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Skeletons in the closet

brunch Updated: Aug 03, 2013 09:42 IST
Usmeet Kaur
Usmeet Kaur
Hindustan Times
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Their love story might have been ordinary, but their deaths made them a common name. The gruesome murder of Manoj and Babli in 2007 by their own relatives for daring to fall in love and then elope and get married invited the wrath of the khap in their village Karora, district Kaithal, Haryana. Their execution was pronounced and carried off dutifully and the young lovers’ bodies found some days later.

The khaps have since allegedly ordered many such killings and ‘honour killings’ have become synonymous with Haryana. But, the case of Manoj and Babli remained in senior journalist Chander Suta Dogra’s mind. So, when she was approached by Penguin Books India to pen a book on the sensational case, Dogra took it up. “The first time I encountered an honor killing was in 2004, in a village near Meham in Haryana. A girl had been done to death by her father and brothers for eloping with a boy from a neighbouring village. When I went to her house, I found that the only person grieving for the girl was her mother,” recalls Dogra in the preface of Manoj and Babli: A Hate Story, her book that was released recently and about which Dogra shared details at UT Guest House, Sector 6, Chandigarh on Friday.

“In this book, I have experimented with ‘faction’ — a combination of facts and fiction. The book has fictitious characters with real stories. Recordings of the courts, FIRs and video recordings helped me pen the book,” says Dogra, who has had an illustrious career with publications such as the Outlook and currently The Hindu, where she serves as assistant editor. Dogra has covered north India extensively, though Manoj and Babli: A Hate Story is her first book. “It took me almost three years to complete the book even though I had covered many honour killings, but in another way,” she tells us.

To unearth facts about Manoj and Babli, Dogra would find herself visit their village Karora on the weekends, where she would spend time with their families. “I was well aware of the social milieu of Haryana and knew how to merge with their culture. Yet, I face many a hostile situation. Babli’s family and other men sitting under trees would refuse to answer any question about the two. ‘Ask us something else, this is our village’s internal matter,’ they would say,” recounts Dogra.

Dogra calls Manoj and Babli’s case “a brilliant expose of the face-off between those who abide by the law and the upholders of archaic traditions that clash with it.” However, she also insists there have been positive developments in Haryana over the years. “There are now educated and informed youngsters who have the courage to re-define the honour of their villages. However, there also continue to be illiterate youngsters who support the khaps,” she adds.

Dogra goes on to say that with support from the media and the courts’ handing out of death sentences to the culprits, khaps are trying to distance themselves from allegations of perpetrating crime. “Manoj’s sister Seema is presently a constable in the Haryana police and their mother Chanderpati stood for the sarpanch elections. I won’t call it a happy ending, but there has been some progress in their lives. My book is not just a tale of Manoj and Babli, it is also a narration of Manoj’s sister and mother’s battle with patriarchy and legal system,” Dogra concludes.

Manoj and Babli: A Hate Story is published by Penguin India and priced at R299