Two days after five people were given the capital punishment by a court for the so-called honour-killing of a young couple here in Haryana, the family members of the victims are more tense than they are relieved. “The verdict has done justice to my son's death, but it has not changed the way the village works,” says Chandrapati Berwal who fought the legal battle.
She is the mother of Manoj, who along with Babli was murdered three years ago by Babli's relatives on the orders of a ‘khap panchayat' for having married within the same gotra. But Tuesday's landmark verdict seems to have made little difference to the minds of the votaries of the system of ‘khap panchayats', which are caste-based.
“The panchayat only intended to bring about a moral balance and inculcate honour in youngsters, although its method was perhaps a bit too harsh,” said a resident of the village, who refused to reveal his name. Asked about the verdict, he said: “The panchayat killed two persons and the court will kill five. At the end of it all the village has lost seven lives. I don't see justice in any of the verdicts.”
“The villagers, who have boycotted us socially and financially, will not change their mindset. The verdict has given a milder form of punishment to the actual instigator, sarpanch Ganaga Raj,” said Ms. Chandrapati. She alleged that panchayats could get away with giving such harsh orders and executing them only owing to political backing and the inefficiency of the police. For the last three years one police constable has been guarding her doors, but since the verdict on Tuesday the police presence around her house in Kerora village has increased.
“Earlier there was one man, now there are two jeeps. But I and my daughter are as unsafe as we ever were. The police could do nothing when a few goons went after my son and his wife. What will the police do if all of them barge into my house at once?”
A tense calm prevails in the dusty village. Nobody will publicly discuss the matter, and except in Ms. Chandrapati's house none dares to talk about it even indoors. Village sarpanch Karambeer Singh refused even to come out of his house. The street where Babli once lived wears a pall of gloom. The women in Babli's maternal house sit with stony expressions and refuse to identify themselves or talk to anyone, especially mediapersons, who are often seen as the villains who exaggerated the issue.
“They tried to hide their sin from us, and then they tried to threaten, boycott and even bribe us so that we keep quiet. My son will not return but they will bear the pain of their wrongs so that such inhuman decisions are never taken by anyone,” she said.
A few kilometres from Ms. Chandrapati's village, in Matour village, Hari Krishan cries with his son's photographs in his hands. His hope is that a similar judgment would come in his case as well: his 23-year-old son was lynched by a crowd for marrying a girl from the neighbouring village. Ved Pal and his wife Sonia's marriage was accepted by both the families as they were of the same caste although the gotras differed. But later the ‘khap panchayat' instigated Sonia's family to forcibly marry the 17-year-old to a 50-year-old man and later kill Ved Pal.
“My son was killed by a mob because a panchayat felt that marrying a girl from the neighbouring village was ‘incest'. And I was expected to make peace with this explanation? After this verdict I feel that unlike the politicians and the police, the law is not going to be unjust to us. But the sarpanch [Ganga Raj] should have been given the death penalty as he was the root cause of the trouble,” said Mr. Hari Krishan.
Mr. Hari Krishan, who has cancer, said he too was approached by the sarpanch of Sonia village for a compromise. “They offered me Rs.25 lakh. They think a father can forgive his son's murderer just because he is poor. I will fight this case till the last drop of blood.”
This father then cried out aloud, and asked: “Because of the khap so many families have lost their breadwinners. Why didn't they let them live? What honour comes from giving widows and orphans to homes that were otherwise happy?”