About a year back the Haryana government, alarmed over a spike in honour killings involving young couples, decided to “formulate a policy on runaway couples.” Today, no one in the government knows what happened to it. Meanwhile, the number of such couples is steadily rising: in 2016 the count stood at 2,028 in 22 shelter homes of the state, up from over 1,400 in 2014.
According to Honour Based Violence Awareness Network, an international digital resource centre working to advance understanding of honour-based violence and forced marriage, around 1,000 honour killings occur in India every year. Haryana — where three such killings took place in February this year — is among the top five states where such killings are common.
The Tribune takes up three districts — Rohtak, Hisar and Karnal – to see the condition of the shelter homes for such couples and the reasons why ‘elopement’ remains a serious social problem:
rohtak: The ‘safe house’ sheltered 200 such couples last year. The figure for this year is already 30 with around a dozen couples staying in the temporary shelter home on the first-floor of Bal Bhawan building. Of the two rooms, one is meant for a team of policemen deployed for the protection of the couples.
Rohtak SP Pankaj Nain says he is aware of the shortage of space and rooms at the safe house. “We wrote to the deputy commissioner about it a few months back. We are yet to receive any response,” says Nain. Rohtak Additional Deputy Commissioner Ajay Kumar said the existing arrangement was made with the help of Red Cross authorities in compliance with the Supreme Court directions on an immediate basis. “We are looking for better accommodation that can serve as a safe house,” said Kumar. But he was unable to specify when such an arrangement could be made.
Protection-cum-child marriage prohibition officer Karminder Kaur says the government should have a well-defined policy and funds to ensure that the young couples are able to stay with dignity.
The social pressures resulting in ‘running away and getting married’ continue to be as serious as ever. “The girls are increasingly asserting themselves in an environment that encourages education leading to professional careers. Financial independence naturally prompts them to make their choices in marriage. But a patriarchal mindset becomes the biggest obstacle, hence the resistance,” says Dr Jitender Prasad, a former professor of sociology at Maharshi Dayanand University, Rohtak.
He says the lack of suitable girls due to a skewed gender ratio also leads to ‘love marriages’, many of which are inter-caste or same-gotra. “Then you have traditional village councils or khap panchayats that interfere with young people’s choices,” said Prasad. — Sunit Dhawan
hisar: The ‘safe house’ is located in the backyard of the Red Cross office, where a police team disallows you to enter the building. For ‘safety reasons’, SP Manisha Chaudhary would not even allow a media team to interact with the couples.
Sources say even the policemen don’t want to be posted at the safe house in the absence of basic amenities. “The couples are safe. But how do you deal with mosquitoes,” said a source. A former inmate, Anju, says it is difficult for young couples to live in an awkward situation. “Nobody stays in the house for more than 2-3 days,” she said. Anju belongs to Rohtak and stayed in the safe house for nine days around two years ago after she got married to a different caste boy in Hisar.
Anju works with the NGO Madad that helps such couples to get formally married. “Sometime back the inmates received free food from the adjoining jail. But now the authorities have told the couples to get their own supply from the market,” says Anju. “At least seven runaway couples arrive in the shelter home in a month. “The poor condition of the safe house forces a few of them to return in a couple of days”.
She says safe houses with livable amenities are needed because there seems little change in the mindset towards the inter-caste marriages. “The social situation persists despite court order and pressure groups. In most cases, the girl’s parents are not ready to accept the marriage,” says Anju. — Deepender Deswal
Sleepless, cooped up
karnal: At least seven couples share a room of the PWD Rest House. In another room live police personnel who provide security to the runaway couples. In the suffocated room, the couples sleep on the floor.
The protection home has registered a continuous increase in the number of runaway couples. Since 2015, 414 such couples have approached the court for protection. The numbers was 188 in February 2015 to December 2016. From January 2017 to December 2017, the figure was 164. And from January this year, 62 couples have taken shelter in PWD’s one room.
The couples have to stay inside the single room, which is full of foul smell. They can use the AC only for an hour. And they share a washroom.
“I got married on February 14. My wife’s side opposes my marriage and we are receiving threats to our lives, forcing us to live in such inhuman conditions,” says a 27-year old youth refusing to tell his name.
Dr Ramesh Bhardwaj, professor in the department of social work in Kurukshetra University, says social pressures are a big challenge. He says the government must provide separate rooms for the couples in a shelter home.
Deputy commissioner Aditya Dahiya says the issues related to the protection home are reviewed periodically. “I will get the problems being faced by the young couples at the protection home checked,” he said. — Parveen Arora
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