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Human Rights

Honour Killing: The Bride Was From Upper Caste, So Her Father Hired An Assassin To Eliminate The Dalit Son-In-Law

Just a month after their marriage, Pranay Perumalla and Amrutha Varshini left a doctor’s appointment in the small southern Indian city where they had grown up. But a man came up behind them carrying a large butcher knife and hacked Pranay twice on the head and neck, killing him instantly on Sept 18 last year, said The Washington Post in a report.

But why was Pranay, 23, killed? Simply because he was a Dalit, while Amrutha, 21, belongs to an upper caste. As a result, her rich and powerful father, T Maruthi Rao, hired killers to murder his son-in-law, court documents say.

This tragic episode is a reminder that the age-old system of discrimination and hierarchy is still intact in India.

According to a study conducted in 2017, just 5.8 per cent of Indian marriages are between people of different castes, a rate that has changed little in four decades.

The Washington Post says since late June, killings of men and women who married outside their caste have been reported in the states of Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. The daughter of a politician from India’s ruling party recently posted a video on social media seeking protection from her family.

Amrutha grew up a five-minute drive away in a large building owned by her father, a wealthy real estate developer in Miryalaguda, a city of 100,000 surrounded by rice mills in the state of Telangana. She now lives a house shared with Pranay’s parents.

She says Pranay’s parents are now like her own. “My father was the reason for his death,” she said. But Pranay’s parents “know how we loved each other.”

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The house sits near the edge of a Dalit neighbourhood and represents the middle-class stability won by Pranay’s father, Balaswamy, who has worked as a clerk at the Life Insurance Corporation of India for the past three decades.

When Amrutha started high school, her parents told her not to make friends with girls from lower castes, particularly Dalits, who are officially referred to as Scheduled Castes. Amrutha’s family are Arya Vysya, a group that is part of the Komati caste, traditionally a trading community.

The complexities of the Indian caste system were far from Amrutha’s mind when she went to a movie in the ninth grade with a group of friends. She recognized Pranay from school, where he was a year ahead of her, jovial and athletic. Afterward they started texting and talking over the phone.

Their growing friendship had immediate consequences. When Amrutha’s father found out, she said, he beat her for the first — but not the last — time. He took away her mobile phone and laptop and moved her to a different school. Over the next six years, Amrutha and Pranay would see each other only briefly on a handful of occasions.

When the two were in college — Pranay pursuing an engineering degree and Amrutha studying fashion — she became frightened that her parents were manoeuvring to marry her to someone else. She got word to Pranay that she wanted to elope.

On Jan 30, 2018, when her mother went for a midday rest, Amrutha picked up a backpack she had prepared. She went down the stairs to the street, where Pranay was waiting, just as he had promised.

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Amrutha and Pranay were afraid, but they had a plan. They submitted their applications for passports and studied for an English proficiency test. They hoped to go to Australia and perhaps realize Pranay’s dream of starting a business — a fashion studio or even a dairy farm.

The couple had married in the presence of only a few friends at a temple in Hyderabad run by the Arya Samaj, a Hindu reformist group known for its openness to inter-caste unions, on Aug 17, 2018, but Amrutha’s parents were notably absent.

Rao, her father, had already begun to plot Pranay’s murder, court documents say. The month before, he agreed to pay $150,000 to have his son-in-law killed, using a local political leader as an intermediary. Rao, 57, passed along a photo of the pair from their reception invitation to make it easier for the killers to identify Pranay, the documents allege.

Before she fainted, she called her father. “Somebody attacked Pranay,” she said. “What did you do?”

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