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Dashing hopes, Emboldening khaps - The High Court verdict on the Manoj Babli case

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A Newsclick feature after the exoneration of key accused, Ganga Raj in the Manoj-Babli "honour killing" case by the Haryana High Court. The feature attempts to look at all the major incidents after Manoj-Babli's killing upto the High Court verdict.




Newsclick: On the 11th of March, 2011, a High Court Verdict on the infamous Manoj-Babli ‘honour killing’ case dashed the hopes of many across Haryana and even the rest of the country. Among the key conspirators and the main accused in this case, Ganga Raj has been acquitted and is scot free. Ganga Raj is a prominent Congress leader in Kaithal and also a leader of the notorious Banwala Khap. Manoj and Babli both belonged to Karora village, in Kaithal district of Haryana. The Khap Panchayats were opposed to their marriage because they belonged to the same ‘gotra.’

Chanderpati (Manoj’s mother): They objected to their marriage because they were from the same ‘gotra’ (clan). But we had no objections to their union. We were happy for them.


Newsclick: Around a year back on the 29th of March, 2010 many celebrated the Karnal session court verdict where the 7 accused in this case were convicted. Five of them were Babli’s relatives who were given death sentences and Ganga Raj, the key conspirator was given life imprisonment. The driver of the car in which they were kidnapped was awarded 7 years imprisonment.  

Jagmati Sangwan (President,Haryana AIDWA): All those who had been fighting against honour crimes, found a new lease of energy after this verdict. And all the forces struggling for justice began working with a renewed fervour.

Newsclick: The conviction was the result of perhaps one of the most glorious and difficult struggles in the history of the women’s movement in India. The All India Democratic Women’s Association played a pivotal role in this struggle. Manoj’s sister, Seema (only 19 when her brother was killed) and his mother, Chanderpati (a widow) were the first in Haryana to file a case against those involved in an ‘honour killing’.

Seema (Manoj’s sister): People would come and try to make us compromise.  They would intimidate us or offer money. They threatened my mother saying, “You have two daughters and a young boy. What would you do if something was to happen to them?” Since the bribes failed, they tried intimidation. I told my mother, that come what may, we won't compromise.  After that day my mother also stopped thinking about a compromise.


Newsclick: Finally, in a desperate attempt to pressurize the family to withdraw the case the village Panchayat, led by Ganga Raj, imposed an economic and social boycott on the family.

Ganga Raj (Banwala Khap Leader): My name is Ganga Raj.

Interviewer: Why the boycott against Manoj's family?

Ganga Raj: The entire village has a common ancestor.  That means, we have the same ‘gotra’ i.e. Banwala ‘gotra’, and marrying within the same ‘gotra’ is against societal norms. The key reasons for the boycott are, firstly we lost our girl, and the false charge filed against us and the girl's family by the grooms mother.

Interviewer: What does the boycott entail?

Ganga Raj: Anyone who talks to them or trades anything with them will be fined Rs. 25,000 and that person will be boycotted as well. 

Seema: They refused to sell milk to my mother. They also refused to sell us fodder for the cattle. They returned the money to us. The entire village was against us. If anyone would see us walking towards them they’d turn away. They were worried that we might start a conversation, and they’d get fined.

Newsclick: In response to the boycott and Ganga Raj’s coercive tactics, Activists from AIDWA and DYFI appealed to the Women’s Commission to intervene and break the boycott.

Jagmati Sangwan: We have come to submit our petition to the Women’s Commission. The concerned family consists of a widow, her two daughters, and the only bread winner of the family, her son, has been killed. There is a very hostile environment against them in the village. We request the state administration and the Women’s Commission to make arrangements for their rehabilitation so that they can lead their lives in a dignified way. Also, there should be no pressure on them to withdraw the FIR.           

Newclick: The Khaps too, made sure they were heard.

Pawanjit Banwala (President, Banwala Khap): If any Jat in India Marries in the same ‘gotra’, the consequences will be very harsh. And to all the leftist organisations espousing their cause, I’d request them to first marry off their sons and daughters to each other. They are raking up a ruckus over others’ domestic issues. Calling in the Women’s Commission etc. and politicising everything. They talk about Bhagat Singh. Wasn’t he a Jat? Through the press, we would like to say, that anyone who transgresses our traditional code will not be spared and even more stringent measures will be taken.

Interviewer: You mean you can go beyond murder?

Pawanjit Banwala: Murder? No big deal. If sons and daughters start marrying each other… masturbate together, what’ll be left of society? And you talk about murders?

Newsclick: Soon after the intervention by the Women’s Commission the boycott was halted, but the state machinery made no bones about backing the Khaps. The reluctance to take action against Ganga Raj, even then, was evident.

Lal Bahadur (Manoj’s family’s Lawyer): The police was refusing to arrest the criminal, Ganga Raj. News reports pointed out how Panchayats around Haryana were being held in his favour and how khaps were issuing warnings against his arrest. A senior police officer made a statement in court saying that Ganga Raj can’t be arrested because his arrest could create a law and order situation. He said this in court! I was shocked to see a lawful authority unwilling to arrest an alleged criminal citing law and order.

Newsclick: In a shocking incident exposing the police callousness, Seema was slapped by the main accused in the court premises. This happened when he was under police custody and even Seema was given police protection. Undeterred by the growing attempts at intimidation, the two women continued with their struggle. But also undeterred was the Banwala Khap and their continuing reign of terror. On the 22nd of July, 2009 Sonia and Vedpal became the next targets of the Banwala Khap. Vedpal was from Mataur village, which was also in Kaithal district. They eloped because their marriage was opposed by the Khaps because the two of them belonged to neighbouring villages.

Pawanjit Banwala: A boy from a bordering village, Mataur, has eloped with a girl from our village. This isn’t just about eloping with a girl, but also demeaning the sacred relationship of people from neighbouring villages being siblings. People responsible for this disgraceful conduct will not be spared. The Banwala Khap has always taken harsh steps and will continue to do so. Come what may, these people will not be spared.

Interviewer: So will we see a re-run of the Manoj-Babli episode?

Pawanjit Banwala: If disgraceful acts like these occur, then such incidents will obviously be repeated.

Newsclick: On the 22nd of July, Vedpal was brutally murdered in Sonia’s village, Singhwal.

Interviewer: Why did they kill your brother?

Surinder: What could be they reason? The khaps claim that they were siblings. How can they be siblings? In our village there have been marriages between these ‘gotras’ in the past.

Masher (Vedpal’s mother): These Khap Panchayats should be banned, only then will the world be safe. They make wrong decisions. They kill others’ children, destroying their homes. He did nothing wrong, he only got married. It’s not like he robbed or killed someone.

Newsclick: But the sessions Court verdict brought hope to many, including Vedpal’s family. Seema and Chanderpati felt justice was being delivered. Some months after the verdict, in a shocking lapse of security there was an assassination attempt on Seema, inside the Madhuban police academy, where she works. The hired killer, who was out on parole, later confessed that he was recruited by Babli’s relatives, when they were in jail together. Braving the assassination attempt as well, the two women continued to fight, but this time the court rewarded the accused.

Chanderpati: we were very happy with the Sessions Court’s verdict. We are very disturbed with the High Court’s judgement. This verdict is against us. This is not justice.

Seema: There’s no limit to their joy.

Chanderpati: Whose photo is that?

Seema: Baru’s mother’s.

Newsclick: Not only does one sense a great miscarriage of justice but with Ganga Raj on the loose Manoj’s family is under threat once again.

Chanderpati: If they could send hired assasins when in jail, we are in greater danger now that they are out.

Seema: The poor will keep dying. Things will not change.

Interviewer: Do you have any hope from the Supreme Court?

Seema: The world rests on hope. The Supreme Court is the last route from here. We hope they will uphold the verdict of the sessions court. We are not at all happy with the high court verdict. No one cares, not the police or the courts. They’ll kill the whole family like they killed Manoj and Babli. Then they will also be acquitted. They didn’t listen to anything out lawyer had to say. The decision was given in haste.


Lal Bahadur: Just before the mishap, a car with the accused in it was following them. Ganga Raj got the car released from the police. A senior officer, Ramdev, testified in Court saying that Ganga Raj got that car released from the police. When they wanted to search the car, Ganga Raj told them to leave the car. When the police refused, Ganga raj got some influentioal person to call the Head Constable. It was after he received that call that he released the car. These points that we made in court were ignored.

Seema- We can’t roam around freely. Wherever we go, it has to be under police protection. What kind of a life is this? Living means being able to move around freely. We lost our children, on top of that, we are fighting and we live in confinement. The only difference is that their conefinement is visible to everyone, while ours isn’t. there are people both for and against, but no one sees our conefinement.

Jagmati Sangwan- Ganga Raj was a Congress functionary and had connections with several high level ministers. That’s why we were agitating for a year and a half to arrest this man if we have to put an end to atrocities happening in the name of honour. The National Women’s commission, The National Human Rights Commision, so many social organisations, and even the Karnal Sessions Court; all of them viewed Ganga Raj as the mastermind behind this crime. The way he’s been completely acquitted, everyone feels that the forces behind the violence in the name of honour will be emboldened, and people’s faith in the law will be shaken.

Newsclick: Interestingly just one day before the verdict, there was an assault on Vedpal’s brother, Surinder.

Surinder: My cousin Joginder and I were going on the bike. They came and stopped us and pushed me off the bike and started attacking me with sticks. Joginder quickly parked the bike and came to help me. In the mean time, some other villagers also came to my rescue.

Interviewer: Did you recognize them?

Surinder: Yes they were from Singwal village.

Masher: The people from Singhtwal killed Vedpal. Now they’ve set their target on my younger son. They attacked him a day before the hearing in court. He was bleeding so profusely. Even after tying a shawl around his head, the bleeding would not stop.

Newsclick: Roughly a fortnight before the assault, the Pradhan of the Banwala Khap, Pawanjit Banwala, one of the main accused in the Vedpal Murder, was released on bail. There is maybe more to the recent events than meets the eye. Initially, one saw a glimmer of hope, when the marginalised took on the might of the extra constitutional Khap Panchayats and the ineffective state machinery. But the High Court verdict has belied expectations of constitutional justice. In an interview just one month before the High Court judgement, this is what Seema had to say about the Sessions court verdict.

Seema: After all that we have gone through- The boycott, the struggles and obstacles. If the verdict was in their favour people would have lost their faith in the law. We would have continued with our struggle but we would have lost all our faith in the law. But after the Sessions Court verdict Irealize that one should never give up.

Newsclick: Seema’s optimism was short lived. Now with the likes of Ganga Raj being set free and Pawan Banwala also on the loose, one of the major struggles against the feudal and patriarchal forces in Haryana has received a major setback. Seema and Chanderpati’s hopes now rest upon the Supreme Court delivering full and comprehensive justice.

Seema: It’s not just about us. It’s about the millions of people, who inspite of all obstacles fight for justice, even if it’s not a case of an ‘honour killing’, but all those who muster up the courage to fight. And if they encounter such people along the way, then will they ever get justice? Never. Not in our society. Not in our country.


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