No country for lovers: How inter-caste couples continue to be targeted in Bihar
Love marriages may be increasing in Bihar but couples continue to face attacks in the state. Many who have defied the existing social order have paid with their lives while others have been banished from their villages or made to pay heavy fines and undergo crude punishments.
This pattern was repeated again this weekend in a village in Bandara block in Muzaffarpur, when a couple belonging to difference castes were banished. They had recently eloped from home to get married and live separately.
Last Sunday, a village court summoned over the issue told the couples to separate. But when they refused, they were told to leave the village. People who were present said that the lovers weren’t even allowed to visit their respective homes and meet their family members.
This is not an isolated story. In October this year, two cousin sisters were killed and their bodies hanged from a tree in the same Muzaffarpur district for falling in love against their family’s wishes.
In September, a woman was lynched and her boyfriend blinded in Araria district for similar reason. In June, a teenage boy in Bhojpur district was badly beaten up, tortured and then thrown away to an isolated place wrapped inside a coffin. The reason was the same. Luckily, he survived.
An even more gruesome incident took place in Bhagalpur district where a village court ordered that a boy be shot dead for falling in love with a girl. The “punishment” was delivered at the court itself and six bullets were pumped into the boy.
In May, a family slit the throat of a girl in Gaya district for eloping for the sake of love.
In another bone-chilling incident from Gaya district, a teenage girl and her boyfriend were badly beaten up, strangled to death and then burnt on the same funeral pyre for falling in love. This was in 2015.
The same year, a village court in Katihar district imposed a “love tax” of Rs 50,000 on a newly-wed couple for entering into an inter-caste wedlock in “defiance” of the “existing social order”.
But probably the most horrible incident took place in 2008 when a 15-year-old boy was thrashed, paraded through the streets with his head shaved and then thrown under the wheels of a running train for daring to write a love letter to a girl from a different case in Kaimur district.
Social scientists say these incidents are indicative of the fact that the society is not ready to change and that it still attaches sanctity to the old social custom of arranged marriages.
“The punishments to those opting for love marriages indicate how the collective of a community still exists and people are ready to go to any extent to save their ‘honour,’” says prominent social scientist Sachindra Narayan who served as a professor at the prestigious Patna’s AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies.
According to him, there is a need for a comprehensive social movement, like Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s movement for widow remarriage, to make love marriages acceptable in society.
Such incidents have continued despite the Bihar government launching an initiative to promote inter-caste marriages. In the past three years itself, the government has hiked the incentive from Rs 25,000 in 2014 to Rs 1 lakh in 2016—indicating how the government is serious to encourage “love marriages” and eliminate the demon of dowry which has been claiming scores of lives every year.
Last year, the social welfare department had distributed the cash rewards among 30 couples who entered into inter-caste marriages but the number of “love marriages” has been much more. Official statistics state that 1,698 elopements have been reported till August this year. In 2016, the figure was 1583, 1229 in 2015 and 760 in 2014.
Similarly, the number of “honeymoon kidnappings” (an official term for kidnapping for marriages) too has increased manifold of late. As per an official report, 2,494 honeymoon kidnapping have been reported till August this year. Last year, their number was 3,070 while in 2015, it was 3,000. In 2014, a total of 2,526 cases of “honeymoon kidnappings” were reported. This indicates a steady rise in such incidents.