30 Mar : In a landmark judgement in a Haryana honour killing case, a court in Karnal has awarded capital punishment to five persons and life sentence to one for murdering a couple on the diktats of a self-styled community panchayat for marrying against societal norms.
Additional District and Sessions Judge Vani Gopal Sharma pronounced the sentence after reserving the judgement in the case on Monday.
The prosecution had termed the case as the “rarest of the rare” and pleaded for capital punishment to the six convicts for killing Manoj (23) and Babli (19), who hailed from Karora village in Kaithal district and had got married on 18th May 2007.
Last Thursday, the court had convicted them for murdering the couple of the same ‘gotra’ (sub-caste) in 2007. Another person was held guilty of abduction and the quantum of punishment was reserved.
It is the first case in which the boy’s family had moved court against the honour killing after the ‘khap’ panchayat (caste-based council) had ruled against the couple’s marriage.Those sentenced are the girl’s brother Suresh, uncles Rajender and Baru Ram and her cousins Gurdev and Satish besides leader of the panchayat Ganga Raj.
A driver Mandeep Singh was convicted of kidnapping and awarded a seven year prison term.Public prosecutor Sunil Rana described the court verdict as landmark judgement as khap panchayats “are acting against the law. They are taking law into their own hands and despite protection of the courts, innocent couples are being murdered”.
Pronounced the judgement in a jam-packed courtroom on Tuesday, the judge observed that khap panchayats have functioned contrary to the Constitution, ridiculed it and have become a law unto themselves.
Rana said the legal battle was “quite difficult” as witnesses were not coming forward due to fear. “So you can imagine the terror spread by such panchayats.”
The counsel for the convicts said that they would move the High Court against the verdict. They had earlier claimed there was insufficient evidence against their clients.
Lawyer for Manoj’s family, Lal Bahadur said that the court has asked the superintendent of police to take action against police officials who had acted negligently.”This is a very good verdict. It will sent a very good message. It will restore common man’s faith in courts,” he said, adding, “Lighter punishment would have been a mockery of justice.”
Manoj’s sister Seema said she was “a bit sad” that the panchayat leader who, she claimed, was the mastermind, had been given life sentence.The couple had eloped in May 2007 and married secretly in Chandigarh. The panchayat had asked them to dissolve the marriage as people of the same gotra are considered as siblings.
Apprehending threat to their lives, the couple approached the police, which produced them before a Kaithal court on 15th June 2007.However, on the same day, they were kidnapped at Nilokheri as they were returning after a court appearance at Kaithal escorted by the police.An FIR regarding their kidnapping was registered at the Bhutana police station on 20th June.
The incensed family members and villagers announced the couple’s social boycott. Their mutilated bodies were found in a canal on 23rd June. The hands and legs of Manoj and Babli had been tied.
According to the police, the girl’s relatives had dragged the couple out from a Karnal bound bus, which they boarded from Pipli town in adjoining Kurukshetra district and murdered them before dumping their bodies in the canal.
The trial in the case continued for 33 months and 41 witnesses deposed in the case during 50 hearings. It was virtually a lone battle for Chanderpati, 55-year-old mother of Manoj.Amid continuous threats to the boy’s family members, the widow mustered the courage to speak out and seek justice over the role of community leaders in the murder of her son and his wife.