On 21 December 2016, Seema, a 20-year-old woman, married Pradeep, a 28-year-old man, at a local court in Rohtak, Haryana. Both Seema and Pradeep lived with their families in Rohtak’s Amrit Colony, in opposite houses. They belonged to different castes: Seema was from the Jatav community, a Scheduled Caste which is also known as Chamar, while Pradeep was a Brahmin. Anticipating opposition to their decision, the couple decided to keep their wedding a secret, and continued to live in their respective homes. According to Pradeep’s maternal aunt, on 4 January 2017, he broke the news of the wedding to his parents. They appeared to be amenable to his decision, and informed Seema’s parents the same day. Pradeep's aunt said her family claimed that they had no objection either, adding that they told they would send Seema to Pradeep’s house “apne hisab se”—when they felt the time was appropriate. In the afternoon of 5 January, members of the Haryana police rushed to a crematorium in Rohtak, reportedly following a tip-off they had received from Pradeep. There, they found that Seema, who had allegedly died the previous night, was being cremated by her family members. The police poured water over the funeral pyre and recovered her body. It was already half-burnt.
Later that day, the police arrested Khushi Ram, Seema’s father, and Angrezo Devi, her mother, for allegedly killing their daughter. Rinku, Seema’s brother, was arrested two days later. They were all charged under Section 302 and 201 of the Indian Penal Code, for murder and causing the disappearance of evidence. The police suspected that Seema’s death was an honour killing. They believed that Seema’s parents and brother had murdered her because they were enraged by her decision to marry Pradeep.
Naveen Kumar, the investigating officer in the case, who is also the station house officer at Shivaji Colony police station—which has jurisdiction over offences committed in Amrit Colony—told me over the phone that Seema’s family had been opposed to her decision to marry outside the family’s caste even though Pradeep’s parents had tried to convince them otherwise. “They wanted her to marry within the Dalit caste itself,” Kumar said.
According to Kumar, Seema’s family found out about the marriage on 4 January. At about 3 pm in the afternoon, they decided their course of action, Kumar said, and murdered her at around 8 pm that evening. “Ladka jo tha na, woh naak aur munh band karke rakha tha, taaki aawaz na ho. Aur baap ne gale mein chunni daal rakhi thi aur uske hath pe baith gaya tha, maa chunn imein maroda de rahi thi”—Seema’s brother forcibly held her nose and mouth so that she could not make any noise. Their father put a scarf around her neck and sat on her limbs and their mother was tightening the noose, Kumar told me.
In Haryana, like much of India, a great amount of emphasis is placed on caste and the pride that is associated with belonging to a particular community. Surinder Singh Jodhka, a professor at the School of Social Science of Jawaharlal Nehru University, said “If women were to start marrying outside [their community], caste won’t survive.” Honour killings, typically carried out by those belonging to dominant castes, are seen as a way to assert and maintain this identity. In 2014, the National Crime Records Bureau began recording murders under the category of “honour killing.” It recorded 251 such cases in 2015, a significant jump from the 28 cases recorded in 2014. Of the 251 cases recorded in 2015, two took place in Haryana. According to Rajkumari Dahiya, the president of the Rohtak unit of All India Democratic Women Association (AIDWA), the women’s wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), incidents of honour killing in Haryana often go unreported. Even if a first information report is registered, she added, it would be “under sections of suicide, rape or dowry deaths. The actual number of incidents of honour killings could be much higher than what is reflected in the NCRB data.”