was finally decided to form a deputation and to visit the prime minister and president to apprise them better about the criticality of the issue.

http://www.hardnewsmedia.com/2010/07/3621

‘Special laws required to check honour killings’

INDIAN EXPRESS

The alarming increase in the number of honour killings cases across India has urged the National Commission for Women, the National Human Rights Commission and various NGOs to come together and fight against gender discrimination and various forms of violence against women.

Addressing a panel of journalists and NGO representatives, Dr Ranjana Tewari, president of Women Power Connect (a national organisation of women’s groups) said, “There should be social mobilisation and intervention to fight this problem. The Group of Ministers can never arrive at a consensus. All major issues that are taken to the GoM die a natural death in the long run. This is not only a social problem but also a heinous crime that needs special laws to be dealt with.”

Launch of social awareness campaigns, special helplines, mobilisation of police personnel and a proactive state machinery were among recommendations.Guest speaker Kiran Bedi said: “Till date, not even a single statement has been issued by the Prime Minister or the Cabinet on what they are doing to protect young couples who face such threats. I request the media to urge the government to take proactive steps.”

President of NGO Shakti Vahini and Supreme Court advocate Ravi Kant said, “There is not a single representation of women in the khap panchayats. All such cases are generally considered homicides. But a special advisory and laws are required to handle such cases. IPC Section 302 alone cannot serve the purpose as it’s a crime within the family.”

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/special-laws-required-to-check-honour-killings/646152/

No Honor, Only Horror

EDITORIAL IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

There is much to admire in India today, including its vibrant democracy and economy and its rich traditions. It should also lead the way in protecting and empowering women by ending so-called honor killings.

Jim Yardley recently reported in The Times on the case of Nirupama Pathak, a 22-year-old journalism graduate student from northern India who was found dead in her bedroom in April. Police arrested her mother on suspicion of murder; the family insisted Ms. Pathak had killed herself after confessing that she was pregnant.

The legal process must move forward, but what is clear is that Ms. Pathak’s family — members of the Brahmin caste, the highest Hindu caste — fiercely disapproved of her engagement to a young man she had met at school who was from a middle-upper caste. When she told her family of her plans to marry, The Times reported, she was accused of defiling her Hindu religion.

Her family gave police conflicting stories about how Ms. Pathak died. First, it was said that she had died from electrocution. Then the claim was that she had hanged herself. The autopsy showed that she had suffocated.

Responding to an apparent resurgence in “honor killings,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ordered a cabinet-level commission this month to consider tougher penalties in such cases. In June, India’s Supreme Court asked seven states and the national government to report on what is being done to address the problem. Mr. Singh and the court need to follow through.

Honor killings are widely reported in the Middle East and South Asia, but in recent years they also have taken place in Italy, Sweden, Brazil and Britain. According to Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, there are 5,000 instances annually when women and girls are shot, stoned, burned, buried alive, strangled, smothered and knifed to death by fathers, brothers, sons, uncles, even mothers in the name of preserving family “honor.” Ms. Pillay has rejected arguments that such family violence is outside the conceptual framework of international human rights.

There is a reason these religious and cultural beliefs are allowed to persist. Politicians don’t have the courage to call it what it is: murder.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/13/opinion/13tue3.html?emc=tnt&tntemail1=y

Death for love

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI in Sonepat and Delhi for The Frontline

NOTHING, not even the death penalty awarded by a Karnal court to five people in the Manoj-Babli case on March 30 this year, seems to deter honour killings in India. In the past few months, there has been a spate of murders in the name of protecting family or community honour in areas adjoining the national capital region.

In the latest such incident, Sham Mohammad, 18, a Muslim, and his friend, Reena, 16, a Hindu, were found dead on the premises of a school in Samain village of Fatehabad district in Haryana on July 4. The boy had been bludgeoned to death and one of his eyes was almost gouged out, while the girl had apparently been forced to consume poison. The police arrested the girl’s maternal uncles and a few others in connection with the case.

The youngsters had studied in the same school and when the families came to know of their friendship, the boy was sent away to Punjab and the girl discontinued her studies. Sham had come to his native place for a vacation when the incident occurred.

Significantly, persistent interventions by organisations such as the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) have emboldened people to report cases of honour killings to the police. But governments have been accused of showing a lack of will in dealing with the situation. Recently, the Supreme Court too voiced its concern over the lack of governmental action to stop honour killings.

On June 21, taking cognisance of a public interest petition filed by the non-governmental organisation Shakti Vahini, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court issued notice to the Centre and eight State governments – Haryana, Punjab, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh – seeking an action plan. The NGO argued that while killing for honour was an extreme reaction, victims were often subjected to long-term, low-level physical abuse and bullying as a punishment for “bringing dishonour on the family”. Such abuse included battery, torture, mutilation, rape, forced marriage, and imprisonment within the home. These premeditated crimes were intended to protect the family honour by preventing and punishing violations of community norms of behaviour, especially sexual behaviour of women.

Many a time, the petition said, harassment and threats drove young couples to suicide. The law enforcement agencies, it said, were mute spectators, intervening only after an incident had happened. They were caught in the “midst of lack of political will to act against such feudal forces as these forces also represent vote banks”, it said.

The petition demanded that the Supreme Court lay down a series of guidelines for law enforcement agencies to deal with such crimes on the pattern of the guidelines for combating sexual harassment at the workplace. It also pointed out how the States had failed to comply with the directions issued by the court in 2006 ( Lata Singh vs State of Uttar Pradesh and Another) to ensure that no one harassed or threatened couples who married out of caste or religion.

The court directed that the police should institute criminal proceedings against anyone who issued or carried out threats of violence. “There is nothing honourable in these killings and, in fact, they are nothing but barbaric and shameful acts of murder committed by brutal, feudal-minded persons who deserve harsh punishment,” it said.

The petitioner contended that as a state party to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Government of India was under obligation to see that discrimination against women in matters relating to family and marriage was eliminated. This included ensuring that informal decision-making bodies such as khap panchayats (caste councils) were restrained from enforcing their dicta and interfering with the right of women to choose their spouses, the petition said. Also, as a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, India had an obligation to protect the lives, rights and liberty of individuals and protect them from such heinous crimes, it said.

There has been a strident demand, especially after the Karnal court judgment, to amend the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, in order to prevent same- gotra marriages. This has been at the centre of the latest debate on honour killings. On June 19, the Delhi High Court dismissed a petition demanding a ban on same- gotra marriages. Castigating the petitioner for “wasting the time of the court”, the judges demanded to know which Hindu text prescribed banning of sagotra (same clan) marriages.

The petition in the High Court was filed soon after the Supreme Court dismissed a similar one on the grounds of jurisdiction. Arguing that same- gotra marriages were violative of fundamental rights and against Hindu tradition, the petitioner wanted the court to appoint a commission that would suggest amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act in order to prohibit such marriages.

But not all honour killings in the recent past were instigated by caste councils. For instance, on June 25, two cousins, aged 14 and 12, of Mohalla Kot in the old city of Sonepat district were battered and strangled allegedly by their own grandmother and paternal uncles. Their bodies were thrown amidst hyacinths on the embankment of the Western Yamuna Canal.

Mohalla Kot is a part of Sonepat that is cut off from the city. Its narrow bylanes make access to it in any big four-wheel vehicle difficult. People here keep to themselves and, not surprisingly, very few were willing to talk about the murder of the two children. The grandmother and the uncles are reported to have said that they killed the girls for having an illicit liaison with their 16-year-old stepbrother, who has been arrested and booked for rape.

There has not been much sympathy for the slain children either from the police or the larger society. Media reports have constantly referred to the girls as having had an “affair” with their cousin. Even the police viewed the incident as a normal outcome of a wrong that had been committed by the girls.

“It is not a case of honour killing. It is a case of illicit relations. The family has a history of its members being arrested under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act,” K.K. Rao, Sonepat’s Superintendent of Police, told Frontline. According to a section of the police, the girls were “of age” and not minors though the post-mortem and school records revealed otherwise. They had been subjected to sexual intercourse as well. But whether the arrested minor boy is the real culprit or not is now under the scanner.

The circumstances in which the girls lived were pathetic, to say the least. The father of the 14-year-old girl was in jail and the mother was living away from home. The parents of the other girl, too, were living away from the family. A relative of one of the slain girls said the children were innocent.

The Wazirpur murders

The triple murders in Wazirpur, near Delhi, were equally horrific. The landed Gujjar and Jat communities in the village, an island in the midst of posh colonies in Ashok Vihar, became wealthy overnight, thanks to the real estate boom. Shops here display the latest brands and swanky cars whizz past its roads. Most of the houses are multi-storeyed. Young boys and girls dressed up in the latest fashion move around with nonchalance.

“The mentality of the residents of Wazirpur village is mediaeval despite all the modern amenities,” said a resident. “The boys here do nothing. They just roam around. There is a lot of easy money as land prices have gone up tremendously.”

The village has a chaupal (a place for panchayat and public meetings), used mostly by the men of the dominant castes, as in much of rural North India, where the elders sit and smoke their hookahs. It was in this setting that Kuldeep, a Rajput boy, and Monica, a Gujjar, decided to tie the knot four years ago. They were the first couple to have married out of caste in the 400-year-old village.

On June 21, two of the girl’s cousins, in their early 20s, killed them in the name of honour. The next day, another girl, a cousin of Monica, too, was found murdered. The boys, who confessed to the crime, said they could not bear the taunts of the villagers after the girls had supposedly “shamed” them, one by marrying out of caste and the other by aspiring to be a model.

Less than a week earlier, a girl and a boy belonging to two different castes were electrocuted by the girl’s parents and maternal uncles in a colony in north-east Delhi. These are not just stray incidents.

In nearby Haryana, on June 21, two teenagers were found murdered in a village in Bhiwani district. Six members of the girl’s family were arrested. The girl was a student of Class XI. Six days later, a couple belonging to two different castes in Dheera village killed themselves by jumping in front of a train following resistance to their relationship.

In April this year, in Bhainswal village in Sonepat, a boy strangled his 16-year-old sister for having a relationship with a boy of the same village. A day later, the girl’s friend committed suicide. In October 2009, a Sonepat couple, who married from the same gotra, had to face the community’s ire. The man was killed and his wife raped after being lured to a place in Delhi.

It is clear that the matter of honour killings cannot be dealt with by law alone. There also has to be some form of social reform plan on the agenda of political parties, in addition to an attitudinal change in the people. Significantly, such crimes are committed more often in States that have skewed child sex ratios and a high rate of crime against women and children, and where distributive justice in both economic and social terms is very low.

http://www.flonnet.com/stories/20100730271503700.htm

Ensuring justice to the victims of injustice

S VISWASNATHAN IN THE HINDU

The Indian media have a vital responsibility in enabling society to combat and eliminate social evils. ‘Honour killings’ are a particularly barbaric social practice targeting those who defy the traditional ban on ‘same gotra’ marriages or marry out of caste. The central government has decided to “consult” the States on steps to put an end to the spate of such killings in several parts of the country. A Group of Ministers will go into the issue and suggest changes in the law. It has been reported that although Cabinet Ministers agreed on the need to stop the killings, they were divided on which laws needed to be amended.

This is not an issue on which State rights are at stake because there is no question of a civilised society, governed by the rule of law, tolerating such savagery in the name of tradition. The challenge is the existence of ‘khap panchayats,’ which provide social sanction for the savagery. In Haryana, which probably accounts for the largest number of ‘honour killings,’ both the Opposition and the ruling Congress are one in defending the institution. Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda has declared that marriage within the same gotra was not part of the tradition in Haryana. He claimed that the khap or community panchayats were not responsible for the killing of couples marrying within the same gotra. He was glossing over the social truth that it is the ruling given by the khap panchayats nullifying the marriages within a gotra that leads to the killing of girls and boys, invariably by brothers or uncles of the girls. Mr. Hooda’s principal political opponent, former Chief Minister and President of the Indian National Lok Dal Om Prakash Chautala, did not lag behind. He was also seeking a change in the law. He met Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram and pressed for amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act with a view to banning “the same gotra marriage.”

(The law referred to is The Hindu Marriage Disabilities Removal Act, 1946. It is an act to remove certain disabilities and doubts under Hindu Law in respect of marriages between Hindus; marriages between persons of same gotra or prevara. The Act says: “Notwithstanding any text, rule or interpretation of the Hindu Law or any custom or usage, a marriage between Hindus, which is otherwise valid, shall not be invalid by reason only of the fact that the parties thereto (a) belong to the same gotra or (b) belong to different sub-divisions of the same caste.”)

A Congress M.P. from Haryana, Naveen Jindal, swore by the khap panchayats, reportedly explaining that he and his entire family respected their “years old traditions and rituals.” In Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand, in which the practice of ‘honour killings,’ whether based on khap panchayats or otherwise, has been reported, the situation might be somewhat different from Haryana’s. However, given the proximity of the caste leaders to the power centres in several States, their response to the idea of changing laws woud be an interesting subject for the media to study, report, and comment on.

NGO petition

In respect of amending certain laws, the central government has taken the lead from the orders of the Supreme Court of India to eight State governments, besides the Centre, to submit reports on the steps taken to prevent the inhuman practice of ‘honour killings.’ The orders of a Division Bench of the Court followed a petition filed by Shakti Vahini, a non-governmental organisation, under Public Interest Litigation. Shakti Vahini, which had been working in the field of women’s rights and related issues, told the court that apart from ‘honour killings,’ which was an extreme form of reaction, women had to confront long-term, low-level physical abuse and bullying as a punishment for bringing the ‘family honour’ to disrepute. Such abuses could include torture, mutilation, rape, forced marriage, and imprisonment within the home, according to the petitioner. It also pointed out that when the State remained a mute spectator, there was fear among the youth and young couples who were already married or were planning to get married. The petitioner wanted the Supreme Court to lay down guidelines for law-enforcing officials on the pattern of the guidelines for combating sexual harassment at the workplace.

There is no evidence to show that the killer panchayats have been stopped in their tracks. At the same time, the movement against their barbaric diktats has gained momentum. Human rights organisations, social and political activists, and youth and women’s organisations have stepped up their campaigns. These, together with what has begun to assume the contours of a national media campaign, have created greater awareness of the rights of young men and women to free choice and dignity. Almost all daily newspapers and magazines carry detailed reports with interviews and opinion pieces on the subject. Sadly, there is no matching endeavour among administrators and law-enforcement authorities in the affected States to keep pace with the crimes and help stop the atrocities. Here is an opportunity for the media to step up their campaign against the social evil in a big way. They can do this through more detailed and comprehensive coverage on the ground and a more systematic attempt to mould public opinion, especially in the States where the khaps are at their deadly work.

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

http://www.hindu.com/2010/07/12/stories/2010071251340900.htm

Love games

By Soni Mishra

Government drafts law against “honour” killings. But taming the khaps won’t be easy

In the name of honour have young couples been killed and their bodies displayed as trophies. Now, the government has drafted a new law to rein in their killers. An amendment bill proposes to include, under Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code, a clause to deal exclusively with honour killings. According to the Indian Penal Code And Certain Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2010, the change in Section 300 would involve insertion of the clause “if it is done by any person or persons acting in concert with, or, at the behest of, a member of the family or a member of a body or group of the caste or clan or community or caste panchayat (by whatever name called) in the belief that the victim has brought dishonour or perceived to have brought dishonour upon the family or caste or clan or community or caste panchayat.” As per the proposed clause, all members of a group or a caste panchayat that has ordered the act by which death is caused shall be deemed guilty.

The bill lists adopting a dress code which is unacceptable to the family, caste or community, choosing to marry within or outside the gotra or caste and engaging in certain sexual relations which are unacceptable to the family or the community as acts that could be perceived as having brought dishonour to them.

The proposed changes include amendment to the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, to bring upon the accused the burden of proving that the case does not fall under Section 300. Also proposed is an amendment to the Special Marriage Act, 1954, to do away with the requirement of the 30 days’ notice period for a court marriage to take place so that the families or members of the community do not get a chance to harass the couple.

The bill, to be piloted by the Union home ministry, has been prepared by the law ministry and is likely to be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament. The government, under pressure from the Supreme Court for replies from the Centre and eight states on the steps taken to put an end to such crimes, is also learnt to be thinking of bringing in an ordinance to prevent honour killings till the bill is passed. “If the panchayat members are made accountable for what happens in their village and cases are filed, it will have a deterrent effect on them. It will be as good as banning them (panchayats),” said Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily.

The proposal has evoked mixed reactions from experts. Ravi Kant, Legal counsel for the NGO Shakti Vahini, described the measure as a “stop-gap arrangement”. He demanded a more comprehensive law. “Research has shown that honour killings are taking place across the country. At the moment, only one region or community is being targeted. What we need is a more comprehensive law that gives more power to the police and the magistrates. The government needs to send a strong message to the law enforcement agencies,” he said.

It was while acting on a PIL filed by Shakti Vahini that the Supreme Court recently issued notices to the Centre and the states on the issue. The NGO has suggested that the states should constitute a special cell in each district to provide protection to couples who are being targeted.

While welcoming the changes, women’s rights activist Ranjana Kumari who heads the Centre for Social Research, said any law becomes redundant if it is not backed by a strong mechanism on the ground. Kumari cited the Domestic Violence Act, a review of which has shown that the necessary infrastructure comprising counsellors and shelter homes is not in place. “The police have to be sensitised. After all, they also come from the same community and have the same value system. Special courts should be set up to deal with such cases. A strong mechanism has to be put in place to provide the couples protection,” she said.

“The government needs to explain why the existing laws are not working or what is preventing the law enforcement agencies from implementing these laws against the khap panchayats. After all, a murder is a murder and we already have laws to deal with it,” said Mary John of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies. John also cautioned against the legalese and the mimicking of the language of the perpetrators of such crimes. “By mimicking their language and calling these murders honour killings, we could be giving credence to their justification of the crime,” she said. Kumari, too, disapproved of the term honour killings. “They should rather be called ‘horror killings’,” she said.

Another criticism of the proposed law is that it deals with only murder and not other acts such as harassment and social boycott. Experts feel the law should also take into account the betrayal by the victims’ families. Those in favour of a separate law feel that when cases are registered under it, a clearer picture of how serious the issue is will emerge. “Right now, we don’t have any data. Once the figures are available, we will be able to deal with the problem better,” said women’s rights activist Rishi Kant.

Reining in the khap panchayats would not be easy, going by the recent declarations at the Sarv Khap Sarv Jaat Mahasammelan, which was attended by the caste panchayats from Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi and western Uttar Pradesh. The meeting termed the Karnal court verdict  sentencing five members of a family to life imprisonment for killing the young couple Manoj and Babli against tradition and offered support—legal help included—to the convicted. The khap panchayats have also been putting pressure on politicians to make changes in the Hindu Marriage Act to ban same-gotra marriages.

Opposing the moves to curb the activities of the khap panchayats, Baljit Singh Malik, chief of the Ghatwala khap panchayat in Sonepat, Haryana, said: “Khap panchayats are an old custom. They are far older than our Constitution and have societal recognition. No law is above society.”

According to Malik, khap panchayats haven’t ordered any killings. He tried to explain the circumstances in which families kill. “You need to put yourself in the position of parents whose daughter has eloped. If they take the extreme step, they do so to protect their honour and reputation in society,” he said. Can any law be good enough to stop the crimes committed in the name of honour?

http://week.manoramaonline.com/cgi-bin/MMOnline.dll/portal/ep/theWeekContent.do?BV_ID=@@@&contentType=EDITORIAL&sectionName=TheWeek%20Current%20Events&programId=1073754900&contentId=7524299