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INDIAN SOCIAL REALITIES

The Social Fabric of Life

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Dalits beheaded for falling in love

Taken from:
The Pioneer, New Delhi, August 11, 1993.

Written by Meenal Baghel.

A young Harijan couple was brutally beheaded in public here by their kin, for daring to fall in love. The beheading which took place in the Khandrawali village, 90 km from Delhi, on Friday was described by the villagers as a "just- punishment for having committed a grave social violation!"

The "grave social violation" does not appear to be so much as falling in love as the fact that the couple was distantly related and dared to return to the village. "Everyone was upset when they coped but we thought, chalo hamare lige mar gaye" (They are dead for us), says Shankara, one of the kin of the two families.

"In the past, we have had quite a few instances of couples eloping, but none have ever dared to return." However, Satish and Sarita did the unpardonable. They came back. "Didi was decked up like a bride," says a numb Geeta, Sarita's younger sister. The perception is that they returned to flaunt their disdain for the "social norms."

At 5pm on August 6. 20-year-old Satish entered the village with his beloved Sarita, five months after they had eloped to Delhi. Satish apparently returned to protect his father's honor after he was told that the Harijan Panchayat was harassing the latter over the elopement. "Of course it was a trap to lure him to the village." says Charan Singh, Satish's father. "And the minute I saw him and Sarita, I told them to go away, but he wouldn't listen."

And so the chronicle of death unfolded. Barely an hour after the duo's arrival in the village, Sarita's uncle, Ramdhan, and grandfather came to their house to say that the village parches were meeting in the chaupal to decide their fate and they wanted to hear the couple's version. The innocent lovers agreed to go, oblivious of the fate that awaited them. Almost the entire village had gathered in the chaupal. The moment Sarita and Satish entered, they were surrounded by members of Sarita's family. Then Ramdhan picked up an axe and struck a blow at Satish's nape. The latter staggered and tried to escape, but barely had he moved two or three steps that Sarita's another uncle, Sardara, gave him a lathi blow. Ramahan chased Satish and aimed another brutal blow at the nape. "His head came off." Charan Singh, who had followed the couple into the courtyard, narrates stoically as his wife sat sobbing in a corner. After he was through with Satish, Ramdhan turned towards Sarita, who stood cold as a stone. He swung the axe and aimed it at her nape. "Aur uska to ek hi jhathe mein sar kat gaya." (Her head came off in just one blow), says Charan Singh. As the villagers watched, stunned but unprotesting, Ramdhan picked up his axe and fled. The police have arrested Sardara. but Ramdhan is still absconding.

"When we reached the spot an hour later, almost everyone except for sarpanch Om Pai and Satish's family, had left the chaupal," said Inspector Rajbir Singh of the Kandbla police station, which is investigating the case. "The bodies were lying in the blood splattered chaupal. When we tried to procure a vehicle to take the bodies for postmortem to Muzaffarnagar, nobody offered one. Finally after much cajoling and coercion, we found a tractor to carry the bodies," the police said. Four days after the macabre murder, the villagers once again assembled in the same chaupal to present a infied facade of silence to the investigating authorities. "It, is so frustrating. They simply won't speak," says District, Magistrate Shatrughan Singh.

For though each resident concedes that the entire village was witness to the slaying, none is willing to own up his or her presence at the spot, including Sarpanch Om Pal. "I came in much later," the sarpanch says apologetically. Nonetheless, the verdict is clear. Away from the police probing, the ex-sarpanch, Chainpal Singh, spoke for the assembled villagers. "Yes, we were all there. Obviously, everyone was curious to see this couple jinhone mooh koala kar ke gaon main anne ki himmat kit" (Who had dared ta return to the village after disgracing themselves). "And you can judge where our sympathies lie," continued Chainpal Singh, "from the very fact that as Ramdhan went on the rampage, nobody raised a single protest. Probably murdering them was not the right thing to do, but they had committed a heinous crime and the villagers felt they deserved to be punished. And just how deep-rooted these feelings are can be judged from Inspector Singh's belief. "Anyone whose dignity had been offended like that of Ramdhan would have been furious," he says. "But yes, what he did was not completely right. You can't kill people so openly. Is se to kuch zahar-wahar de kar moar deta. " (He could have tried poisoning them instead).

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