Castaway lovers
Even as caste violence claims lives, there are young lovers who bridge the caste divide and defy the diktat of society. These intercaste lovers, especially in the hinterland and small towns, face threats to their life
Narendra Kaushik

In the last 90 days, life for Ram Prakash Savita (30) and Richa Dwivedi (25) has come full circle. Residents of Shuklaganj, a town sandwiched between Kanpur and Unnao, Ram Prakash and Richa got married in a court in June this year. They lived in hiding in Unnao, Allahabad, Orai, Jhansi, Agra, Bhopal, Devas, Indore, Niwar (Jabalpur), Ujjain, Gwalior and New Delhi before Richa’s parents conned them into separation on July 17. Since then, they have lived a separate life: Richa confined at her parent’s place and Ram Prakash running around to retrieve his legal wife.

He has filed habeas corpus in the Allahabad High Court and is drafting applications for the National Commission for Women and Human Rights Commissions. "Richa’s father has filed an FIR against me. Richa is being drugged to say that I had lured her into marriage. What do I do now?" he asks. He wants to know whether presenting old video clippings, where he and Richa were interviewed together in court would help his case. Ram Prakash alleges Richa’s father Ashok Dwivedi and his "dishonoured" Brahmin clan are out to eliminate him at any cost.

The couple’s misfortune began a few months back when Ram Prakash, son of a barber, who was successfully running a computer institute in Shuklaganj, fell in love with his student Richa. The eldest daughter of college professor Ashok Dwivedi, Richa, who is an M Phil, believed she had a right to choose Ram Prakash, as her life partner.

But Dwivedi did not quite agree with his daughter. In April this year, when he tried to marry Richa off to a boy, Ram Prakash and Richa rebelled. They first got married in an Arya Samaj Mandir in Kanpur and then got their marriage registered in a court. In June, they appeared before the Allahabad High Court which passed a direction that "they are not to be harassed in any manner and permitted to lead their peaceful married life". But Ram Prakash alleges that the Shuklaganj police has constantly flouted the direction.

Superintendent of Police (SP) Unnao J Ravinder Guar promises to abide by the high court order in Ram Prakash and Richa’s case. "Let them provide us a copy of the order. We will implement it", he claims. When asked as to why the police had registered a case of abduction against Ram Prakash and his family, he said the case was registered by Richa’s family. "Any parent would lodge a complaint if his daughter goes missing. We can’t refuse to lodge an FIR", he asserts.

Kamal Singh Kushwaha and Rajkumari Baghel, Ram Prashad Savita and Richa Dwivedi and Sapna Singh at a shelter in Delhi
on the run: (From left) Kamal Singh Kushwaha and Rajkumari Baghel, Ram Prashad Savita and Richa Dwivedi and Sapna Singh at a shelter in Delhi

Caste hierarchies

Apparently, Ram Prakash and Richa and many others of their ilk are stacked up against the heavy odds created by caste hierarchies. But this does not mean that the lovers from similar castes or clans are having it easy. Far from it. Kamal Singh Kushwaha and Rajkumari Baghel have been in hiding despite both of them being from other backward castes (OBCs). The duo hailing from Aurangabad, a village near Mathura, got their marriage registered in Eta in March this year. They appeared before the Allahabad High Court in May this year. But despite the Court No 3 of the High Court having expected no "coercive action" against them and Rajkumari having filed an FIR against a dozen people at a police station, their lives are under threat. The couple has been to at least five states in the last three months. "The Baghel clan is threatening to kill us if we go back to the village", they chorused, ensconsed in their hideout.

Kamal has a separate house in the village opposite the Baghels. But Rajkumari’s father Badan Singh and other Baghels have warned them to live anywhere but in the house. "I’ve exhausted my savings. I want to go back and resume my job as a salesman. I was also working as a DJ and would like to return to the profession," Kamal says. His wife too wishes to complete her graduation. She was enrolled in BSC final year when they took to their heels.

Hide and seek

There are thousands of inter-caste, intra-caste, inter-religious lovers in the country who are forced to live in cognito. Many others have been beaten up, shot at and even bumped off. Since May this year, as many as two dozen lovers have either been murdered or made to spend time in hospital. About six out of these cases have been reported from Gurgaon, Kurukshetra, Kaithal, Sonepat, Hisar, Sirsa and Karnal. Haryana is he hotbed of honour killings.

Petty parents

Santosh Dahiya, head of a khap panchayat in Haryana, ascribes the continuation of honour killings to parents’ narrow mindedness. "Parents have still not reconciled to the idea of accepting inter-caste marriages. They are bigoted", she claims. Ironically, in the same breath, she backs khap panchayats’ opposition to same gotra marriages in Haryana and is also of the view that children from Class 11 or 12 should not be encouraged to get into inter-caste marriages due to their immaturity. "It is medically proven that same gotra marriages cause genetic problems and children born out of such alliances are not healthy and strong. Accepting such marriages will break our social fabric", she says.

Dahiya is categorical that khap panchayats are for inter-caste marriages between "mature and settled" persons and against honour killings.

Jagmati Sangwan, vice-president of the All-India Democratic Women Association (AIDWA), who has been fighting against the menace for quite a while, wants a separate law for the protection of inter-caste and same gotra lovers. A bill, drafted by the AIDWA, has been pending with the NCW for more than two years. The bill proposes the prosecution of all such people, who declare a married couple brother and sister or oust them or their family from the village and impose social sanctions on the couples or their families.

Onus on accused

"We need a different law because the nature of such a crime is very specific. The government is dithering on it", Sangwan alleges. Like law on dowry deaths, the AIDWA wants the onus to be put on the accused in honour killings.

What may be more worrying for the legal and administrative machinery is that unlike in the past when most of such violence was reported from North India, now cases of honour killings have been reported from western, eastern, central and southern parts of India as well. Cases have also been reported from the southern states in the last four months. The latest is the killing of Vittal Kuri and Nethra, a couple that lived in Losur village of Belgaum District in Karnataka.

Despite the Supreme Court having declared khap panchayats illegal in April last year, they still hold meetings and pass strictures against inter-caste lovers and women. The panchayats in Baghpat and Muzaffarnagar recently prohibited young women from wearing jeans and using mobile phones. They felt these had become instruments in encouraging elopements.

Social rigidity towards inter-caste marriages and police’s dubious role is what Sanjoy Sachdev, chairman of Love Commandos, based in New Delhi, that runs several shelters for runaway couples, finds appalling. "The Indian Constitution did away with guardianship role in marriages in 1978 and yet till date the parents impose their choices on their children and the police pander to their egos," he says.

Love Commandos

Sanjoy Sachdev.
For Love’s Sake: Sanjoy Sachdev. Photos by the writer

They rather look pale, anaemic and have no weapons. But they are doing what law-enforcement agencies in the country have failed to do. Started around two years back, Love Commandos run seven shelters where close to three dozen runaway couples are housed. They have over 10 lakh members and run a 24-hour helpline: (mobile no. 09313784375), which gets at least a few thousand calls, numerous SMSes and emails every day. The voluntary organisation, which ran a helpline for ‘Valentine victims’, claims to provide free food and shelter to couples, a claim hotly contested by many couples. Sachdev, a small-time journalist, is shocked that despite clear-cut directions from the Supreme Court that khap panchayats have no legality, the police do not arrest parents and the so-called clan leaders who humiliate and kill inter-caste and inter-religious lovers. "The continuing harassment of lovers is a crime. The police are committing contempt of court by not putting the perpetrators behind the bars and lodging cases against lovers", he fumes. Sachdev demands constitution of a commission for protection of lovers. "How come protection of lovers finds no mention in any political party’s manifesto?" Sachdev is surprised at the double standards. "Sonia Gandhi had a love marriage. Mulayam’s son Akhilesh has wife from another caste. So do many other politicians. Why are they quiet as far as ordinary lovers are concerned?" he demands to know.