Print edition : April 15, 2016

The police inspecting the place where a young girl was burnt in Khair village near Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh, in June 2014. Photo: Manoj Aligadi

There seem to be fewer honour killings than before in western Uttar Pradesh. But it is not clear whether this is a result of positive action by the government or suppression of news of such violence.

IN March 2016, Kinanagar village of Meerut district was like a mirror image of what Nehra village in Agra district was in 2009. The question that was raised to Frontline at Nehra seven years ago got repeated with almost the same phrases at Kinanagar in 2016. “They met their fate, why do you want to unnecessarily rake it up now?” In both the villages, located in non-contiguous districts of western Uttar Pradesh, “they” were victims of honour killings. The killing in Nehra took place in 2007 and that in Kinanagar in 2009. Caste and community pride were at play behind both the gruesome incidents.

When the Kinanagar killing took place, Frontline visited Nehra, too. During that visit, a group of village residents posed the question about “unnecessarily raking up” a matter chosen to be forgotten by the village. The Kinanagar killing was fresh in the memories of the people of the region at that time, and there was some involved discussion about it then. But seven years later, the refrain at Kinanagar is also one that urges you to forget and move on. At Nehra, the couple who got killed belonged to the Hindu community, while at Kinanagar a Muslim girl and a Dalit man were killed. The elders at Nehra had opposed the love affair and clandestine marriage of 21-year-old Mahesh Singh and 19-year-old Gudiya because they belonged to the same gotra (clan). At Kinanagar, it was the opposite. Here, the family of a Muslim girl, Afsana, did not apparently approve of her attachment to Manoj.

Commenting on the responses from the villages, the social activist Rehana Adeeb, founder of Astitva, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that primarily focusses on countering social and political aggression based on gender, caste and community discrimination, told Frontline that one would receive similar responses across western Uttar Pradesh.

“Honour killing is widely accepted as a routine phenomenon in this region. So, the nonchalance that you witnessed is not isolated. It is endemic. So much so that a large number of these killings are passed off as accidents and natural deaths. Pet excuses used in these trumped-up stories are about people falling down from terraces and suffering grievous injuries, kerosene and gas stoves bursting and, of course, depression leading to suicide,” Rehana Adeeb told Frontline.

Lakhanpal, a Dalit resident of Kinanagar, told Frontline that he had heard about similar incidents taking place in the nearby districts of Ghaziabad and Saharanpur last year.

State Home Department officials based in different districts in western Uttar Pradesh talked to Frontline about a number of recorded and widely noticed cases in the recent past. In July 2015, Sonu, a minor girl, and her lover, Tarun (24), were murdered, allegedly by her 19-year-old brother, at Risalu village of Bulandshahar. In the same month, a father shot dead his 23-year-old daughter in Saharanpur. In Bamani Chowki village of Shahjahanpur district, which is part of the Rohilkhand region of Uttar Pradesh, two brothers beheaded their sister to punish her for an affair she had with a relative. They walked around the village with the severed head, claiming that they had avenged the dishonour that the girl had brought on the family. In August 2015, a Dalit woman alleged in an application to the Supreme Court that a khap panchayat in Baghpat had issued a diktat to have her paraded naked and raped as punishment for her brother’s love affair with a girl belonging to the Jat community. The Dalit girl’s brother and the Jat girl had lived together for a brief period but were forcibly separated by the khap panchayat.

According to State Home Department officials, no case of honour killings has been reported from western Uttar Pradesh since August 2015. Officials and activists differed on the reason for this. Some officers felt that governmental resolve and action taken on honour killings were responsible for this. One senior officer, who did not wish to be named, was of the view that a concrete move had been initiated by the Supreme Court in November 2014 to curb the powers of caste and community bodies that arrogate to themselves the power of handing out judgment and punishment. The officer said: “This move was supported by the Union Law Ministry and by 18 States, including Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana, through an affidavit. I think that this commitment to the apex court has been followed up at the official level, at least in some districts of western Uttar Pradesh, and that has had an impact.” However, a large number of officers from varied departments such as Home, Human Resource Development and Social Welfare, disputed the claim. They said that the real reasons for the apparently dwindling cases of honour killings needed to be ascertained.

Social activists like Rehana Adeeb did not accept that joint action by the judiciary and the government had produced any positive results. She pointed out that a study conducted by the Lucknow-based Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives (AALI) with the participation of many organisations like Astitva had led to the compilation of honour killing cases in Uttar Pradesh. This tabulation, she said, was conducted for the whole year of 2013 and up to March 2014. It is not clear whether any such compilation was attempted in 2015. In both 2013 and 2014, Uttar Pradesh topped in the number of honour killings in India. There were 85 reported cases of honour killing in 2013, against 24 in all other States put together. Up to March 2014, the number of reported cases in the State was 27, against five in the rest of India. More than half of the cases in the State were from western Uttar Pradesh.

Rehana Adeeb said that there were no tangible indications from the larger social and political climate and everyday life of western Uttar Pradesh that things had changed.

She said that she and other social activists saw several new factors camouflaging the true ground situation. She said: “Central to these factors is the rampant communalisation of politics that has happened over the last two years starting from the 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign. Allegations and propaganda about ‘love jehad’ were key components of this communalisation plank. In several instances, honour related-violence got subsumed by the aggression that accompanied the love jehad campaign. More importantly, the widespread polarisation led to ghettoisation of communities, particularly the minority communities, at the social level. Honour-related aggression is common to both Hindu and Muslim communities. With ghettoisation leading to concentrated population of one community in select areas, news about internal violence in general and that directly linked to gender and caste discrimination in particular gets suppressed.”

Several social and political observers, such as Dr Himanshu Singh based in Meerut, are of the view that a more detailed inquiry into the emergence of these new factors should be carried out to ascertain novel forms and nuances of social and gender-based oppression.