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Indian couple slain in 'honor killing'

By Sara Sidner, CNN
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Relatives charged in India 'honor killing'
  • Five honor killings in India in June
  • Social researcher: Killings are a clash of modern India and ancient traditions
  • In some towns, families can be ostracized if children don't obey marital tradition
  • Uncle, father charged in killing of couple in New Delhi

New Delhi, India (CNN) -- Asha Saini and Yogesh Kumar were in love and wanted to get married. But Saini's family did not approve of Kumar: As a taxi driver, they said, he did not have the right kind of job. But more importantly for them, he was from a lower caste.

Despite their objections, Saini, 19, kept seeing Kumar, 20. To keep them apart, her father and uncle tortured and killed the couple, police say.

"We killed them because we were against their relationship. If someone comes to your house to meet your niece at midnight, what more do you do?" her uncle, Om Prakash, told reporters in televised remarks outside a police station in the Indian capital following his arrest.

The victims were one of five sets of couples killed in one week in India in June. Some have dubbed the cases "honor killings" because the families feel they have to act against their children -- usually their daughters -- to save the family's reputation.

Police say the family tried everything to discourage the relationship, including arranging Saini's engagement to another man.

In the end, investigators say the family turned to violence. A neighbor who lives next door to the crime scene said he heard the terrible screams in the night -- and also got a glimpse of what was causing them.

"We killed them because we were against their relationship. If someone comes to your house to meet your niece at midnight, what more do you do?"
--Asha Saini's uncle, Om Prakash, who is charged in the killings

"Big, thick sticks were being used. The girl was screaming, kill me but leave him," said Umesh Kumar, who is not related to Yogesh. "They were beating her so much, the blood was like a fountain coming out of her head."

Kumar said he tried to help but his phone wasn't working and none of the other neighbors would lend him a phone to call police. None of the others called the police themselves.

"It isn't our business anyway. They should have obeyed the parent's wishes. That is just the way it is," said another neighbor, who did not want to be named.

Authorities have charged Prakash and Saini's father, Suraj Kumar Saini, with murder. Neither has entered a plea, and court cases are pending.

"The most disturbing part of this case is that the girl and the boy were killed by the relative of the girl," said Delhi Deputy Commissioner of Police (Northwest District) Narendra Bundela.

In some villages, families can be ostracized if they cannot make their children obey local marital tradition. But the killings have emerged in big cities, like New Delhi, and are making headlines in the national press.

It is not clear if there has been an increase in these types of killings or a rise in reporting of them. India's Supreme Court is pressing the northern states where these killings are more frequent to take action and to specify what they are doing to curb the problem.

The Indian Cabinet met Thursday to discuss stricter punishment for those involved in "honor killings." A panel of ministers will now consider changes to criminal law that would make groups that order these killings liable for murder charges. The changes would attempt to rein in traditional village councils that sometimes hold summary trials and order punishment in cases of inter-caste marriages.

Dr. Ranjana Kumari, who heads the Center for Social Research in Delhi, said the cases were extreme examples of the clash of modern India versus the strict interpretation of ancient traditions.

The honor of a family traditionally resides in its daughters, and when the girl goes against their wishes, it is seen as the ultimate disrespect, Kumari said.

"Here the subordination for a girl is, even now, by and large almost total. What you wear, what you study, where you live, who you marry, everything has to be decided by the family," she said.

Renu, Kumar's 27-year-old sister, said he was her closest living relative since their parents died a few years ago.

"I lost everything. I am left alone," she said, as tears welled up in her eyes. "This pain will last a lifetime. Still I want justice. What has happened to my brother should happen to the killers also. They should hang."