Honor Killings: When Bloodline and Bloodshed Intersect

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Michael Ransom, Senior CorrespondentLast Modified: 00:49 a.m. DST, 2 April 2014

Santhal Tribal Lady, Photo by Ravi PratapANDHRA PRADESH, India - Pachala Deepthi tried her best to gain the blessing of her parents before marrying her sweetheart, Anantagiri Kiran Kumar. For over two years, Deepthi's appeals fell on deaf ears. The man she intended to marry was an unacceptable choice, and P. Hari Babu and Samrajyam refused to hear otherwise. Although Kiran Kumar worked at the same technology company as Deepthi, his position in the caste system spoke volumes to the concerned parents.

After years of failed lobbying, the longtime couple decided to marry without the approval of Hari Babu and Samrajyam. Even so, friends and coworkers celebrated the inter-caste wedding with a rite that took place in their Hyderabad office building. Deepthi told her parents of the plan prior to the February 21st ceremony, but Hari Babu and Samrajyam refused to attend. What followed was a family feud no less tragic than a Shakespeare classic.

Unlike the forlorn lovers in Romeo & Juliet, Deepthi would die at the hands of her own parents. While the initial anger of her kin was marked, Deepthi was contacted by her parents with the promise to make amends and sanctify the marriage in an official ritual. To say their request was disingenuous is a critical understatement. Hari Babu and Samrajyam used this opportunity to levy supposed justice against their daughter.

Their posturing proved effective. The middle-aged couple strangled their daughter, hanging her inside the family home in Andhra Pradesh. Police received a call from the bridegroom's friend, who had suspicions about the duo's real intentions. The man stayed near Deepthi's home, and witnessed her parents leaving the property without the young woman. Authorities can thank his reconnaissance efforts for the seizure of the two murderers, who had already made inroads in their escape from the southern state. The tip brought police to the scene quickly and sparked a manhunt for the couple, who were soon captured.

Not long ago, the couple could have avoided any prosecution, depending on their local court and the caste interests that it served. But the 2011 Supreme Court decision will keep perpetrators of so-called "honor killings" running from the law. Before that decisive ruling, those who participated in such killings faced a varying degree of punishment, depending on the local government. Historically, more conservative communities administered little punishment, if any at all. The result? A mild judicial response codified time-honored notions of caste and decorum. The recent verdict from India's highest court changes that. It establishes a zero-tolerance policy for these local agendas.

Now, Hari Babu and Samrajyam could face the death penalty, which before had been used only sparingly in the world's largest democracy. The expanded application of capital punishment is perhaps the biggest legacy of the Supreme Court's resolution. Although statistics show that the possibility of death does little to discourage lethal criminals, the new precedent sends a powerful message to the people who are willing to prop up tradition through vigilante violence. Similarly, it signals the limitations of the modern caste system.

The recent murder is only one of the high profile crimes against women in India. A few weeks ago, a Bollywood cosmetic designer attacked his girlfriend, lighting her on fire and killing her in Mumbai. In the beginning of 2014, a man beheaded an elderly woman who allegedly stole timber from him. And last year in New Delhi, the fatal gang rape of a young woman stirred international outrage.

The incident vaulted India's lenient rape penalties into the global conversation. Legislators responded to the atrocity with a law increasing victim rights and implementing harsher punishments for rapists. As a result, section 376A of the Indian Penal Code includes death penalty provisions where the victim is killed. Surely this action is a step in the right direction, but these baseline clauses are far from comprehensive.

There is never one single prescription to combat a social problem, but recent studies help illuminate the breadth of this issue. As a financially-independent woman with a budding career, Deepthi was already at a greater risk of domestic abuse and sexual assault, according to the research of Abigail Weitzman. Her study shows that successful women are targeted by predators at a significantly higher rate in India. Weitzman is a graduate student and researcher at New York University.

The progressive Supreme Court decision and new anti-rape laws are a multipronged plan to combat violence against women. That said, women in India must often follow a procession of apathy on their march to justice. Between the victims who are fearful to come forward, police under-reporting, and flaws in the current legal system, the true extent of abuses remain undisclosed. Sadly, in both India and the collective global community, the same is true: the number of actual assaults is exponentially higher than the statistics that reach the newsstand.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Senior Correspondent: @MAndrewRansom

Body of Indian Gang Raped Student Returned

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Patrice Ellerbe, Staff WriterLast Modified: 12: 34 p.m. EDT, 16 January 2013

Ayesha Meera, India Gang Rape Victim Dead Body, Photo by Two Circles

NEW DELHI, India - Only weeks after a shocking gang rape incident in New Delhi, six men have been arrested in India after being accused of abducting and raping a 29 year-old woman in India.  The woman was said to be the only passenger on the bus as she traveled to her village in northern Punjab state on a late Friday night. The driver of the bus drove the woman to a location deserted of people, where he and five friends took turns raping her before dropping her off at her village early Sunday morning. The six suspects were arrested, and then confessed to the crime after the woman filed a complaint.

As for the incident that occurred only weeks before this, the five suspects that were accused of brutally raping a 23-year old woman are set to go to trial in a fast-track court. Outrage sparked nationwide once news got out that the victim and a male friend were lured onto a bus, beat, and brutally raped, resulting in death only a month ago. Because the sixth suspect is under the age of 18, he will be tried separately in a juvenile court. It was unfortunate that the woman died of her severe internal injuries on 29 December 2012 in a Singapore hospital.

Indian authorities have charged the men with murder, rape, kidnapping, and various other charges. According to the lawyer of three of the suspects, his clients will plead not guilty. The lawyer stated that the police used force to gain confessions from the men and also manipulated the evidence to make his clients seem guilty. Two of the suspects have stated they want to become witnesses for the prosecution in order to receive lighter sentences.

Protesters have called for tougher rape laws, major police reforms and a transformation in the way the Indian nation treats women, period.

It is disappointing when nations have not taken more serious action after situations like this have occurred multiple times, and in such a short time frame. In agreement with protesters, India should enforce rape laws as well as begin the transformation as to how women are treated. In this day and age, equality is important. If women are not looked at as an equal, men will only continue to take advantage of them because they seem so weak. It is imperative that India enforces female equality, and if not that, make it known that it is not okay to keep violating the women of that or any other nation.

Follow Patrice Ellerbe on Twitter
Twitter: @nahmias_report Staff Writer: @PatriceEllerbe

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India's President Pranab Mukherjee Inaugurated

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 21:40 PM EDT, 25 July 2012

India's President Pranab Mukherjee, Photo by IndoIndiansNEW DELHI, India – Today, President Shri Pranab Mukherjee, 76, was sworn into office in a resplendent ceremony held in the Central Hall of Parliament. He replaces Pratibha Patil, India’s first woman president, and will serve a five-year term.

Millions of people across India watched as President Mukherjee was sworn in followed by a 21-gun salute accompanied by applause from lawmakers and top military brass. Mr. Mukherjee's presidency has been warmly received with the hope and expectancy befitting a dedicated public servant who has been charged with navigating the country to greater prosperity.

His acceptance speech was peppered with the usual platitudes – specifically, commitments to end hunger, implement development programs, and create opportunities for young Indians to embrace entrepreneurship and thus improve their economic situation.

Each of these are laudable goals, but in a country with nearly 1.3 billion inhabitants according to a 2011 World Bank survey, this is a gargantuan and complex undertaking that would in all likelihood take years if not decades of concerted effort to ameliorate.

However, Mr. Mukherjee has the benefit of heading a nation that has the fastest growing economy in the world. According to a Morgan Stanley report, India is poised to accelerate its growth rate to 9-9.5% over 2013-15, driven by a sterling demographic dividend, continuing structural reform and globalization.”

Mr. Mukherjee  is a veteran government official who has served as foreign minister, defense minister and finance minister, the latter twice. Each of these roles recommends him to the position to which he has been elected, but his position as defense minister provides insight into the portion of his speech in which he spoke about terrorism.

He stated that, “We are in the midst of a fourth world war; the third was the Cold War, but it was very warm in Asia, Africa and Latin America till it ended in the early 1990s. The war against terrorism is the fourth. India has been on the front line of this war long before many others recognized its vicious depth or consequences." (Source: Hindustan Times)

This commitment to sustaining the strong relationship between India, its allies, and the U.S., with which it shares an extensive cultural, strategic, military, and economic relationship, is vital to successfully combating the ongoing fight against extremism in Asia and beyond.

If Mr. Mukherjee’s government successfully holds the line against the ‘barbarians at the gates,’ he may indeed have the time and requisite focus to resolve the complex issues of eradicating hunger and elevating people from the lowest levels of society, but for today, India is rejoicing in the election of their 13th president.

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Twitter: @nahmias_report Editor: @ayannanahmias