HYDERABAD: Ashreen Sulthana, Dontireddy Avanti and Amrutha Varshini hail from different parts of Telangana and they come from different socio-economic backgrounds. They do not know one another but what brings them together is the injustice rendered to them. They have become widows because their own families brutally killed their husbands in cold blood for marrying men of other castes to “protect their honour”.
Having lost their husbands to “honour” killings they are running from pillar to post, seeking justice for the lives of their husbands. In addition, the unending trauma, social stigma and ostracisation from their own families as they fight a legal battle, is also taking a bigger toll on their lives.
That “honour” killings should occur in Telangana, particularly in Hyderabad, which is billed as a global city in the making, is a bit jarring. The murders have different shades, sometimes it is because of an inter-faith wedding or marrying one from a different caste or tying the knot to one who may not be well off.
A relatively recent phenomenon in Telangana
Human Rights activist Prof G Haragopal says the “honour” killings in Telangana are a relatively recent phenomenon as for almost three decades till the 80s, inter-caste marriages did take place and they were encouraged by the State incentives to the couples. “These marriages were welcomed and people used to attend them. Even parents also agreed to such marriages. But since 80s, caste consciousness has increased. This is a direct offshoot of caste groups becoming vocal for a share in the political pie. This has led to sharp distinctions among the castes,” says Haragopal.
“What were welcomed as inter-caste marriages once, has become a serious issue as the parents are not hesitating to kill their children or in-laws. A State like Telangana which has experienced major struggles like peasant struggle before the Independence and even the Naxal movement, today finds more caste consciousness than ever before,” he says.
These killings are part of this increasing consciousness of caste as a social category. People do not understand that it is depriving them economically. If they understand the economic deprivation, marginalisation and lack of opportunities, perhaps caste consideration will take a back seat and violence will come down. This will facilitate more and more inter-faith and inter-caste marriages, but, again it might take a decade or two for that to happen,” says Haragopal.
Swati Lakra, Additional DG, Women Safety, Telangana Police says, first of all, the term ‘honour killing’ itself is not something which is acceptable, because saying “honour” killing is reducing the seriousness of the crime. Basically, it’s a cold-blooded murder and it has to be said so. “Whatever the reason, killing is not acceptable. It is not acceptable if murderers consider their crimes as acts of honour killings.” She says that the family should think more of the happiness of the man or the woman rather than so-called honour.
Swati Lakra says, from the police perspective, as long as the man and the woman are majors and they are consensual, the marriage is legal and nobody can stop or oppose it. “Further all cases related to such killings are taken seriously. Ultimately it is murder and a grave crime. We monitor these cases closely and ensure that punishment is awarded to the accused,” she says.
Mental health interventions need of the hour
However, Sunitha Krishnan, Padma Shri awardee and founder of Prajwala Foundation fighting for the trafficking victims, differs on the support provided to the survivors. “The current support offered by the government by way of its helplines or Sakhi Centres recognises women in difficult circumstances and provides generic support largely to victims of domestic violence or dowry harassment but the survivors of “honour” killing require a much more deeper mental health intervention.
There is a dire need for mental health interventions for the survivors to break the chain of violence and also a system for speedy legal remedies,” she argues. “Honour” killings are happening across the country in various forms including in a city like Hyderabad and it is imperative that survivors are provided special support but it is lacking. “ The survivor is caught between hostility and rejection in a context where killing aggravates the ecosystem of hatred and vengeance and has a devastating impact on the mental health of that person as well,” she adds.
‘Honour’ killings are culture-bound: Psychiatrist
Senior consultant psychiatrist Dr Preeti Swaroop says, basically “honour” killings are culture-bound, which is more prevalent in Indian society. “People involved in these suffer from difficult personality traits. Maybe a histrionic personality or narcissistic personality traits or antisocial personality traits, where a few work for their gain and a few work for their pride (honour) in sacrificing lives of human beings just to address their needs accordingly and according to the society.”
Similar to Stockholm syndrome where a hostage falls in love with her kidnapper, love can spring between people from any religion or caste. When they both are majors and they agree, the society which is ruled by people or those who play a major role in these aspects tends to achieve their goals by resorting to “honour” killings, he adds.
While this is so, the spouse of one of the “honour” killing victims says that many factors are responsible for such killings, but caste plays a major role. “Caste is deeply rooted into the mindsets of the people. We cannot change this mindset of the previous generations, but at least the present generations can think of it, understand the reality and be free from all these barriers and discrimination.”
Support mechanism for survivors
Speaking about the support mechanisms to the survivors in such incidents, Divya Devarajan, Commissioner, Department of Women Development & Child Welfare, Telangana says that there are several mechanisms in place through which the Government is supporting the survivors in such incidents. “One such place is Sakhi Centre where psychosocial counsellors interact with the women, and provide support and there are also legal counsellors to assist if the women wish to explore legal remedies to their grievances. “Usually the department reaches out to women where such incidents are reported and offers assistance,” she says
A TIMELINE OF ‘HONOUR’ CRIMES
July, 2022: Narayan Reddy, a techie from Andhra Pradesh, was killed in the city and his body was burnt and dumped in Sangareddy district, by his wife’s relatives. Reddy and his wife belong to the same community, but financial disparities between Reddy and his wife’s family led to the murder
May, 2022: B Nagaraju, an SC youth from Vikarabad district, was brutally murdered at Saroornagar in the city, by his wife Ashrin Sultana’s elder brother Syed Mobin Ahmed and his associate
September, 2020: Chinta Yoga Hemanth Kumar was kidnapped and killed by his wife Avanthi Reddy’s family members. A total of 18 persons including her parents and relatives were arrested in the case
June, 2020 : 55-year-old Gondigalla Galaiah was brutally murdered at Narayanpur in Bhongir district, after his son eloped with a woman belonging to the same community. As the couple could not be traced, the woman’s family killed the boy’s father
June, 2020: A couple killed their minor daughter at Shantinagar in Jogulamba Gadwal district, after she fell in love with a boy from another caste and became pregnant with his child
October, 2018: Gaddi Kumar, a youngster was found murdered in a cotton field in his village at Shankarapatnam in Karimnagar district. Family members of the girl, with whom he was in a relationship, were arrested
March, 2018: Perumalla Pranay was killed in broad daylight in Miryalaguda town in Nalgonda district, when he accompanied his pregnant wife Amrutha to hospital. Hired killers employed by Amrutha’s father T Maruthi Rao hacked Pranay to death. Two years later, Maruti died by suicide in Hyderabad.
May, 2017: Naresh Amboji was charred to death by his wife Swathi Reddy’s kin. After Naresh’s murder, Swathi hanged herself at her parents’ house
April, 2017: Manthani Madhukar was found dead under suspicious circumstances in a lake in Peddapalli dist. Following ‘honour killing’ allegations, his family moved the High Court and a re-postmortem was ordered & the reports were submitted to the HC