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Death for honour killings

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Chandigarh, March 30: Five people were today sentenced to death for murdering a young couple who had married within the same gotra (sub-caste) and were under police protection, the judgment the first of its kind against kangaroo courts notorious for ordering barbaric honour killings and whose writ runs strong in several areas of India’s backward hinterland.

Karnal additional district and sessions judge Vani Gopal Sharma passed the order while agreeing with the prosecution that the case could be described as being the “rarest of rare” which merits the capital punishment.

The judgment is significant as this is the first time that a boy’s family moved court against an honour killing that was carried out at the behest of the khap panchayat — a self-styled caste-based council. Such councils, common in the interior areas of several Indian states, allegedly function with political blessings.

The councils, which hold kangaroo courts and pass Taliban-like judgments, have claimed many lives in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh with their diktats and are even known for ridiculous rulings such as ordering couples to live like brothers and sisters and separating infants from mothers.

The couple, Manoj, 23, and Babli, 19, both hailing from Karora village in Haryana’s Kaithal, had eloped in May 2007 and married secretly in Chandigarh. The khap panchayat had asked them to dissolve the marriage as people of the same gotra are considered siblings.

Apprehending threat to their lives, the couple approached police, which produced them before a Kaithal court on June 15, 2007. The court ordered police protection for them.

However, on the same day, Manoj and Babli were kidnapped while returning from Kaithal despite the presence of police personnel.

The two were dragged out of a packed Haryana Roadways bus near Raipur Jatan village in Karnal and then whisked away in a Scorpio.

The couple were beaten and forced to drink poison by relatives of Babli’s family. Their mutilated bodies were fished out of a canal in Hisar district nine days later, their hands and feet tied.

Despite a missing persons complaint lodged by Manoj’s mother Chanderpati, the police cremated the couple as destitutes.

Among the five who have been awarded the death sentence are Babli’s brother Suresh, cousins Satish and Gurdev and two paternal uncles, Baru Ram and Rajender.

The khap panchayat leader Ganga Ram, who passed the diktat for their elimination but was not present when the couple were murdered, has been sentenced to life. The driver of the Scorpio, Manjeet, has been held guilty of assisting in the couple’s kidnapping and given a jail term of seven years.

The court also told the Haryana government to provide Rs 1 lakh to Manoj’s family as he was its only earning member.

“We are satisfied with the punishment but want Ganga Ram too to be hanged. He did not care to listen to us when he passed the diktat. We will appeal for nothing short of the death penalty for him in the high court,” Manoj’s sister Seema said over phone.

Public prosecutor Lal Bahadur said it was the first such decision against the barbaric diktats of khap panchayats. “This is a message to the caste councils,” he said.

The sessions court has also asked the police to take action against the two policemen who were supposed to protect Manoj and Babli instead of looking on blindly when they were dragged out of the bus.

The Bhupinder Singh Hooda-led Congress government was silent on the verdict. Hooda has, on several occasions, praised khap panchayats, stating that they were only carrying out “societal duties”. The councils play a crucial role during elections.

A teenaged couple in Hussainpur Terai village of Farrukhabad in Uttar Pradesh was killed on March 27 on the orders of the local khap panchayat in broad daylight.

The UPA government at the Centre has come up with a proposal to amend the Indian Penal Code and make honour killings a “distinct offence”.

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