In several parts of the country, inter-caste marriages are still considered taboo, especially in the rural areas. Haryana leads when it comes to this taboo, leading to several honour killings over the years. However, situations are changing for the better as couples are bridging the caste divide in Haryana.
The Khap-dominated Haryana has seen a positive surge in inter-caste marriages. As per state government statistics, 608 inter-caste marriages were conducted in 2017-18 in which at least one partner was from a SC community. This is a huge jump, given that there were only 249 such marriages in 2014-15. As per this year's statistics, 585 such marriages successfully took place between April 1 and September 30.
The shift, to some extent, is said to have being driven by the increase in benefits for inter-caste marriages undertaken by the state government. The trend has also picked up ever since the Supreme Court in January described any interference by khap panchayats or society in cases of inter-caste marriages as “absolutely illegal”.
Government's initiative to promote inter-caste marriages
The bridge in the caste divide is supported by beneficial schemes for couples and families involved in it, under the Mukhya Mantri Samajik Samrasta Antarjatiya Vivah Shagun Yojana.
- Incentive provided to such couples was increased from Rs 50,000 to Rs 1,01,000 over the past three years, as per official data.
- This year, this aid was increased to Rs 2.5 lakh. Also, the time limit one for couples to avail benefits under this scheme has been extended to three years.
- Grant for girls belonging to SC, denotified tribes and widows of all sections of society living below poverty line has been increased from Rs 31,000 to Rs 41,000.
The surge in the number of cases of inter-caste marriages registered in the last 3-4 months has far exceeded all previous records. As per the process, the benefit amount is deposited in the form of a fixed deposit in the joint bank account of the couple with a lock-in period of three years.
No ‘honour’ in honour killings
While hundreds of couples were able to tie the knot uninterruptedly, there are many who've faced tragic endings due to honour killings in the area. The practice of honour killing, which is led by a patriarchal culture and intolerance towards inter-caste, inter-gotra or inter-religion marriages, may have reduced over the years, but is still prevalent in some areas.
As far as the enormity of such cases are concerned, there is no accurate data available. While many cases are reported time to time, there are several others which go unreported.
According to a research by the International Research Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences, although such cases occur in almost all parts of India "but the states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Western Uttar Pradesh are the regions where these incidents occur more frequently". It is estimated that approximately 1,000 people (both females and males) are killed every year in the name of honour.
As for Haryana, while the state has been struggling with an unfair sex-ratio on one side, several young girls have been put to death in the past few decades in the name of honour.
Surveys reveal that this is largely prevalent in areas dominated by Jats, a patriarchal community in Haryana. The study shows about 70 per cent of the honour killings transpire in the Jat-dominated region alone. The rest of such incidents have taken place in regions with mixed population. The study analysed 100 sample cases and disclosed that the girl alone is killed in 52 per cent cases while the boy alone is killed in 10 per cent cases. In 38 per cent cases, both the girl and the boy are killed.
However, there have been efforts made to increase awareness and prevent such practices. Terming the crime as a barbaric "slur" on the nation, the Supreme Court had in 2011 stated that death penalty should be given to those found guilty of such crimes. Earlier this year, the Apex Court had held that right of adult individuals to choose their life partners was above class honour. The Court ruled it was “illegal” for Khap panchayats to summon and punish couples for this.
Respect for human rights and general awareness at ground level is a must to change the mindset towards honour killings, which is still considered as culturally acceptable. There is a need for further efforts to change patriarchal mindsets and enable the society to become tolerant and accept people's matrimonial choices.