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In India, Women Killed For Relationships Outside Their Caste

In India, Women Killed For Relationships Outside Their Caste

India’s caste system is one of the most rigid class structures in the world, and new violence against women demonstrates the extent to which transgressing its boundaries can mean social ostracism or even death.  The NY Times reports the story of several young women who were murdered or died under suspicious circumstances, because of pressure from their families when they tried to marry outside their caste.  The most disturbing part of the story is how little remorse the families seem to feel.  “Murder is wrong, but this is socially the best thing that has been done,” the uncle of two suspects who were accused of murdering a couple who had married outside their caste.

This behavior is clearly illegal: intercaste marriages are protected under Indian law, but only nominally.  There is strong resistance to the practice of intercaste marriage; 76 percent of respondents to a 2006 UN report deemed the practice unacceptable.  But because the country is also quickly modernizing, the issue of intercaste marriage is prevalent, threatening to tear many families apart. 

One young woman who was secretly engaged to a lower-caste man was found dead in her bedroom in late April.  A postmortem revealed that the woman, Nirupama Pathak, had been suffocated, and her mother has been arrested on suspicion of her murder.  The situation is rendered even more tragic by the fact that Pathak was pregnant; according to her father and brothers, she had confessed that fact to her mother on the morning that she died.  Pathak’s family claims that she committed suicide.

The issue of caste is tied up with the broader tragedy of honor killings, which are especially common in India’s northern states.  Here, village caste councils can act as a kind of extralegal force, making sure that caste boundaries remain firm.  Marrying within villages is also considered an offense, because villages are seen as extended families.  New cases of killings or harassment appear in the Indian media frequently.  Ms. Pathak’s friends and allies have held a candlelight vigil in New Delhi, calling for the case to be prosecuted as an honor killing.  But it seems that change could be very slow to come.

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125 comments

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3:58PM PDT on Apr 21, 2013

We spend so much money in India, business and pleasure. We need to boycott them UNTIL ALL WOMEN ARE SAFE. Nita

8:46PM PDT on Oct 1, 2010

Nirupama pathak and her mother are the product of their cultural tradition which is so ingrained in them they cannot escape it,it would have been her duty to kill her daughter and unknowing her grandchild,these woman carry the burden of the man's ,the family's honour,there is no escape from this dreadful practise it has gone on for generations and it wil go on ,only when the male's are re-educated in their treatment of women and made to see this is wrong will there be changes,men are in control and they will not give it up ,they control all the movements of their women and they in turn are under the control of their religious teachings.

10:49AM PDT on Aug 8, 2010

Good god this is disgusting. How can people kill someone just for happening to fall in love with or want to marry someone outside their caste? That system is barbaric and ridiculous. A woman has the right to marry whoever she chooses, regardless of their social standing, just as much as a man has the right to choose who he marries. That anyone could kill someone, regardless of familial ties, because of the class of who they choose to marry is disgusting.

2:31AM PDT on Jul 26, 2010

Thank you for sharing!

11:28PM PDT on Jul 22, 2010

I had thought the caste system was done by now... I pray that the situation will be better.

1:45PM PDT on Jul 18, 2010

Ms. Pathak killed her daughter and her grandchild in the name of honor! How can she live with herself..... Sinful

11:58PM PDT on Jul 17, 2010

This is truly horrible!

9:05AM PDT on Jul 17, 2010

Some of these people who believe in honour killings now bring their nasty little habits to the UK.

We have a number of honour killings in England every year.

8:55AM PDT on Jul 17, 2010

I cannot understand how any mother could kill or watch her husband or sons kill, her daughter!

Where is the mother love? Do they have such a thing in India or any country where they are willing to kill their own children for breaching rules?

7:33AM PDT on Jul 17, 2010

Ah, India! Such a wonderful country, full of ancient wisdom and history--and this story saddens me. Women have the right to choose who they marry. I think the intercaste law should be strengthened, and women protected should they choose to marry outside their caste.
I think the great Mahatma Gandhi would agree...and he would mourn the death of these women. I know I do.

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