Sunday, June 21, 2009

A real-life Romeo & Juliet tragedy

The similarities between Shakespeare's magnum opus and this story are both surprisingly close – and terribly saddening. It could be its own little play or novella. Amreen was a Muslim girl, and Lokesh was a Hindu boy. Both were very much in love, and although a relationship between a Muslim and a Hindu was categorically prohibited in their Indian village of Phaphunda, they threw caution to the winds and literally eloped, running away and getting married. A beautiful story ... but that was not to last.

As they heard of the secretive and forbidden marriage, both their respective families, and the village council (or panchayat) themselves, united to order them to annul the marriage immediately – or they would be killed.

They both took poison and died together.

As tragic as this may be, there is one good thing to come out of it which shows that this sort of behavior may not be the norm for long: the local police are doing everything they can to charge the entire panchayat with abetting suicide and building a case against them for leading the two innocent lovers to their deaths.

Below are parts of the source article, a sort of investigative journalism piece from the herald of frank and austere reporting, the BBC, in which the reporter (Sanjoy Majumder) arrives at the village in question to get the full story on what happened.

Like most others in the area, it was small and unremarkable.

The villagers, mostly farmers, live in houses built close to each other, with narrow lanes running through them. Horse-carts and cattle amble along - Delhi seems far away.

Attitudes here can be unforgiving. I headed first to the house of the village chief, Achan Singh, who heads the village council.

A tall, well-built man in his 40s, he was very welcoming, pouring out steaming cups of tea as we sat on his carpet.

Yes, he had heard about the incident but no it was not his panchayat that had anything to do with it.

"It was a gathering of elders from the two families," he told me.

"The boy and girl were told that their marriage would not be allowed. They would have to leave each other or else they would be killed," he said in a matter of fact way.

Pressed further, Mr Singh sympathised with the couple but said they had made a fatal mistake.

"You see, they fell in love and then ran away to get married. They should have stayed away and lived in the city.

"In our village, Hindus marry Hindus and Muslims marry Muslims. It's very sad, what happened but what can you expect? The pressure on their families was enormous. They were being disgraced and dishonoured."

Right ... how dare two young people fall in love and try and live happily together. Ooh, the shame that reflects upon their families.

"Go on, tell them how you were dishonoured in the community," Achan Singh prompted him gently but firmly.

"We were dishonoured in the community," repeated Salim [Amreen's father].

"Neither family wanted them to marry. But no-one threatened them either," he maintained.

The girl's aunt, Syeda, who had been listening in while tending to her sick mother, decided to speak up.

"She was a lovely girl, very innocent and always used to read the Koran. God knows what madness prompted her to run away with that boy. We're all very sad at what happened."

Madness? It's called love, something I'm certain you've definitely never experienced – and probably never will.

Thankfully, the police are not taking this lying down and are doing something about it.

It was obvious I was going to get little more out of the family so we left and headed to the office of the local policeman for a little more clarity.

"We got to hear about the incident and decided to act," said police superintendent Sharad Sachan.

"The young couple were legally married and therefore entitled to live together. Their parents and the villagers had no right to put pressure on them and force them to commit suicide. They are guilty of a crime and we will do all we can to build a case against them."


But, hey – let's all keep religion in place, let's not speak out against it, and let's all adhere to it's marvelous moral codes. What could go wrong? Right?


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