"A Murder of Morality"

[Trigger warning.]

Tata just sent me this article with the note: "There's so much going on here I can't put together a sentence about it." I don't know how well I'm going to do myself, but I'm going to give it a try.

The article is about the "honor killing" of 21-year-old Sunita Devi, 21, who was pregnant, and her 22-year-old boyfriend, Jasbir Singh, in Balla, India. The couple was dragged from their room, driven away in waiting cars, strangled, and their bodies laid out "on the dirt outside Sunita's father's house for all to see, a sign that the family's 'honor' had been restored by her cold-blooded murder." The reason? Devi and Singh had fallen in love, but:
Among the Jat caste of the conservative northern state of Haryana, it is taboo for a man and woman of the same village to marry. Although the couple were not related, they were seen in this deeply traditional society as brother and sister.
And, perhaps more importantly:
Growing economic opportunities for young people and lower castes in Haryana have made "love marriages" more common, experts say, and the violent repression of them has risen in tandem as upper caste Jat men fight to hold on to power, status and property.
So Devi's father, uncle, two cousins, and another man killed them. (Some suspect Devi's father has confessed to the killing to protect other family members, but, in either case, he supported the murder of his pregnant daughter and her boyfriend.)

Devi and Singh were childhood sweethearts, and had already been in love for years when her family married Devi off to another man, whom she left a year ago to run away with Singh. So, the whole situation could have been avoided if they had been allowed to be together in the first place—but Singh was from a lower sub-caste. When the two eloped and Devi got pregnant, her family was ostracized.
"Nobody would drink water in our house," Sunita's mother Roshni is reported to have said. "My daughter's action made us aliens in our own land. But we have managed to redeem our honor. She paid for her ill-gotten action."
Meanwhile, police are under enormous pressure from the village to drop the case and Singh's family has been threatened with "the same fate" if they pursue justice.
"We are being pressurized into reaching an agreement, a compromise, without even being given time to grieve," said Jasbir's 25-year-old sister Neelam. "We have been told that if we don't compromise, we will suffer the same fate."

In the narrow alleyway outside their tiny house, women wailed in grief. A few hundred yards away, the panchayat sat in quiet self-satisfaction.

"The people who have done this should get an award for it," said 48-year-old Satvir Singh. "This was a murder of morality."
This is just such an unmitigated clusterfuck of misogyny, classism, poverty, and privilege, it's hard to know where to begin. There are so many institutional biases at work, working in catastrophic concert to put pressure on everyone involved. That's not to say that the murders were justified; to the contrary, they are unjustifiable, but it is an indictment of the system and tradition that the people who committed them could not live a fully functional life in a village of intimate interdependence without the heinous act.

Before I turn it over for discussion in comments, I just want to note one thing about Reuters' coverage: The picture of the bodies that accompanies the story really struck me. I'm not certain of its purpose: Would readers not have understood the horror of a double-murder for the "crime" of seeking a life of love in freedom unless the story were told with a gruesome picture?

And further, I sincerely doubt that Reuters would have published an image of the white bodies of Jane Doe and Jack Smith, if the story had been about, say, an Indiana couple who was murdered by the girl's family for similar reasons—which is hardly unheard of (though we try to pretend we're above such things by not calling them "honor killings" and imagining ourselves all members of a giant middle class). That the photo of the corpses was included in this case (as an editorial decision, irrespective of the availability of the bodies being made available for photography, which generally doesn't happen in America) strikes me as a nefarious little bit of Othering, as well as a reflection of an existent double-standard.


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