When a modern Indian marriage clashes with ancient rules



Last updated Sunday, Apr. 28 2013, 10:26 PM EDT

Six months ago, Mahinda Pal warned his son, Surya Kant Pal, to ‘stay on this side’ of the town. ‘We used to tell him, ‘Don’t do it, you’ll get in trouble.’ (Simon de Trey-White)

  • In Pabnawa, a siege is under way. One quarter of the town is blanketed in an unearthly silence: There are no children in the lanes. No goats, no buffalo, no chickens. Almost no women – no one sweeps, hangs laundry or sifts lentils – and just a few men, standing around. Outside the neighbourhood, a ring of bored police in khaki uniforms lounge on charpoys in the shade. They are there to keep the ill-intentioned out, although the net effect is also to keep the few occupants in.

When a couple of Pabnawa college kids in love ran off and got married earlier this month, it thrust the village, about three hours’ drive north of Delhi, back to the Middle Ages, prompting a riot, a threat of mass rape and now this standoff.

The newlyweds, Meena Kumari and Surya Kant Pal, are living in a police shelter under 24-hour guard, because people on both sides of the conflict have vowed to kill them. The mayor of Pabnawa is meant to be brokering a truce, but he faces charges of attempted murder, among other crimes, for his actions in recent events.

Ms. Kumari is 21 years old and her new husband a year older, and no one might have taken much notice of their elopement except their surprised parents. But Mr. Pal is Dalit, from the group once known as “untouchable” at the bottom of the Hindu caste system; he grew up in a stifling one-room house, while his father worked construction for two or three dollars a day to put his three sons through school. Ms. Kumari, meanwhile, is from a dominant, land-owning caste, the Rors, and grew up in a balustraded two-storey home 150 metres and a world away from her new husband’s.

The standoff in Pabnawa is an allegory for a modernizing India – where young men from poor families work their way to good jobs at multinationals and young women ace their college exams, yet ancient rules remain in force. The silence is a blunt reminder that the old India and the new co-exist in an often painful way.

Police refused to let Ms. Kumari and Mr. Pal speak to reporters, saying it might compromise their safety. According to people in the village, they met in high school, have been sweet on each other for years, and ran off together on the morning of April 8.

When Ms. Kumari’s family realized she was missing, men from her caste summoned Mr. Pal’s bewildered family and demanded that they “give back the girl.” They said they had no idea what girl, and their own son was missing. That night Ror men went into the Dalit quarter and, police say, threatened to rape and abduct all the Dalit women if Ms. Kumari was not brought home the next day, prompting hundreds of women and children to flee.

The next night, an estimated 400 Ror men descended in a mob the police couldn’t or wouldn’t stop. The men allegedly carried pistols and knives, disabled the electrical connection for the neighbourhood and then smashed doors, looted shops and homes, ripped water tanks off roofs and beat people up.

“It was absolutely dark and there were more of them than I could count,” recounted Nimboo, who uses only one name and believes she is about 70 years old. She sat in the dark of her small house, filled with a choking pall of cooking fire smoke, because she is too afraid to cook outside. “We stuffed the babies’ mouths with cloth so they would not cry out and the men could not hear them and they could not hit them.”

Kamla Satpal said she smashed a hole in the side of a large tower of drying dung cakes and climbed inside with her husband and son, then covered the gash with straw. They hid there for five hours, she said. When they got home, they found their possessions ransacked and the money they had just made selling their buffalo – 70,000 rupees, or $1,400, several years’ income – missing.

“It’s because that boy ran off with that girl,” Ms. Satpal said angrily. “It’s very wrong. How can he think of marrying the daughter of a zamindar [landlord]? We are suffering and that boy should be punished.”

Police have arrested 17 people so far and are investigating 52 others for participation in the riot.

At Ms. Kumari’s house, her uncle refused to speak to a reporter, saying, “Go away – there’s nothing to tell you about them.”

At Mr. Pal’s house, his father Mahendar, 47, has the look of a man trying to figure out what has just happened in his upended world. He will have to move, very soon, he said. They can’t stay in this village that has been their home for generations. “That girl’s family – they haven’t done anything yet but in their eyes I am the target and I’m afraid of what will happen.”

His son was beaten up a lot over the last year, he said, set upon by boys from Ms. Kumari’s caste; at the time, the elder Mr. Pal didn’t understand why. Six months ago he caught wind of the romance, and warned his son to “stay on this side” of the town. “We used to tell him, ‘Don’t do it, you’ll get in trouble.’ He said that he wasn’t having an affair, nothing like that was going on.”

Surya Kant Pal has finished one year of a commerce degree by correspondence course, his father said. Three months ago he was hired in a clerk’s job at a British-registered firm in the district capital, and started to commute. On April 8, he went to work and didn’t come back.

The couple, it seems, sneaked off to the high court, to be married and obtain police protection. Intercaste marriages in this region invariably cause a furor and at least three times in the past year have resulted in the “honour killing” of the couple.

When Ms. Kumari’s family learned where they were, delegations from both sides and the sarpanch, or mayor, went to talk them into a divorce. Ms. Kumari, by all accounts, handled those meetings with dispatch: she threatened to eat rat poison if her family didn’t stop pressuring her, and when it seemed her new husband was wavering, she threatened him too.

Mr. Pal appears more taken aback with the determination of his new daughter-in-law. “We never realized that a girl who used to walk with her head down,” he said, miming a deferential dropped chin, “would turn out like this.”

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to my son. The first person who sees him when he comes out [of police protection] will kill him.”

On the other side of town, the mayor, Husan Singh, spends his day receiving petitioners, wearing a spotless white kurta and smoking a water pipe. He said he was at home the night of the riot and professed his dismay at events in the town. Asked about criminal charges against him, his face hardened, but then, with a slight smirk, he rattled off numbers: 307, 506, 295, 148. They are statutes of the “Prevention of Atrocities” act meant to protect India’s Dalits and aboriginal people; he is charged with violating seven. The charges include attempted murder and forcible entry with a weapon. Asked if he is concerned, Mr. Singh gave the disinterested shrug of a man confident the law is on his side.

He said that a village committee had brokered a near-truce between the Dalits and the others, but a few hot-headed young people refuse to accept the deal. (Under its terms, the Dalits would drop criminal charges and demands for compensation, and the dominant caste citizens would end the siege and the threats to kill them.)

“The older generation, 50 and above, they understand. But part of the youth, they’re educated and they know there is a law that two adults can marry [but] they don’t understand that reality is different, the laws of the village are different,” Mr. Singh said. He said he is confident a deal will be reached.

Only two cases of intercaste violence have resulted in convictions in Haryana in the past decade, according to the National Committee on Dalit Human Rights.

Either way, the mayor said, Meena Kumari and Surya Kant Pal are never coming home. “They’ll never be able to live here safely.”


#India-Illegal ads on #Google in contravention PCPNDT ACT


Corporate communication

Google, India

2 November 2012

Complaint—Regarding illegal ads on Google in contravention PCPNDT ACT

The Pre-Conception Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act has banned the promotion or advertisement of services that allows one to choose the sex of one’s baby. Yet, Google is carrying advertisements of  the link of IVF that leads to websites that offer these services. Each time a person clicks on the ad, these companies makes money.

The Indian law against sex selection is comprehensive.   Section 22 defines advertisement and Section 26 states the penalties for violation by Companies.  They are given below:

Section 22:  Prohibition of advertisement relating to pre-natal determination of sex and punishment for contravention.

1.    No person, organization, Genetic Counseling Centre, Genetic Laboratory or Genetic Clinic, including clinic, laboratory or centre having ultrasound machine or imaging machine or scanner or any other technology capable of undertaking determination of sex of foetus or sex selection shall issue, publish, distribute, communicate or cause to be issued, published, distributed or communicated any advertisement, in any form, including Internet, regarding facilities of pre-natal determination of sex or sex selection before conception available at such centre, laboratory, clinic or at any other place.
2.    No person or organization including Genetic Counselling Centre, Genetic Laboratory or Genetic Clinic shall issue, publish, distribute, communicate or cause to be issued, published, distributed or communicated any advertisement in any manner regarding pre-natal determination or preconception selection of sex by any means whatsoever, scientific or otherwise.
3.    Any person who contravenes the provisions of sub-section (1) or sub-section (2) shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees.

Explanation.—For the purposes of this section, “advertisement” includes any notice, circular, label, wrapper or any other document including advertisement through Internet or any other media in electronic or print form and also includes any visible representation made by means of any hoarding, wall-painting, signal, light, sound, smoke or gas.

26. Offences by companies.

(1) Where any offence, punishable under this Act has been committed  by a company, every person who, at the time the offence was committed was in charge of, and was responsible to, the company for the conduct of the business of the company, as well as the company, shall be deemed to be guilty of the offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly: Provided that nothing contained in this sub-section shall render any such person liable to any punishment, if he proves that the offence was committed without his knowledge or that he had exercised all due diligence to prevent the commission of such offence. (2) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (1), where any offence punishable under this Act has been committed by a company and it is proved that the offence has been committed with the consent or connivance of, or is attributable to any neglect on the part of, any director, manager, secretary or other officer of the company, such director, manager, secretary or other officer shall also be deemed to be guilty of that offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly. Explanation.–For the purposes of this section,– (a) “company” means anybody corporate and includes a firm or other association of individuals, and

(b) “director”, in relation to a firm, means a partner in the firm.

The Indian Parliament enacted a special law because the medical community was not self-regulating these serious violations of medical ethics. The practice of sex selection is prohibited while foetal sex determination is regulated.

The PCPNDT Act applies to advertisements and content that advertises sex selection or foetal sex determination  methods/procedures/techniques.  Any form of advertising in India that promotes techniques, products or procedures of sex selection, sex determination is a violation of the law.

In 2008, theSupreme Court of India had served notices to you,  yet  violations of the law continue with impunity and  in response Google had issued a statement saying  “The Google advertising program is managed by a set of policies which we develop based on several factors, including legal requirements and user experience. In India, we do not allow ads for the promotion of prenatal gender determination or preconception sex selection. We take local laws extremely seriously and will review the petition carefully.”

But once again sex selection ads are mushrooming in your search engine in India  and the   continued violation in the Indian Internet space by  your company is  shocking.

Although the google policy when you click here http://support.google.com/adwordspolicy/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=176072


Product Allowed? Details
Dowry requests  Not allowed Google doesn’t allow ads or landing pages that promote dowry requests or the offering or sale of dowry. “Dowry” means any property or valuable security given by the bride to the groom for marriage.
Doctor, lawyer, or accountant services  Not allowed Google doesn’t allow ads for services offered by doctors, lawyers, or accountants.
Gender or sex selection  Not allowed Google doesn’t allow ads or landing pages that promote the pre-natal determination of the gender of a child, or pre-conception selection of sex.
Infant food, milk substitutes, feeding bottles  Not allowed Google doesn’t allow ads or landing pages that promote or encourage the use of infant food, milk substitutes, or feeding bottles.

When  you  search of gender selection or sex selection on your search engine  you  get a sponsored ad

and when you  click the link you get
and further page says
There are more sites on google search as well violating the law like genselect.com
wherein you can also order the gender selection kit online

I demand you immediately remove gender /sex selection ads from  google search engine in India

Adv Kamayani Bali Mahabal, for Forum against Sex Selection (FASS) Mumbai


cc-  1) Director, PNDT Division, New Delhi

2) Cybercrime cell,  Mumbai


Private sector censors- If business decides what’s ‘good’ and ‘bad’ speech what will happen ?

Private sector censors
If business decides what’s ‘good’ and ‘bad’ speech, it can lead to multiple interpretations and arbitrary decisions

Here, There, Everywhere | Salil Tripathi, Livemint.com

 In Milan Kundera’s 1967 Czech novel, Žert (The Joke), Ludvik Jahn sends a postcard to an intense classmate who takes herself too seriously. In the card, he makes sarcastic comments against the Communist Party. Unsurprisingly, others don’t see the joke. He gets expelled from the party, conscripted and has to work in mines.

While The Joke was a work of fiction, in the real Soviet era as punishment for such actions, many people lost jobs, sometimes their homes; some went to jail, often betrayed by those they trusted. In Czechoslovakia (as the country was then known), the state ran the postal service and those who read the postcard were party members. In India, the private sector provides Internet access and others don’t have the legal right to see what’s being transmitted, unless they are intended recipients, or if the material is broadcast publicly. The state now wants the private sector to police and censor the Internet.




Under the draconian Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011, any intermediary (a search engine, a website, a domain name registry, a service provider, or a cyber café) must take down the “offending” material from its website within 36 hours. The intermediary need not inform the person who posted the material, nor would the creator get the right to respond. As Apar Gupta points out on the Indian Lawand Technology Blog, in one recent case, based on these rules, an injunction has been granted. 

These rules go significantly beyond the existing restraints on speech. The Constitution limits speech and sections of the criminal code impose further restrictions. To that, add the IT rules’ vaguely defined terms of what can’t be said—content which is “grossly harmful, harassing, blasphemous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, libelous, invasive of another’s privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically objectionable, disparaging, relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling or otherwise unlawful in any manner whatever, harms minors in any way, or infringes any patent, trademark, copyright, or other proprietary right”. Who decides that? The intermediaries.

These rules make the private sector act like the state. Nobody elected business to play such a role; it does not have the expertise, capacity, legal training, or authority to act as the state. Censorship is bad; whether in state or private hands. If business decides what’s “good” and “bad” speech, it can lead to multiple interpretations and arbitrary decisions, without recourse to appeal. In a country where those who feel offended have often threatened violence, businesses will understandably take the cautious approach and not allow anyone to say anything that’s remotely controversial, even if it is an opinion about a film.

Decisions will be made on opaque criteria. Apple and Amazon have arbitrarily stopped some products from being sold on their electronic stores, citing “community standards”. Amazon stopped providing server space to WikiLeaks, even though no government had asked it to do so. Credit card companies stopped processing donations going to WikiLeaks, without any legal order. Even Google, which has admirably stood up to China’s bullying, has had to take down content when governments have required that it does so through proper legal channels. India’s record is poor: of the 358 complaints India lodged with Google, 255 were about content that was controversial or political, but not illegal.

To demonstrate the reach of the rules, the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore sent random notices to seven companies, asking them to take down content. Of them, six complied beyond what they were called upon to do—instead of the three pages that the centre asked for, one company blocked an entire website. A few legally worded letters were enough to get compliance from companies. The centre’s executive director, Sunil Abraham, told me recently: “Companies which have no interest in free speech are now taking these decisions. They have the power to do so and they are using it without any sense of responsibility.”

Aseem Trivedi knows this well. The cartoonist who ran a website called  cartoonistsagainstcorruption.com , found that his site had disappeared after a complaint from an individual that the cartoons violated laws. Since then he has been campaigning for freedom on the Internet. Everyone’s freedom is at stake—whether you want to see cartoons of Sonia Gandhi, Narendra Modi, Ramdev, Kisan Hazare, Binayak Sen, Arundhati Roy, Sachin Tendulkar, Poonam Pandey and even Mamata Banerjee. And yet look at what happened to Ambikesh Mahapatra, the professor who sent a cartoon mocking Banerjee to some friends via the Internet. He was arrested and later roughed up. These rules chill speech.

Last year, Kapil Sibal, minister for information technology, asked companies to screen content manually and censor the Web. The demand was audacious. It showed lack of understanding of how the Internet works and revealed fundamental ignorance of the state’s role: it has to protect the rights of the one who wishes to express and not the one who claims offence.

In Parliament, P. Rajeev, member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha), wants to annul those rules. Everyone should support him.

Salil Tripathi is a writer based in London. Your comments are welcome at salil@livemint.com


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