Just the other day in Fugana village, a girl lay strung on a tree. She was naked, her face burnt. This was the price Radha (name changed) had to pay for falling in love with a man her family did not approve of. This is the price countless Radhas pay ever so often in the rough belt of Muzaffarnagar.
And this is the way justice is delivered to youth who begin to live on the razor's edge the moment they dare to fall in love. Radha's was yet another honour killing in Muzaffarnagar, a district in western UP that is smeared with the blood of innocents. There's never an FIR, hardly any action.
At last count, there were 20 young people dead till August this year. An All-India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) survey maintains that in Muzaffarnagar alone 10 were killed by villagers in 2002. The number shot up to 24 in 2003. Villagers say there are those who have been left maimed and useless for life.
Even the deaths, they say, are more. Apart from the killings, 15 "committed suicide" in 2003, 12 in 2004 and 7 till August this year. Radha's father, meanwhile, has neither remorse nor regret.
"Mari chori thi maine mar di. Tane kya?" (She was my daughter and I killed her. What's it to you?) Muzaffarnagar, which is fast acquiring the nickname 'Muhhabatnagar', is a hub of honour killings.
Local residents, still steeped in their age old traditions, feel that honour comes before anything else and love affairs before marriage is a breach of that honour. Everything for them is fair as far as long as it protects this wild concept.
According to local doctor D K Singh, these villagers will do anything to protect their honour — burn their children alive, push them in front of running trains, force them to drink urine, eat excreta, shoot them and decapitate them. Finally, though, it is death. This is not negotiable.
When a TOI team reached village Ukawali, in Baraut, and spoke to Rajnath Tyagi, a former teacher, he was quick to respond: "Children who do not protect our honour should be killed." Recently, Tyagi's brother killed his daughter Sonika's lover. The girl, however, is missing. He, too, justifies the crime.
"This is not love, it is lust." According to Rajesh Verma, another local resident, these deaths are a daily incident here. "Rarely is any FIR lodged," he says. "Even if it is, there is a compromise between the girl's and boy's families. It is only after this that the police give a final report."
Community honour is sometimes avenged with retaliatory gangrapes. Memories of one such case are still fresh in peoples' minds. Sunita was gangraped because her brother ran away with the girl he loved. She was stabbed numerous times after that. Her body still bears those dreadful injuries, her mind the dreadful day.
Police officer Jagdish Vashishth appeared powerless. "Almost none of the killings are reported," he said. "Villagers tell us that we can't interfere in panchayat's decision. They have some traditions and they follow them religiously, we are kept out of this."
When the TOI team took a policeman along to report the murder of Radha, he just sat there sipping tea and eating food at the pradhan's house. He said nothing about an inquiry. Intriguingly, he, along with the villagers, gave the impression that they knew nothing about the gruesome incident that took place in the village just a day before.
Brinda Karat, general secretary, AIDWA, said, "We have been pursuing the National Human Rights Commission to act against those encouraging honour killings, and to force the government to take suo motu action whenever such killings come to light.
But there is not a single incident in which proper action has been taken." There are other forms of honour killings. No farmer in this village sleeps without keeping a katta (country made gun) under his pillow. Just last week, a farmer killed another because there was an argument over who would tie his buffalo onto the village khoonta (peg).
The issue was not about the khoonta nor about the buffalo. It was about the moustache, the honour. The government will have to wake up and protect the young who have no control over their hearts. Because in Muzaffarnagar, elders have no control over their knives.