The panchayat in Mamta’s village barred her remains from being brought home, and she was cremated among strangers.
Rohtak: An 18-year-old Jat woman allegedly killed by her family for marrying a Dalit was cremated over the weekend by the Rohtak district administration and civil society groups. Her immediate family jailed, a distant uncle lit the pyre.
Mamta was shot dead outside a district court last week, with a police escort also falling to the bullets of her assailants. While still a minor, she had reportedly eloped with her lover, a man named Sunil who hailed from a neighbouring village, last year.
She turned 18 in June, and was on her way to make her first statement as an adult before a district magistrate, possibly to express her intention to stay with Sunil, when two bike-borne gunmen allegedly hired by her family pumped two bullets into her chest.
While her immediate family was arrested after the murder, the panchayat in their village — Gaddi Kheri, a Jat-dominated settlement of 3,000 residents — issued a diktat against bringing her remains home. And thus, none of Mamta’s relatives from the village came forward to claim her body or perform her last rites.
Elders in Singhpura, Sunil’s village, cited “brotherly relations” with Gaddi Kheri to refuse permission to bring Mamta’s body there either.
With Sunil and his father Jasraj in jail, his brother Dinesh wanted to attend the funeral but dropped the idea, fearing the Jats might see it as yet another provocation.
“The Jatav and the Valmikis (both scheduled castes) have separate crematoriums and they are not allowed in the regular ones. The Jats would not have liked their girl being cremated in a Valmiki crematorium. At the same time, they cannot allow a Valmiki (Sunil) into their crematorium,” Ram Gopal, an activist, said.
According to police sources, Sunil had sought permission to perform the last rites, but the request was reportedly denied as the validity of their marriage is still under question.
But local activists in Rohtak suspect Sunil was denied permission because of fears the caste equations could have caused fresh trouble.
Eventually, a distant uncle of Mamta, who doesn’t live in Gaddi Kheri and thus didn’t have to abide by the panchayat diktat, lit her funeral pyre amid heavy security. Women’s rights activists raised slogans as flamed consumed Mamta’s body.
Mamta, born to Ramkesh and Savita of Gaddi Kheri, was adopted by her uncle Ramesh and his wife Krishna at the age of two.
When they eloped in August last year, Sunil had been a tenant in Ramesh’s house for three months. Mamta didn’t have a birth certificate but, according to her school records, she was 17 at the time.
Though he alleged abduction, Ramesh acknowledged in his complaint to police that Mamta “willingly stepped out of the house at night” without informing him and carried her identification documents with her.
Sunil was subsequently booked.
Meanwhile, the couple had reached Delhi and tied the knot at an Arya Samaj Mandir on 24 August 2017, according to police. They returned to Rohtak in January and approached the district magistrate for protection from Mamta’s family.
While the magistrate was verifying the marriage certificate, Mamta’s father alleged that Sunil had got her forged a matriculation certificate to show her to be an adult. Sunil and his father Jasraj were immediately arrested and sent to Rohtak’s Sunaria jail for alleged fraud, rape and conspiracy. Since Mamta did not want to return to her parents’ house, was sent to Nari Niketan, a women’s shelter, in Karnal.
She was making regular appearances before the magistrate, but the one on 8 August, the day she was killed, was her first since attaining adulthood.
Since she was a major, she could have informed the judge that she would like to keep her marriage intact with Sunil. Though child marriage is illegal in India, they can only be invalidated if either party wishes.
However, her statement was not recorded and the case postponed to 21 August.
Mamta, accompanied by sub-inspector Narendra Kumar and Susheel, a female constable, was on her way out when the assailants struck, barely 200 metres from the district court and the mini secretariat.
Sunil’s mother had also accompanied Mamta but Susheel shielded her during the shooting and she escaped unhurt. Kumar, 54, was killed too. Since Kumar belonged to a scheduled caste, police registered a case under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act as well.
Police suspect that the conspiracy to kill Mamta was hatched about a month ago by Ramesh, Krishna, Ramkesh and Savita.
They got in touch with Ramkesh’s nephew Mohit alias Manglu, based in Meerut, who then allegedly hired the two gunmen for Rs 7 lakhs
According to police sources, Ramesh said that Mohit had introduced the shooters to Mamta before the hearing so they could identify her.
Police have identified the alleged shooters, who are on the run, as Parvinder and Prashant alias Prince of Uttar Pradesh. The motorcycle allegedly used by them is yet to be recovered, as is the murder weapon.
A search is also underway for a car that was supposed to have been used for a “backup plan” in case the first bid failed.
While Sunil’s family has complained that there was always a threat to their lives and Mamta’s, deputy superintendent of police Ramesh Arora said the woman was not provided extra security since she was already in custody. “There is enough security within the court complex. There were no threats either and she was being brought to Rohtak from Karnal regularly. In fact, her parents even visited her several times,” Arora told ThePrint.
Honour killing in Haryana is hardly a new phenomenon. In just over a month, district courts in Sirsa and Sonepat have convicted family members in three separate cases of honour killings.
According to police officials and locals, such incidents are rare in Rohtak city. But just last year, police recovered the half-burnt body of a Dalit woman from a funeral pyre at the same place Mamta was cremated. She had allegedly been killed by her family for marrying a Brahmin.
In 2013, a couple was hacked to death in Rohtak for marrying within the same gotra.
Haryana has, in fact, become notorious for its alleged endemic mistreatment of women. While it has among India’s lowest sex ratios, it has also emerged as the country’s gang-rape capital.
“Yes, honour killings happen. But you should also remember Rohtak for Sakshi Malik, she is also a woman but see how we treat her,” a police officer said.