Thursday, February 6, 2014

Caste and justice

Sushma Tiwari (Image from The Hindu)
I came across this article in The Hindu about a woman, Sushma Tiwari, who was responding to a petition filed by her brother, Dilip Tiwari. Dilip has murdered Sushma's husband and four others of her marital family. It was a case of honour killing. Sushma's husband, Prabhu, was a man of a lower caste from Kerala while Shilpa was a Brahmin from UP. The complete article can be found by clicking here,

A clear case of honour killing has taken place. The case at the Magistrate level and at the Bombay High Court resulted in a sentence of capital punishment for Dilip, but after appealing in the Supreme Court, the sentence was reduced to imprisonment for 25 years.

What struck me is not the sentencing by the SC (I am against the death penalty personally) but the judgement it delivered. The Court said in paragraph 41 of the judgement, "It is a common experience that when the younger sister commits something unusual and in this case it was an intercaste, intercommunity marriage out of the secret love affair, then in the society it is the elder brother who justifiably or otherwise is held responsible for not stopping such affair. It is held as the family defeat. At times, he has to suffer taunts and snide remarks even from the persons who really have no business to poke their nose into the affairs of the family." I was stunned! What did the Court just do? 

So what if the brother receives snide remarks or taunts? Does that justify his act? What made me even more worrisome is the fact that this case can be cited in the SC in case of further honour killings. What then? Will every honour killing done to avoid remarks from others be justified and the sentence reduced? I urge all of you to read the entire judgement and see for yourselves the way this case has been handled.

In my opinion, the SC has in effect made  the use of violence as a retaliation to snide remarks justifiable. The Court which is supposed to protect the people and especially the Dalits from such atrocities has dealt a blow to them. In Sushma's own words quoted from The Hindu this reasoning by the Court, "is wrong and totally illegal under our Constitution and various laws of the land like the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989” and “can never be made a ground for lessening a sentence. In fact, these feelings of caste hatred are themselves criminal." I do not  oppose the commutation of the death sentence. But I cannot say I agree with the statement made by the Court which I have mentioned before.

Sushma had filed a review petition challenging this decision. I hope this case is a lesson to all. Marriage is between a man and woman who have given their consent. The caste, religion or any other societal label should not be a hindrance to the marriage of two consenting adults of marriageable age. The courts should set an example in enforcing this. Honour killings must never be encouraged.

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