Dr Subir Sinha: Rise in brutality is traditional society's revenge on modern life

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The Independent Online

Honour killing has gone on since time immemorial. Parents objecting to their child's choice of partner is quite common, but killing is an extreme step. This is a really big issue but it's difficult to say how many there are. It was much more localised but with rapid economic changes in India, young people no longer live with their parents and they're meeting and falling in love in large cities, many are from different castes which is creating conflict with elders in their families and villages. Increased reports of honour killings seems to be some kind of revenge of tradition.

There's a feeling, given the pace of change in modern India, that parents cannot now dictate who their children will marry. If you look at the village councils in Haryana, which adjoins Delhi, they have ruled that couples cannot marry within their gotra or lineage, or sometimes within their village or a group of villages and they have come up with death sentences parents have to implement.

But the desire to police the sexuality of children and the ability to do so are no longer compatible. Love marriages can lose parents the chance of getting a dowry since the decision to marry is just down to the couples – not an agreement between families. There are not lots of these types of cases coming to court, but when they do people haven't got away lightly. But the exemplary punishments don't seem to have been a deterrent.

Some of the publicity surrounding honour killings is because the middle classes feel this makes India look bad in other countries. It's part of the "India shining" picture – of rapid growth, urbanisation and growing wealth – that makes people want these things to end. It's also part of the way Indian society has grown. The area in this case is now part of Delhi. The city in the early 1990s used to be manageable; now it has morphed into something eating up countryside around it. There has been a culture clash between those that sold off land and those who inhabit huge new developments. It's less a story of Delhi but of rural villages incorporated into cities.

I think the murderous intensity is in itself an indicator of a feeling of losing control in some rural parts of India. The mere word of an elder is no longer enough to deter a couple from taking certain actions.

Dr Subir Sinha is a senior lecturer in development studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London

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