Honour killing of ‘Dalit’ youth sparks outrage in southern India

The kidnapping and ‘honour killing’ of a poor ‘Dalit’ (‘oppressed’ community) Christian youth days after he married the woman he loved without the consent of her rich orthodox parents has caused outrage in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

The incident points to conservative values entrenched in communities cutting across religions in a state with 97% literacy and great tradition in communal harmony.

Shanu Chacko and Chacko John, the brother and father respectively of the newly-married Neenu Chacko, 20, surrendered to police at Karikkottakary in northern Kerala on Tuesday (May 29) hours ahead of the funeral of her husband Kevin P Joseph, 23, in a cemetery in Kottayam.

Kevin’s body was recovered from a canal at Thenmala in Kollam on Monday after he was kidnapped from his uncle’s home in the wee hours of Sunday by  Shanu with the help of hired goons.

Kevin’s life could have been saved had police at Gandhi Nagar station acted quickly. Precious hours were wasted as they refused to receive the complaint from Kevin’s father Joseph Jacob who approached them at 6 am. According to Joseph, police said an officer was holding talks with Kevin’s abductors.

Local media said Shanu, who plotted the kidnapping, called the officer around 5.45 am to tell him about the ‘escape’ of Kevin who was with kidnappers in another vehicle.

Kevin must have been dead by then and Shanu’s ‘escape’ story may be to mislead the investigators. A theory is being floated in media that Kevin might have slipped and fallen into the canal while escaping the abductors.

Shanu also requested the officer to bring his sister Neenu back home.

After Kevin’s father left the police station, Neenu approached officers who said her complaint would be looked into later as they were busy with security arrangements linked to state chief minister’s district visit.

District police chief VM Mohammed Rafiq was transferred and two inspectors MS Shibu and Sunny of the Gandhi Nagar police station were suspended after Kevin’s body was recovered.

Kottayam district observed a shutdown on Tuesday to protest goon culture and police laxity.

The Kevin case got a political colouring as one of the two arrested from Tamil Nadu, NM Niaz, was local leader of DYFI, the youth wing of the Communist party of India (CPM) which is ruling Kerala. Critics of  the CPM government said police went slow after abductors because they wanted to shield DYFI members allegedly involved in the kidnapping.

While admitting police lapses, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who also heads the home ministry, attacked media for politicising a tragedy.

As television stations aired footage of Kevin’s body being fished out of the lake, voting was underway for a key by-election at Chenganoor where CPM was engaged in a close fight with rival Congress. DYFI workers immediately cut cables to black out the scenes aired live from the canal front.

CPM’s rivals Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party are attacking them for the ‘pathetic’ law and order situation in the state.

Kevin had been in love with Neenu for the past three years. Neenu kept it a secret as her parents would never have approved a marriage with a man from a poor background.

When Neenu learned that her parents were looking for a groom from a rich and respectable family, she and Kevin got married at a registry office last week. For the Chacko family, their honour was at stake.

Police will be questioning Shanu and Chacko over their role in Kevin’s kidnapping and death. So far, they have arrested six of the 12 suspects involved in the case.