Rohtak, Haryana: "I didn't kill my sister. She committed suicide." Ravi Kashyap shares this in a flat tone as he's escorted out of court by policemen.
The 20-year-old allegedly played the main lead in Haryana's latest honour killing. His sister, Usha, just a year younger than him, had eloped with a man she loved. Ravi, part of a large farming family in Gohana, was assigned to avenge his family. He allegedly murdered her by hanging her from the fan in her bedroom.
The police say that Usha's lover was not a pariah to her family on account of his caste, usually the ardent cause of honour killings in Punjab and Haryana. Khap panchayats, or village vigilante courts, are the preferred route for caste-conflicts, and their power is an odd combination of both self-assumed and sanctioned might.
Later, the lover with whom the girl eloped, committed suicide.
Last week, for the first time, a khap panchayat's role was penalised in court, with the head of the council sentenced to life imprisonment. Manoj had married Babli against the wishes of her family which turned to the khap panchayat for help. The young couple was persecuted relentlessly. Neighbours were warned that they'd be fined Rs 25,000 if they were found in conversation. Death threats were a daily affair. So Manoj asked for help. A court ordered the police to protect the young couple. But days later, they were found floating in a canal.
The court sentenced five people, all relatives of Babli, to death. The khap panchayat head, complicit in the execution, was given a life sentence.
Neither the letter nor the spirit of the judgement seems to have provoked either introspection or fear. For young women in hundreds of these villages, the message is simple - marry who and when you're told.