Of all the ills that plague our society, caste has to be one of the worst. And when caste and the perceived notions of patriarchy and honour get entangled with a girl’s desire to marry a man she is in love with, and spend her life with him, this often results in violence.

Honour killings, we call them. Killings which, if anything, are most dishonourable indeed.

More often than not, these incidents get tucked into the snippets columns of national newspapers. They are so common that we don’t even blink when we read them anymore. Girl killed for marrying out of caste. Man hacked to death by his wife’s family. Couple set on fire for marrying out of caste. In almost all cases, bar a few exceptions, the opposition to the marriage comes primarily from the girl’s parents, especially when the girl is marrying into a caste traditionally considered inferior. The notion of the women of the house as inextricably interlinked with the ‘honour’ of the family continues to hold sway, and result in these terrible crimes of misplaced honour.

In almost all cases, bar a few exceptions, the opposition to the marriage comes primarily from the girl’s parents, especially when the girl is marrying into a caste traditionally considered inferior.

In the news today, a 22-year-old girl from Kalamadugu village in Telangana was killed by her parents, with the help of their relatives, then burnt to death, with her remains thrown into a river. Her crime? Marrying a man she loved from another community. She was one of a long roster of women who have lost their lives, killed violently by their own parents and families because they have dared marry out of caste.

In August this year, a woman was shot dead outside the Rohtak court complex, along with the sub-inspector who was accompanying her, in an attack allegedly ordered by the woman’s father. All because she eloped and married a Dalit man.

In March, a 21-year-old woman in North Kerala was stabbed to death by her father a day before her wedding to a man from the Dalit community.

In July, a 21-year-old was strangled to death by her father in Daulatpur because she wanted to get married to a man from another caste.

In April, a 24-year-old was killed by her family in Madhya Pradesh because she had married a man from another community.

Perhaps the most shocking case was that, back in March 2016, of Kausalya who was hacked down along with her husband Shankar, in a crowded marketplace by motorcycle borne criminals. Her father hired the five men, and the brief given to the men was to commit the killings in broad daylight so that the message went out clearly to men and women who dared to marry out of caste. Shankar succumbed to his injuries. Kausalya survived, and went on to become a beacon of inspiration for other women in similar situations by taking on her father and family in the courts, not cowing down to pressure, and adapting her deceased husband’s community as her own. Her father was awarded the death sentence, to be carried out after he had served the jail term for the other charges he was found guilty of. Kausalya recently got remarried to a Dalit Parai artist, Shakti, she had taken up the musical instrument Parai as a form of protest and advocacy against the caste system.

Kausalya recently got remarried to a Dalit Parai artist, Shakti, she had taken up the musical instrument Parai as a form of protest and advocacy against the caste system.

These cases though, are just those that come into the limelight and get picked up by the media. For every case that makes it to the newspapers, countless others go unheard. Deaths which aren’t spoken about but which haunt the villages, the small towns, the tacit warning implicit in this violence—don’t do what they did, don’t dare fall in love, don’t dare dream of living out your life with someone who loves you and whom you love back, if you do, make sure it is someone of the same caste. Don’t ever dare fall in love with someone from another caste, a ‘lower’ caste, another religion. There are rules for love, rules and laws that the world quite forget that matter nothing to those who fall in love. Rules that suit hierarchical social constructs and the patriarchy, but which defy the call of pheromones which heed nothing but the call of the other.

These cases though, are just those that come into the limelight and get picked up by the media. For every case that makes it to the newspapers, countless others go unheard.

Why is the free will and agency of grown women to choose their life partners so threatening to the caste system? Why is there more honour in killing the child you gave birth to than letting that child live her life with the one she loves?  These are disturbing questions that have their answers entrenched in the patriarchy and the caste system that governs our lives, where women are still considered property and currency by the patriarchy that dictates how they must live, dress, marry, reproduce. Where the father and the husband are the owners of the honour that the women in the family represent, and should they deviate from the path prescribed for them, the besmirching of the honour would lead to extreme violence against them without a second’s hesitation. Why is male honour so fragile that it needs to be propped up by women? Why is this notion of caste still so entrenched in our mindsets that we even have blood donation requests declaring preferred castes, when every humans blood runs red?

Why is this notion of caste still so entrenched in our mindsets that we even have blood donation requests declaring preferred castes, when every humans blood runs red?

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UNO, to which India is a signatory, men and women have the right to get married and start a family. In India, Article 21 gives us the right to life with dignity, as well as protects life and personal liberty. Adult men and women are free to decide whom they wish to get married to, according to our laws. The only restriction we have legally on marriage is based on age, a girl of 18 and a boy of 21 are considered adult enough to get married. The Supreme Court too has decreed that interference by Khap Panchayats in the lives of interfaith or inter-caste couples is illegal and has laid down strict guidelines to prevent these intrusions.

Even so, the killings continue. Young couples who run off and get married fear for their lives. There are safe homes for them, an indication perhaps of how heinous and widespread this malaise is. There are young girls and boys across the country, terrified to fall in love, terrified to dream of a life together with the partners they desire, all because of the deeply entrenched tentacles of the caste system that governs everything we do as a people, including how we marry. Is it not time to reclaim the right to love, to declare this imposition of parental authority on an adult’s right to choose their own partner. And the change can only come about when women like Kausalya stand up and speak out against this ugly manifestation of patriarchy, and when these crimes receive swift and severe justice. And when we, as a people stand up for her, and all those who wish to live their lives with the ones they love. When we recognise that a woman has agency of choice of how and with whom she wishes to live her life, and consent to honouring that agency as a given.

There are young girls and boys across the country, terrified to fall in love, terrified to dream of a life together with the partners they desire, all because of the deeply entrenched tentacles of the caste system that governs everything we do as a people.

Perhaps it would be apt to end quoting Kausalya’s words in an interview to the BBC. “Love is like water, it is a natural thing. Love happens. And women have to revolt against the caste system, if it has to be stopped.”

Kiran Manral is Ideas Editor at SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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