Police in northern India have arrested seven people in the deaths of two young lovers. The two, from different castes, were allegedly lynched by members of their families, after they refused to end a love affair. The case comes as Indian authorities are seeking to avoid having the issue of caste placed before the upcoming United Nations conference on racism, to be held later this month in Durban, South Africa.
By all accounts, Vishal and Sonu were deeply in love. They were so much in love, they refused to leave each other, even though police say nearly everyone in their village, Alipur in India's northern state, Uttar Pradesh, told them to.
The people of Alipur objected to their affair because Vishal, who was 20 years old, came from a high-caste Brahmin family, while 18-year-old Sonu came from a lower caste Jat family.
Monday night, Vishal and Sonu paid for their love affair with their lives. Police say the two were taken to the roof of a house in their village and hanged. According to the police, Sonu's parents and Vishal's elder brother and sister-in-law were involved in their deaths. Hundreds of other villagers are reported to have stood by and watched as the two were killed. Vijay Kumar Maurya, a local police inspector in Muzaffarnagar District, where the village is located, says those responsible for the deaths of Vishal and Sonu have been arrested and will be put on trial.
"We have arrested the culprits, parents of the girl and the relatives of the boy, and they are being sent to jail, along with the villagers who have connived with such a barbaric incident," he said. "So we are taking strong and stringent action against all these culprits.
This is not the first time that a mixed-caste love affair has ended in tragedy in Muzaffarnagar District. Earlier this year, a mixed-caste couple were reported to have been pulled from a rickshaw and hacked to death by an angry mob. In 1993, another local mixed-caste couple was killed by members of their own community.
The 3,000 caste system is an integral aspect of Hindu theology, in which every person is born into a particular caste. Since India's independence, more than 50 years ago, there has been a widespread legal movement to alleviate the inequalities of the caste-system. Laws banning discrimination against lower-caste individuals and groups have been enacted and quotas have been established for lower-caste Indians in schools and government jobs. India's untouchables, now known as Dalits, have won considerable political power. The country's president, K.R. Narayanan, is a member of the Dalit community.
But, tensions remain. Caste-related incidents of violence are a daily feature of Indian life. Most center around the issue of who owns rural land. Dalit leaders have recently raised the stakes in the caste debate seeking to have the issue of caste included on the agenda of the upcoming U.N. conference on racism to be held in Durban, South Africa.
Senior Indian government leaders oppose the measure, saying caste and race are not the same and the issue of caste is an internal Indian matter.