India seems to live in many centuries at once. In Karnataka a couple was stoned to death, four years after they got married. He was a Dalit, her family opposed their relationship. The couple had fled the social backlash, and worked as migrant construction labourers. On their return home, her brothers gathered a mob to hurl stones at them, killing them. This personal feud has social roots: the refusal to accept a woman’s freedom to love who she wants.
Stoning was the cruel and painful death prescribed for those who transgress social and sexual codes in the Bible, Torah, some Islamic hadiths and legal commentaries. When the idea of citizenship and its rights have not been internalised, then the family and group exert their dreadful power. Patriarchy means that women have to bear the burden of collective “honour” – her freedom is destabilising to lineage and property. The rage of fathers and brothers is the fear of that disorder. And so, a woman simply choosing her own romantic path is enough to invite grievous violence – so that the community can maintain its warped notion of order.
As the Karnataka case shows, socially learnt hate can disfigure the impulses of love and care. Such dishonour killings have occurred in many parts of India. Social oppression continues to challenge the protections and guarantees of the liberal constitutional state. These crimes must be tackled with exemplary will, if we are to truly achieve our Constitution.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.