This is a story of the power of the meek,of people who did not lose their dignity,and of their ability to play fair under adverse situations, said Chander Suta Dogra as she turned the pages of her first book,Manoj and Babli: A Hate Story (Penguin),at a launch organised by the Chandigarh Literary Society.
It was in 2007 that Manoj and Babli were brutally murdered for falling in love,eloping and marrying though they belonged to the same caste. Their bodies were thrown into a canal,and the crime had the approval of the khap of their village Karora in the Kaithal district of Haryana. Flexing muscle and money,Bablis family manipulated the police and did not allow investigations to reach any logical conclusion. Ostracised,Manojs family was even denied an asthi kalash,with no one attending the funeral and the local priest refusing to perform a puja.
The khap panchayats have allegedly ordered many honour killings and Haryana has become synonymous with these crimes,with the police being seen as mere spectators. Except in this case. Manojs widowed mother Chandrapati and his sister Seema stood up to the system and decided to seek justice for the couple,regardless of threats and dangers,and were supported by women activists and the local media.
As a journalist,Dogra has covered the state of Haryana extensively,including the Manoj-Babli case,and was approached by Penguin Books India to write a book on it. The first time I encountered an honour killing was in 2004,in a village near Meham in Haryana. A girl had been killed 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, said Dogra,adding that women are often silent spectators,and their feelings are never addressed.
A blend of fact and fiction with court recordings,FIRs,video recordings,and interviews with the families of Manoj and Babli the narrative is both descriptive and chilling and took Dogra three years to complete. With the smallest details of the case presented in the book,its left to the readers to draw conclusions,as the landmark judgment of death sentence for the culprits gives the fight an honourable conclusion.
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Dogra writes of hope,progress in the villages of Haryana,as literacy and awareness give the youth a new perspective. The case is a brilliant expose of the face-off between those who abide by the law and the upholders of archaic traditions that clash with it, says Dogra,who introduces Narendera,Manojs cousin,to the audience at the launch. He did all the running around and was the first to start investigation of the case.
He was offered one crore rupees to withdraw the case but despite that and death threats and social ostracism,he fought for justice and integrity. The book is the story of such heroes, says Dogra.