A history of honour killings against Dalits in Telangana

Hyderabad: Exactly 45 months ago, Telangana witnessed one of the bloodiest honour killings wherein a Dalit Christian P Pranay Kumar (23) was murdered by hired killers.

The killers were hired at the insistence of his father-in-law T Maruti Rao, a prominent realtor and politician from Miryalaguda town of Nalgonda district and his brother Shravan.

It was on 14 September 2018, that Pranay was hacked to death by hired killers for marrying a woman of a different religion. The woman Amrutha Varshini, an upper-caste Hindu woman was friends with Pranay – a Dalit Christian- for several years. Later, the couple got married without informing anyone.

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The highlight of the case was T Maruti Rao, struck a deal of Rs. 1.13 crore to hire assailants to track and kill Pranay. Of this amount, around Rs. 15 lakh was paid as advance. It is considered one of the biggest ‘supari amounts’ in Telangana.

Police officials term the killings as one of the cases that gave birth to honour killings in Telangana. “In this case, we were shocked to know that Maruti Rao agreed to pay Rs. 1.13 crore to the hired assassins for killing Pranay. It showed his anger over a Dalit man marrying his daughter,” said an official who was part of the investigation.

Maruti Rao, who was arrested for the killing of Pranay later committed suicide in 2020 at an Arya Vysya Bhavan – a guest house for the traders’ community at Khairatabad in Hyderabad.

Another case of honour killing took place in September 2020 in Cyberabad in Telangana, wherein a 28-year-old man named Hemanth Kumar, was killed by relatives of his wife Avanthi Reddy in an inter-caste murder. The police arrested 14 people out of which 12 are members of Avanthi’s family, including her parents Donthireddy Laxma Reddy (54), and Donthireddy Archana (44).

Kumar belonged to the Vysya community and was an interior designer while his wife, Avanthi, is an upper caste Reddy woman. She is a B.Tech graduate, and both the Vysyas and Reddy’s are affluent castes in the Telugu states.

Both of them lived in the same locality in Hyderabad’s Chandangar and knew each other for eight years. The two got married on June 10 2020 at the Sub Registrar Office in Quthbullapur against their parents’ wishes and knowledge. “In this case, Laxma Reddy paid his drivers and four others substantial amounts to kill Hemanth Kumar,” said the police then.

In one more case at S. R Nagar in 2018, a man attacked his own daughter for marrying a person belonging to another caste. The couple Sandeep (23) and Madhavi (21) got married on September 12 2018 at an Arya Samaj temple against the wishes of Madhavi’s family. While Sandeep belonged to the SC community, Madhavi belonged to the Backward Class community. The girl’s parents had threatened Madhavi against going ahead with the relationship and in fact, we’re looking for a match to marry her off.

On coming to know about the marriage, the girl’s father, Manohar Chari had called the couple to meet him at Erragada, Gokul Theatre and attacked Sandeep, however, he escaped as Madhavi came in front to save her husband. The woman sustained severe injuries.

In the recent interfaith killing case at Saroornagar on May 3 this year, Nagaraju, a Dalit man, was killed by his brother-in-law and one other person for marrying Ashrin Sultana. Both of them got married at the Arya Samaj temple in the Old City of Hyderabad against the wishes of the family of Ashrin. Two relatives of the woman, Mobeen and Masood were arrested.

In that case too, many believe that objection against their marriage was linked to Nagaraju belonging to Dalit community.

“In the majority of the cases, the family members of the girl oppose the marriage. Instances are high when the boy is from a lower caste. Most marriages take place at the registrar’s office or Arya Samaj temple after which the couple land at the police stations seeking protection,” said Avinash, a human rights activist.

In the latest case at Begum Bazaar, Neeraj and Sanjana had approached the Afzalgunj police when family members of Sanjana threatened Neeraj some months ago at Kosalwadi. “Family members of the woman were counselled and warned against interfering with the couple when they approached us,” said an official from the Afzalgunj police station.

The Shahinayathgunj police arrested four persons, all relatives of the girl who were planning to settle the score since the day of the marriage of Neeraj and Sanjana.

The ill-feeling and hatred in such cases is gauged from the fact that the family members of Neeraj told the police on Saturday that people from the Yadav community to which Sanjana belonged were allegedly clapping and whistling to celebrate the recent killing of Nagaraju. “We want security and police protection for us. People are whistling and clapping in front of our houses,” a woman from the Marwadi community reportedly told Joel Davis, DCP (west) at his office.

According to sources, around a dozen couples from different castes eloped in the last year in Shahinyathgunj and Mangalhat police stations. A few of the girls are from the Yadava community.

“Inter-caste marriages are not new here. Families belonging to various castes reside in colonies in Begum Bazaar, Shahinyathgunj, Dhoolpet, Mangalhath and Afzalgunj for decades. Right from when they are children, they go to schools where students of all faiths and castes study. So when they grow up, love marriages do take place, abd most families keep quiet and allow the couples to live their own way,” said a local resident.

A senior lawyer, Narsing Rao, of the Telangana High, attributes the increasing honour killings to growing casteism in the society. “Political parties were dividing people on grounds of faiths earlier and now more on grounds of caste openly. So if an act of a single woman is not affecting a family but an entire community,” he said.

A retired police officer from Telangana said the police can’t do much when couples come and seek protection. “Threat analysis is done and based on it the families of the man and woman are called and warned against interfering in their lives. Cases are not booked usually so as not to increase the hatred between them because in many instances we find parents forgive their children and again they come requesting us to drop the cases,” said a police official.

However, he said in cases where there is grave danger, they advise them to shift the houses to some secure place. “Generally for a year or two, there will be some ill-feeling, particularly among youngsters in the families. It is better to avoid confrontations,” he added.

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