A year after raising hopes of progressives in the country that heinous crimes such as honour killings would receive the strictest of punishments; those hopes seem to have been belied in a judgement recently in the infamous “Manoj-Babli case”.
On 29th March 2010, the Karnal session Court sentenced seven who were found guilty in the case involving the murder of two youth in June 2007 – Manoj and Babli belonging to Karora village of Kaithal district, Haryana. Among them five were relatives of Babli and one was found to be the main conspirator, also a prominent Congress leader, Ganga Raj, leader of the notorious Banwala Khap, which was opposed to Manoj and Babli marriage for “belonging to the same gotra”.
The conviction and sentencing was the result of perhaps one of the most glorious and difficult struggles in the history of the women’s movement in India, led and supported by the All India Democratic Womens’ Association. Manoj’s sister, Seema (only 19 when her brother was killed) and his mother, Chanderpatri (a widow) were the first in Haryana to file a case against those involved in an “honour killing”. Amidst life threats, an assassination attempt on Seema and a complete economic and social boycott by the villagers (the latter was led by Ganga Raj himself in the village where he proudly proclaimed the decision to boycott the family in front of the electronic media) the two women stood their ground and continued to valiantly fight the case. Many hoped the Karnal’s sessions court’s verdict would set a precedent for other honour killings and would result in trials for even more guilty people responsible for these crimes. The verdict let the Khaps know that their terror tactics would not go unchallenged.
Yet the acquittal of Ganga Raj by the Chandigarh High Court which also commuted the death sentences of four other convicts seems to have poured water on all high hopes nurtured by progressives wishing to take on these powerful Khap institutions. The details of the verdict on 11th March 2011 are yet to be carefully studied, but one can’t but react in immense despair and anger. Not only does this embolden the unconstitutional and undemocratic Khap Panchayats in Haryana, but also one wonders if another Seema and Chanderpati in another part of the country would dare to take on the might of Khaps (and/or other such extra constitutional bodies) with all their political backing after such a verdict. Seema’s and Chanderpati’s lives are again under threat. Ganga Raj has been acquitted- a man with big political ambitions and few scruples.
Where do we stand? There is Ganga Raj and the Khaps on the one side, all in a celebratory mood after his release and Seema and Chanderpati on the other. Chanderpati has vowed that the verdict will be challenged in the Supreme Court and true and comprehensive justice would be demanded again for the murdered victims.
Seema and Chanderpati and many other women who’ve been made victims to Haryana’s feudal, casteist and patriarchal traditions need to know that their resistance is supported by many, from within and outside the state. We need to react, our anger needs to be heard. Just a few days post the International Womens’ Day, one could only wish that the resistance is provided solidarity by oppressed women, progressives and democratic minded people all over the country.