Akash stared ceaselessly at the gigantic portrait of his deceased mother and father on their tenth death anniversary.He was impassioned by love which was very evident in that picture, the only one he had.His mom had kept her hand on his father’s chest and their smiles in that picture were electric.The Portrait depicted absolute contentment on their faces.
Their Memories usually came in blurred images, sometimes in nightmares, sometimes while he was awake and in a trance of his queries relating to their death.They had died under mysterious circumstances, their death had been unexpected and gruesome, but akash was never told anything, and his questions were always avoided.
He was a 6 year old boy then and his Grandfather, Shri Vishambhar Das Chaudhry had promised to tell him everything when the time was right ,but today again, he had blatantly refused to divulge any information.His Aunt sushma had nurtured him, mothered him since he was a child but whenever he raised the question about his parents she would be distressed and shuffle off the conversation with a new excuse every time.
The Summer holidays of 2001 , when young akash had travelled with his parents to their village in Rajasthan for the first time. He remembers the excitement on the face of his grandfather when they reached.Bheem singh, the right hand man of his grandfather had prepared so many delicacies and he remembered going berserk playing hide and seek with his Uncle Sarang in a Fort nearby.The Next thing he remembers is two dead bodies lying on the floor and his Aunt Sushma covering his eyes and taking him away.A Faded voice echoes in his ears where he had kept on asking ” what happened to mom and dad” but the voice got crushed and refuted with no response.
A Decade of his life was behind him, this question had still not found a valid answer and now he had predetermined to find the cause of their untimely death.He understood that the fate was unalterable, but he wanted to do this for himself, may be not revenge but he wanted to just get an answer
He travelled to Satwa bhoora village , his village in Rajasthan alone without informing his aunt and grandfather as he feared confinement again.Never ending Long stretches of barren land was all that was in sight for a long long distance , as he walked dragging his baggage on a hot summer afternoon.A glimpse of cattle ensued that there was a village nearby, he hoped that there would be someone who would quench his thirst for water first and then show him the way to reach his ancestral house in the village.As he entered the village, a woman carrying water in a earthen pot readily offered him some water and also offered to walk with him till the Ancestral Haveli belonging to Shri Vishambhar Das Chaudhry.
The Haveli was protected with towering Chain-link-fencing from all sides and a mammoth lock at the centre. Inquiries on getting aside led him to another colossal mansion nearby.
This Prodigious house belonged to Mai Baap Dilawar Singh. Mai Baap was a metaphor used to describe his authority in the village, he was the village sarpanch who was smoking hooka on a charpai Seated in a leaning back position he asked ” What is your father’s name ? ” in his deep unsavory voice.
“My father is dead “he retorted ” he was killed”,
” Name” Said Mai Baap Dilawar singh with his palm to the young man’s face and an abhorrent expression ” I am only asking his name” he roared in anger.
“Animesh Chaudhry ” He said slowly and Mai Baap hit his head with his palm furiously and looked at his men as if gesturing something.
in the next moment two muscular bare-chested men wearing dhotis lifted him and threw him out of the haveli and warned him to never dare to come back.He attempted to divulge in a different direction and re-enter the village and using the darkness of the night,he climbed on a tree and entered Dilawar singh’s mansion through the huge window on the first floor.A Picture of his aunt caught his eye and as he lifted it to see it more closely, dilawar entered the room and said ” That’s my daughter “. He was so terror-struken by the sudden appearance of the old man that he reached out to lift his ancient gun hanging on the wall and point it at him. “You have to tell me everything ” he shouted in pain , the pain of the sketchy memories that have been haunting him for a decade.
Hearing the commotion the Two Muscular men appeared again,this time from both sides of Dilawar singh, looking at Akash with angst.Dilawar signalled to his men to leave and gestured akash to sit down.
He had finally decided to end the young man’s agony by fulfilling his quest for those unanswered questions.
It had all begun when dilawar singh’s daughter was four years old.The Haveli had been weighed down with decorations, and dilawar had personally distributed sweets in five villages nearby. Vafadar Bheem singh, the staunch loyalist of Vishambhar das chaudhry, felt proud when he lifted the 8 year old prince Animesh Chaudhry and made him sit next to his bride in the mandap, a 4 year old Sushma.
The Marriage had been talked about in the five neighbouring villages with tremendous enthusiasm and both the village childhood friends had turned their friendship into a strong relationship and impressed the neighboring five villages with their stature and prominence.
They came to decision that the Gauna (the actual time when the marriage is consummated and the girl goes to live with her In-laws) will be held after 10 years.
They realised the gravity of the mistake they had both made,when Animesh announced one night before the said date for the gauna that he loved another girl.
Vishambar das chaudhry wanted to see his son alive and hence ordered for him to run away. Bheem Singh was given the task to ensure that Animesh reached the station securely and left the village with the girl he loved.He had hidden them in an abandoned house nearby till dawn and with the first train in the morning he made them leave the village and made them swear on his head that they will never return. The fear was outrageous, the fear of the Khap Panchayat.
The Khap Panchayat which has the undisputed supremacy and dominance in these villages announced that Vishamdar Das Chaudhry had to suffer from banishment as he was considered an outcast and had to live in the outskirts of the village in an isolated place as his son had left his wife in a terrible state and now there would be no one to hold sushma’s hand.There was no other solution to this problem , the only one being finding animesh and bringing him to the village and forcing him to take sushma’s responsibility.
Vishambhar Das Chaudhry and his younger son Sarang Chaudhry who was only 9 years old then had to leave their ancestral mansion and live in shabby conditions and hear the most nasty foul statements from the villagers everyday.
Dilawar Singh was the only villager who showed some respite for his friend and his son and even sent them some food grains and groceries from time to time considering that the entire village had disowned them and even after paying money they had to hear the sickening curses from the food grain vendors , vegetable vendors whenever they stepped out and tried to buy those things .Dilawar made sure that his childhood friend survived in these difficult times.He visited him secretly , cheered him up and ensured him that time will heal everything .He even got sarang to work in his fields even after facing criticism and disapproval from the khap panchayat.
Life revived for the two friends 10 years later, Things had fallen into place and life was going to be smooth again for Vishambhar and Sarang,
Vishambhar’s younger son Sarang Chaudhry had fallen in love with Sushma and they both thought it was the best way to rectify the past. The Marriage Ceremony of Sarang (19) and Sushma (24) was going to be held with the same flourish.The date was announced and the panchayat was informed that Sarang was trying to rectify the sins that his brother had once committed.
A Shocking Uninvited guest spoiled the carousal. Yes, Animesh Chaudhry had arrived with his wife and his 6 year old son in tow.He stated that Sarang had sent the wedding invitation to his only brother as he had been stirred by emotions but the heart warming family get-together came to dramatic end.
The Khap Panchayat decided to disrupt the wedding and call for justice, they were not convinced with the re-marriage of sushma when her first husband was alive and in the village standing right there in front of their eyes.
They decided to take an completely inappropriate decision in the name of justice, they discarded animesh’s legal marriage by burning the marriage certificate and throwing the ash remains on Vishambhar’s face.
The Four Supremos sitting there with their heads held high then commanded something atrocious to resolve this problem. They Ordered Animesh to complete his abridged marriage by commemorating the gauna of Sushma and consummating his marriage with her and since Animesh’s wife Ashmita would become destitute, they ordered
Sarang to marry Ashmita and accept her son as his own child
if this was not followed that would mean wrath and fury of the villagers.
The villagers of Satwa Bhoora Village and five neighbouring villages had been given the authority to kill them if they disobeyed the Panchayat’s decision.
Vishambhar Das Chaudhry and Dilawar Singh decided to follow the fatwa issued by the panchayat as they believed having their children alive was far more important than seeing them unhappily married.
Animesh had other plans, he decided to elope again this time with Ashmita, Akash, Sarang and Sushma.He brought them to the same abandoned house in the outskirts of the village where bheem singh had helped him hide last time.
6 year old akash had started playing hide and seek with sushma totally unaware of the prevailing tension, A Mob of villagers had started the search for them carrying swords and Lathis.
Sarang seemed very uneasy as he looked out at villagers shouting their names with curses and moving around the house carrying mashals and swords. He decided to go out and surrender and left the concealed house even after repeated attempts to stop him by Animesh.
Vishambhar Das Chaudhry and Dilawar Singh were disgusted at what they saw a few minutes later. it was a horrific site of villagers carrying Sarang on their shoulders and shouting slogans of ‘ Sarang Chaudhry Zindabad’.He had given away the hiding spot of the four stashed loved ones to those blood thirsty villagers and earned himself the love of the Khap Panchayat and the villagers.
The whole purpose of sending the wedding invitation to animesh was to bring back the lost glories of his family.Animesh had eloped 10 years ago and everyday for those ten years sarang had faced the atrocities of the villagers who called him an outcast, this was his attempt to revamp himself and revisit the honour of his family by killing the one who had dishonoured.
Dejected and distressed Vishambhar and Dilawar searched for the dead bodies of their children. They entered the camouflaged shelter and found the dead bodies of animesh and ashmita but were unable to locate sushma and the child , after frantically calling out her name Sushma then emerged from the crest box where she had been hiding with the little boy , she kissed the almost suffocated little boy and when he shouted “What happened to mom and dad” she covered his eyes and took him away.
Bheem singh again contributed in hiding sushma , Vishambhar das and akash and then safely helping them board the train.
“This is how you survived” Dilawar Said. As an inflamed akash got up with tears in his eyes.
“This was not the end” Dilawar continued ” Five Years Later Sarang decided to get married and invited us all for his marriage”
Vishambar had then come back to the village when Sarang had decided to get married to the daughter of the wealthiest politician in that district and emerge as a politician.
He was building his career curve perfectly and trying to show his superiority to Dilawar and his own father, Vishambhar by calling them to the wedding ceremony .
Wearing a heavy embroidered sherwani and a few gimcrack fat gold chains, as sarang had danced on the shoulders of the villagers lifting him, there had been a loud gunshot which had brought the celebrations to a stand-still.
His Sherwani had turned red with blood oozing out from his chest, he had fallen from the shoulders of the villagers straight on to the feet of his father who had held the gun.
Dilawar had also taken things in his hands, when he sent out the message strong and clear that he and his men would never allow any more honour killings to take place in their village and he was ably supported by the police and law authorities this time.
He had ensured that the village was never ruled again by these petty people who dramatized things in the name of honour.
He made himself the enforced judge of everything now and in these few years , he had built himself a huge reputation and following. He had saved many lives of love-lorn couples residing everywhere in the radius of Satva Bhoora Village and the neighbouring five villages.
He was the messiah of young kids who did not wish to follow the diktat given by Khap Panchayats or anyone who was under the pressure of any unrealistic , unethical jugdements given by the Panchayats.
The fact of his parents death had only been hidden from Akash because it was distasteful, This is an absurd reason to have for the death of your parents, your children , your near and dear ones and in fact no one should die such a death which is ordered by some autocratic men posing as honour saving authorities in a country like india which is a democracy.
Another reason to keep Akash away from the village was the fear of those villagers who thought it was their responsibility to take the revenge of their martyr Sarang Chaudhry’s death.
The fanaticism was controlled but not completely done with
What could have they possibly said to you? “” Your father and mother were killed because the Khap Panchayat made an insane decision and the villagers drew out their swords to kill them”
“In a independent country like india, every individual has the right to marry someone of his choice and child marriages should be stopped with immediate effect ” Dilawar says as
Akash decides to stay back in the village and spread awareness along with his mentor ,someone who has stood up amidst a rural society and brought about a change.
Mai Baap Dilawar singh has spread awareness about the consequences of a child marriage and he has tried to kill a few norms and practices which are being followed in the name of Maryada, (Limits) Prathistaa(Prestige) and Parampara (traditions) all over india
The Rural areas are not the only places where these events take place. There have been horrific examples of real life horror in cities where fanatics have laid down lives trying to protect their honour by killing their own children.
© Jitendra Kotai
“The vilest crimes are committed in the name of defending the honour of the family or women and we should hang our heads in shame when such incidents take place in India in the 21st century.”
—P. Chidambaram, in response to a calling attention notice in the Rajya Sabha