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6.16.2010 Indian couple electrocuted for daring to marry outside caste

By Andrew Buncombe

In an alleyway in Delhi choked with flies and neighbours in mourning, Devindri Devi held up a photograph of her nephew. "We had agreed to the marriage but her family did not," she said, as she looked at the picture of the soft-faced young man. "It was because he is from a different caste."

In a case that has stunned India's capital, Mrs Devi's nephew and his teenage girlfriend were tortured and murdered in a so-called honour killing, allegedly by the young woman's family, who objected to the relationship.

Over a period of several hours, the young couple were bound, beaten and given electric shocks before they died. All that time, the woman screamed and begged with her assailants – apparently her uncle and father – to spare the life of the young man whom she so wanted to marry.

"When we found the bodies, the couple's legs and hands were tied and they were bleeding," the deputy commissioner of Delhi police, NS Bundela, told a press conference yesterday. "The couple were electrocuted as well, but we will wait for the full post-mortem report."

The killing of young couples who challenge the wishes of their families is not uncommon in rural India where the centuries-old traditions of caste and tribe remain little diluted. But this incident has triggered an unusual degree of outrage, both for its brutality and for its location in a city that is gearing up for October's Commonwealth Games and a chance to showcase itself to the world.

The couple, Yogesh Kumar Jatav, 21, and 19-year-old Asha Saini, lived just streets from each other in the crowded, claustrophobic Gokulpuri neighbourhood on the edge of the city and had started their relationship two years ago. Yet despite such geographic proximity, in the eyes of Ms Saini's family, the pair were from worlds apart; her father owned and operated a successful vegetable wholesale business, while Mr Jatav, whose parents are dead, worked as a taxi driver. More importantly, it seems, Mr Jatav was from a lower caste.

The young man, who just two months ago had bought his own, second-hand van, had been warned off several times by Ms Saini's family. They had even tried to arrange an engagement for her with a man from outside Delhi, of whom they approved.

Yet Ms Saini would not desist from seeing "her poor cabbie friend", who she would meet at the local market, their illicit encounters unavoidably known to the entire community.

Perhaps because of this, two weeks ago her family sent her to live with an uncle in another neighbourhood, about 15 miles away.

Mr Jatav's family and friends said that on Sunday, Ms Saini's mother contacted the young man, either by phone or in person, and asked him to come to that uncle's house that evening. When he arrived, he was allegedly seized, tied up and tortured.

Neighbours claimed they heard shouting coming from the house and tried to intervene, but were sent away by the uncle who said they were taking care of "family business". One neighbour told reporters that several times during the night they heard a young woman screaming: "Do whatever you want to me, please just let him go." At around 3.30am the noises stopped.

The following morning, with Mr Jatav's red Maruti van still parked outside the uncle's house but with no one apparently inside, the neighbours called the police. When they broke down the door, they found the bodies of the young couple, still bound. Some reports said electrical wires were coming from the wall. Others said metal bars had been used to beat the pair.

Delhi police have arrested Ms Saini's father and her uncle, Om Prakash, and they say they are still looking for other members of the family.

When he was brought before court yesterday, Ms Saini's uncle apparently confessed to the crime and told reporters: "We killed them using an electric shock. Yogesh had come to our house. We don't feel any remorse."

Kiran Walia, Delhi's minister for health, women and child development, told the Mail Today newspaper: "This is a barbaric act of violence and should be condemned. It is my duty to get the perpetrators punished."