How can a father drown his daughter’s dreams in blood?

It has been my nature. Like many other emotional creatures in the industry, I strike a symbiotic relationship with headlines that depict tragedies.

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By Suresh Pattali

I am sick. I am sad. I am bitter. I am outraged. I am distraught. I am frightened. Thirty-six years in the industry have not been good enough – or bad enough – to make me sick of news. But at this moment, news from almost every corner of the world is making me sick, especially when social media rolls them out with loads of graphical content. That makes me queasy.

It has been my nature. Like many other emotional creatures in the industry, I strike a symbiotic relationship with headlines that depict tragedies. Like when a volley of bullets cut down Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi. Like when paramedical student Nirbhaya was lethally gang-raped in front of her male friend on a moving bus. Like when Asifa Bano, an eight-year-old girl in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state, was drugged, gang-raped and killed after her eyes were gouged out. Like when hooded Daesh terrorists slit the throats of blindfolded innocents in mindless nihilism.

Such abominable cruelty haunts us. It’s medically proven that the constant barrage of negative headlines can have a physical impact. When we, journalists, deal with a deluge of traumatic events day in and day out, it takes a toll on our health. Poor sleep, anxiety and depression become our constant companions. By the end of it, we are left numb.

I gnashed my teeth in anger and anguish when last week my colleagues played the wedding album of a young couple from India’s Telangana state, followed by the footage of the boy’s killing in broad daylight.

The wedding video of Pranay Kumar and Amrutha Varshini looked like a song sequence straight from a Telugu movie, with the couple romancing around in a classical getaway, the Hidden Castle in Siddipet near Hyderabad. The video was the celebration of a teenage love that climaxed in the inter-caste wedding of Pranay, a 24-year-old Dalit Christian; and 21-year-old Amrutha who belongs to the Vaishya caste. They had been friends since their school days in Miryalaguda and got married on January 30 against the wishes of the girl’s father Maruthi Rao, a wheeler-dealer and real estate developer. Due to the circumstances arising out of the wedding, they discontinued their engineering courses in Hyderabad and returned to their native place. With his patriarchal pride badly mauled by the wedding and the album posted on the Internet by his daughter, Rao tried to terminate his daughter’s pregnancy several times and plotted to kill his son-in-law.

After four failed attempts, Rao succeeded in his mission when a contract killer hired for Rs10 million hacked Pranay to death as the couple exited a hospital. The incident was captured on CCTV cameras which showed Amrutha, along with her mother-in-law Premalatha and Pranay, walking towards their car. A man can be seen following them with a machete wrapped in a white cloth. The moment the three reached the hospital gate, the assailant landed his machete on Pranay’s head, causing him to collapse. The killer lands another blow on the fallen victim and flees the scene. Pranay died on the spot.

Like the wedding video, the murder footage too went viral on social media, exposing the brutality of a father and the scourge of honour killings in India and elsewhere. Honour killing has been practised in India, Pakistan, and among the subcontinent community in the UK and the US over the years, resulting in the loss of thousands of innocent lives. The number of registered cases in India has grown by 796 per cent from 2014 to 2015.

Honour killings are often treated as a family matter and the perpetrators are rarely prosecuted. The Indian government had made several efforts over the years to take preventive steps and pass laws that could act as deterrents. All attempts have been unsuccessful as is the case with the menace of rape, which has not come down a bit, even after brutal sexual assault was made punishable by death. With capital punishment, the state can only take revenge for a crime that feeds on lack of education, poverty, misogyny, patriarchy, caste, and deep-rooted family pride. That’s not the medicine to treat this malignancy.

We need to empower the education system to teach the boys that a girl is just one of them, and not a member of any weaker gender. We need to reinforce in our children there is nothing honourable in honour killings, and they are crimes driven by the shame of the man, not his honour. We are a paradox. We speak loud about the traditions of love and tolerance being the backbone of our culture and classics but seldom practise them. Let’s stop being hypocrites. In modern India, space for girls to love and get loved has shrunk.

I am also inclined to believe that the honour killing is a by-product of Sigmund Freud’s classical model of gender and identity development, which centres around the Oedipus complex. Honour killings are mostly ordered by the father and carried out at his behest by his sons or relatives. It wouldn’t be unwise to think beyond honour in honour killings and study them as a crime driven by a parent’s sexual jealousy. Parricide in a reverse order.

While honour killings have of late invaded the southern states, a silver lining is that the young widows have started to speak up, some of them turning crusaders against the evil. Kausalya, a former engineering student from Tiruppur district of Tamil Nadu whose husband Sankar, a Dalit, was hacked to death in a busy marketplace in 2016, has managed to win a death sentence against her father with her testimony. “Why should Sankar have died just for falling in love?” asks Kausalya, who is now a Dalit activist. But Kausalya, who travelled to Hyderabad a few days ago to lend support to Amruta, believes more needs to be done to fight caste prejudices.

A devastated, yet determined, Amrutha has launched a social media campaign demanding justice for her late husband. Another survivor, 21-year-old Neenu from Kerala’s Kottayam district whose husband Kevin was abducted and killed allegedly at the behest of her parents, has vowed to fight against those who shattered her dreams.

While I see the seeds of spring in these resolutions, I am at a loss to know how a father could drown his daughter’s dreams in blood. How could one make his own unborn grandchild fatherless? How could a father chop off his daughter’s hand to avenge her marriage to a Dalit youth? Unless he’s no less than a beast.