In May this year, a 23-year-old Dalit Christian youth, Kevin P Joseph, was brutally butchered by the brother of his fiancee for falling in love with 20-year-old Neenu from a wealthy family. His crime was that he wanted to marry Neenu against the wishes of her parents and brother. This 'honour killing' had sent shock waves across Kerala, but such incidents are not very rare in the northern parts of the country. The infamous Rohtak double murder case is one such crime which shook the country because of its sheer brutality.
Love story of dog breeder's daughter and neighbourhood boy
Gharnawati is a small hamlet in Haryana's Rohtak district, where bhaichara (brotherhood) concept is still in place. As per bhaichara, boys and girls in the same village must treat each other as brother and sister. So, a boy and girl of the same village or same gotra cannot marry each other. Haryana villagers and the khap panchayats follow this rule very strictly.
Despite knowing this, a 23-year-old youth, Dharmender Barak, and a 20-year-old girl Nidhi Barak of Gharnawati village did something unheard of in those parts of Haryana. Nidhi was studying fine arts at a college in Rohtak while Dharmender was pursuing a diploma in engineering. They fell in love and decided to elope to another city so that they could live happily.
But destiny had other plans. On September 17, 2018, the duo fled the village, taking a small bag along with them. In the morning Nidhi had left home saying that she would be attending college the whole day. Nidhi's father Narender alias Billu, a former wrestler and a dog-breeder, was a well-known person in the village and Dharmender belonged to a poor family.
Nidhi did not return home in the evening and her father and brother Sunny started looking for her. Soon, they came to know that Nidhi had eloped with their neighbour and this was a huge shock for the family. The entire family gathered at their home and some of them even threatened Dharmender's family with dire consequences.
They claimed the duo had brought disrepute to the family and the entire village because of the same-village-same-gotra 'affair'. Nidhi's parents and brother chalked out a plan to take revenge for this 'dishonour'. A day after the duo left home, Dharmender had called his friend Ravi in the village from New Delhi asking for Rs 5,000 as the duo had run out of money. They were planning to stay in Delhi till the issue is settled down.
However, Nidhi's father came to know about this phone call and he reached Ravi's home. He put a gun on Ravi's head and told him to call Dharmender and tell him to reach a hotel at Sampla village, near Rohtak, and collect the cash. Ravi did what he was told. On September 8 morning, Dharmender and Nidhdi boarded a bus from Delhi to Rohtak but they couldn't reach the destination. On way, Nidhi's father and a gang of goons from the village stopped the bus and dragged the couple out of it. The duo was put on a jeep and taken to their village. In the jeep, the father thrashed both of them and told them to end their affair. They refused, infuriating the gang. By noon, the jeep reached Gharnawati. The couple was taken to Nidhi's house where the entire family tried to convince them to forget each other and start a new life. Their love for each other was so strong that they refused to even go to separate rooms alone.
Nidhi's father Billu was so angry over this, he said the couple will be killed if they refuse to part ways. He asked the couple one last time and took away Nidhi to a corner of the house and stabbed her first. He also asked his son to stab her. According to sources in the police, he asked all the family members to stab the girl. Nidhi cried for help but in vain. She died within minutes and her body was immediately taken to a crematorium nearby.
Dharmender was also stabbed to death soon and his hands and legs were chopped off. Billu carried Dharmender's body to the boy's house and dumped it in the road. He warned the family that if they inform the police the same fate awaits them. He also brandished a pistol and fired a few round in the air.
However, someone in the village, whose identity is yet to be revealed, called the police and told them about Nidhi's body being burnt at the crematorium. Soon, police reached there and stopped the cremation. The cops took the half-burnt body in custody and also came to know about the murder of Dharmender. By then, Billu and his family had fled the village. For some days there were nobody to feed the canines in the farm. However, later Billu, wife and son surrendered before the police.
Three years after the gruesome murder, the court convicted and sentenced the parents and brother of Nidhi to life term on August 10, 2016.
Villagers kept mum
The khap rule and the bhaichara system is so deep-rooted in Haryana culture that not a single villager bothered to inform the police about Nidhi's family's plan to kill the couple. According to sources, the entire village knew that what was going to happen.
One of the villagers told mediapersons later that Billu was totally drunk and he was brandishing a pistol. Dharmender's body was brought from Nidhi’s house on the back seat of a Tata Sumo packed in a gunny bag and thrown outside his house.
According to police, the villagers had all the details of the murders but they kept mum as they too believed in bhaichara and fared for backlash from the khap panchayats.
Increasing number of honour killings had forced the Punjab and Haryana high court to issue some guidelines to the government on how to protect the young couples fleeing their homes fearing for life.
Punjab and Haryana high court gets a huge number of cases filed by runaway couples. Such cases have been entertained by the HC following an order issued by Chief Justice B K Roy in 2002 by granting protection to every runaway couple whoever approaches the court. In several such cases, the court had provided police protection to the couples and they were allowed to stay at government accommodation till they find a safe place.
In May 2016, the HC had also directed the state government of Haryana to bring a legislation prohibiting social boycotts in the state.
Justice K Kannan had suggested a law like Maharashtra Prohibition of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2016. The law defines social boycott as a crime and says anybody indulging in it would face imprisonment maximum up to three years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh or both.