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From: :) Punnahai (@ d150-35-51.home.cgocable.net) on: Fri Nov 1 13:25:06
Indian Romance :(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(:(
'What we did was right from society's point of view, but wrong from
the law's point of view'
Luke Harding visits the scene of India's Romeo and Juliet murders
Tuesday August 14, 2001
The village of Alinagar in the fertile north Indian state of Uttar
Pradesh is an unremarkable place. On either side of the small main
square, a handful of brick houses face each other. Beyond them,
fields of tall green sugar cane unfold into a rural landscape of
water buffaloes and sluggish jade rivers.
In the sultry afternoons, villagers doze in the shade on string
charpoys to the desultory barking of pye-dogs. Alinagar is, in short,
the kind of place that would scarcely feature on any map, or in any
chronicle, were it not for the gruesome events of last week.
Everybody in the tiny community knew about the romance between
Vishal, a 15-year-old boy, and Sonu, a 16-year-old girl. Their
families, after all, lived less than 20ft apart.
Late on Monday night a neighbour caught the pair together as they
chatted on the roadside next to a bush. She accused them of
having "suspicious intentions" and dragged them into her shed. And
then she summoned their families. It was not that the teenagers had
been caught in flagrante - they were not even holding hands. Their
crime was far more primal and ancient: they were from different
castes. Under India's enduring system of social stratification, a
relationship between the pair was unthinkable. Vishal was an upper-
caste Brahmin. Sonu was a lower-caste Jat. Though it was not
generally known, Sonu had recently been expelled from school for
skipping lessons and, it seems, being galat - the Hindi word for
The girl's parents, Surender and Munesh, decided there was only one
way to escape the terrible social humiliation their daughter had
heaped upon them. They would kill her. And so aided by three
neighbours, they proceeded to strangle her in the dark shed, with its
abandoned bicycle and mattresses, in front of her terrified
boyfriend. "The boy's mother told them: 'Don't do this.' The girl's
parents then scolded her so the boy's mother went and stood outside,"
says the local police officer Raispal Singh. "After that they got a
rope. They made a noose out of it and hanged the girl. They then told
the boy's mother and brother and sister-in-law: 'Now you kill the
boy.' They replied: 'We can't kill him. You only kill him.' At this
the girl's parents hanged the boy."
By this stage the entire village knew what was going on inside the
shed. The villagers dragged the teenagers' bodies out and dumped them
on the back of a buffalo cart, hidden under sacking. At 3am a
procession merged into the darkness. The villagers walked silently to
the local cremation ground, 10 minutes away. There, they burned
Vishal and Sonu on a joint pyre made from cow dung. Sonu's parents
tossed on paraffin for good measure - against all the traditions of
Hinduism - so the corpses would burn more quickly. They then
surreptitiously threw the ashes into the Katha river.
The next day, the village got up as usual and pretended that nothing
had happened. What is remarkable about Sonu and Vishal's story, which
owes more to the bloody revenge tragedies of Webster than to
Shakespeare, is not that the murders took place - but that the police
ever found out. That, and the fact that none of the family members
who carried out the murders have so far shown any remorse. "What we
did was right from society's point of view but wrong from the point
of law," Sonu's father, Surender, said last week, speaking from
police custody. "It seems strange to me too," her mother added, when
asked how she could kill her own daughter. "But there was such anger
at the time."
Alinagar is now almost deserted. Most of the villagers have fled for
fear of arrest. The buffaloes are unfed; Vishal's house is ransacked
and empty. We find only Sonu's sister, Babita, and elderly aunt,
Dagiyayi, sitting outside the family home. Neither sees much wrong in
Sonu's brutal demise. "I'm not happy. But Sonu was on the wrong
path," Babita tells me, as she soaps a bucket full of clothes. "My
parents did what they had to do. We were under compulsion." Did Sonu
love her parents? "Sonu used to love her parents very much," she
"Sonu's mother had told her to break off the affair. She had been
counselling her daughter lots and lots, and told her that after two
months she would get her married [to someone else]," Dagiyayi
says. "But she would not listen. After that Sonu's mother
thought: 'OK, fine. Both of you die.'" Was there a suitable groom
lined up? "They had not found any boy for her. But they were going to
start looking for one," the aunt says. "But in the end she just
brought shame upon our family."
In Alinagar, as in most villages in northern India's rich rural
heartland, children have little say in whom they marry. Instead, the
parents of a prospective bride and groom agree everything between
themselves. There has to be compatibility - not of temperament or
personality, but of caste and horoscope. Inter-caste marriages
or "love marriages" - where the boy and girl pick each other - are
regarded with horror. As are girls who refuse to do what their
parents tell them to. "Some parents have heart attacks, others are
forced to take sleeping tablets if their daughters disobey them,"
Sonu's aunt says. "In our case the village considered that Sonu had
been disrespectful. Her parents had no choice [other than to kill
To understand why, you have to go back a long way - back to the
cattle-rustling Aryans who arrived on the subcontinent more than
3,000 years ago. The Aryans subdued the indigenous Dravidian peoples
(although some historians now describe the process as more akin to
assimilation). And they introduced their own model of society: with a
priestly elite, a strict code of social classification, and the
Sanskrit language. The Vedas - the collection of sacred Hindu hymns
composed in the second millennium BC - sanctified this code.
According to the Vedas, the gods chopped up a sacrificial figure
representing mankind into four bits. Out of his mouth they made the
Brahmins, the highest priestly caste. The arms were turned into the
Kshatriya, or warrior caste. The figure's thighs became the Vaisya,
whose job it was to create wealth and who include the Jats to which
Sonu belonged. Finally, the Sudra were produced, from the feet. The
Sudra were - and still are - at the bottom of the pile.
Remarkably, a system devised by a group of ancient colonists was to
survive 300 generations. Indeed, recently it has been enjoying
something of a revival. The Indian government is so touchy about
caste that it has refused to include it in a UN world conference on
racism to be held shortly in Durban. Indian politicians have realised
the importance of the caste vote, and have begun cultivating vote
banks along caste lines. Nowhere is this truer than in Uttar Pradesh,
a state characterised by its murky politics and communal volatility.
UP - as it is known - also boasts a population as big as Brazil's.
"This district is one of the most agriculturally prosperous in Uttar
Pradesh," says Manoj Singh, the magistrate for the Muzaffarnagar
area, which includes Ali nagar. "We have eight sugar mills. The
farmers are having almost day-by-day increases in their farming
income. They are becoming socially mobile. India has a strong pattern
of social stratification based on caste. In this district you find
caste and class converging."
Sonu's father, a sugar cane farmer, owned a Maruti jeep, now
discreetly hidden, Singh points out. "We have one of the top rates
for murder. There are two per day. There is a growing sense of
lawlessness, which increased after agrarian movements launched from
this district. The farmers are traditional in outlook and still
adhere to old social practices. They are feudal."
Sonu and Vishal's murder, then, took place not against a background
of poverty but of increased prosperity and unprecedented social
change. Delhi, with its movie halls showing romantic Bollywood
blockbusters, is only four hours' drive away. (In urban India, inter-
caste marriage is broadly accepted, and a clandestine sexual
revolution is afoot.) The Alinagar murders, it emerges, are not an
isolated case. In 1993, a Muslim couple who were eloping against the
wishes of their parents were pulled off a rickshaw and had their
heads cut off. At least three other similar cases have been reported
in recent years; and many more have been hushed up.
"This happens in all the villages round here. But we don't want to
talk about it," Sonu's aunt says. Most dismally, nobody ever seems to
get punished. The conviction rate for murder in India is only 2-3%.
It is almost impossible to get witnesses to testify for the
prosecution - fear, bribery and the threat of ostracism see to that.
India's criminal justice system moves with tortoise-like speed: by
the time a verdict is delivered, the local administration has changed
and everyone has forgotten the original crime.
So far the police have arrested 11 people - including the girl's
parents - in connection with the killings. But nobody from Alinagar
has made a formal complaint; nor are they likely to. The crime is
therefore denoted as "victimless", since there is no victim in a
position to complain. Detectives only found out about the murders
following an anonymous phone call the next day. Most observers expect
all of the accused to be quietly let out on bail in 18 months' time.
They will return to their lush sugar cane fields and to their
buffaloes, and carry on much as before.
Sonu and Vishal's murders carry a blunt cautionary message: obey your
parents or face the consequences. Many people in this conservative
district would agree with it. Yesterday there was only a gruesome
reminder of what might have been. Several of the lovers' bones were
still visible on the pyre, bleaching in the fierce afternoon sun. The
bones were jumbled up together.