Over the last six weeks, a spate of articles about Hindu honor (or “honour”) killings began appearing in the Indian and British media. I had arranged to receive Google alerts for honor killings; only recently did I add the British way of spelling the word: “honour.”
Initially, I was very surprised. Why? First, because honor killings occur quite rarely in the Indian diaspora in the West. See my latest study in Middle East Quarterly. In North America and Europe, Hindus committed only 3% of the honor killings.
I was also surprised to read about many Hindu honor killings because Hindu human rights activists, whom I had queried, hotly denied that Hindus ever commit honor/honour killings. When I pressed one such gentleman, he insisted that “anyone who says Hindus do this is a Marxist or a Muslim troublemaker.”
Nevertheless, according to the Indian media, at least ten separate cases of suspected honor killings either took place—the bodies of 16 victims were discovered—or arrests were finally made in June 2010 alone. More than one family member, often two to three relatives (a father, brother, uncle, grandmother, mother) or the village council (khap panchayat) were arrested as conspirators or murderers. Five male and female couples (ten victims) were killed while together; three killings were women-only; one killing was male-only.
The victims were mainly young and ranged in age from twelve to twenty-four-years old. The motives for killing them did not concern dressing in too western a fashion, refusing to dress in an acceptably customary way, or having unacceptable financial or career ambitions. The motives in all ten cases concerned the family’s need to control marriage and reproduction. The idea of choosing one’s own life partner was viewed as abhorrent, as something that only whores do.
However, in contrast to Muslim practices, these ten Hindu families found it unacceptable, a criminal act, to marry a cousin or someone from the same family or clan. In other words, while some of the honor killings are for marrying someone from a different caste, even the right caste mate might not be acceptable if he lives in the same village or is too closely related to the bride.
These killings are shockingly savage. Young daughters are beaten, even hacked to death—or they are electrocuted.
In one June, 2010 killing, Pushpa, a 19-year-old Hindu Indian girl, was hacked to death by her brother while she slept because she had refused an arranged marriage and eloped with her lover. Her brother had managed to lure her back from hiding. The dead girl’s mother told the police about the crime and asked them to arrest her son.
On June 13, 2010, 19-year-old Asha Saini and her 19-year-old boyfriend Yogesh Kumar were found dead in a house in Delhi, India. Police said that the two had been stabbed, gagged, and electrocuted. Police arrested the father, mother, aunt, nephew, and uncle of the girl for the crime. The family apparently objected to the relationship because the boyfriend was of a different caste. Indians were appalled and outraged that the honor killing took place not in a far-flung province but in their capital city.
On June 24, 2010, the body of Sonu Jamar Jatav (an Indian man) was found hanging from a tree in Ghaziabad, near Delhi. He had sought to marry his neighbor, Reena, but her family had refused even though the two were of the same caste. Reena’s family is alleged to have committed the murder. The police say that Reena’s family had been threatening Sonu for months, so he fled from the village, but the family managed to lure him back by promising to discuss the possibility of going ahead with the marriage.
A quick look at the Times of India archives reveals similar kinds of honor killings which go back to 2005. Before then, there are no articles about this subject. What is going on here?
Why would the Indian media avoid covering this phenomenon—but then start covering it? Why has the British media only recently picked up on Hindu honor killings in India—now, in 2010 but not sooner, let’s say in 2005? Is it possible that Hindu honor killings are entirely “new” in India? If Hindus also commit honor killings, then it is not merely a Muslim phenomenon and may be understood as related to the tribal customs of a Hindu-majority developing country such as India. On the other hand, wasn’t India also semi-colonized by Islam and doesn’t that battle continue? These recent Hindu honor killings all took place in the north of India, which is closer to Pakistan. Perhaps some Hindus learned this custom from Muslims.
I can only leave us with questions—but interesting questions.
Why do Indians commit very few honor killings in the West? Why is this custom not “exported?” Are the kinds of Hindu Indians who immigrate to the West not like the Hindus who remain back home and who honor kill?
Stay tuned. I might just look into this further.
Republisert på rights.no med Cheslers tillatelse