Devanish’s Story: How An Inter-Caste Elopement Led To Murder

Devashish Meena and Pratibha Gujar
Devashish Meena and Pratibha Gujar
Jasvinder Sehgal

NEW DELHI â€" Five months ago, Devanish Meena, a young Indian man from New Delhi, eloped with his longtime girlfriend. Now he is a widower. Adding to Devanish's anquish is his belief that the young bride, Pratibha Gujar, was murdered â€" by her own family.

In India, approximtely 1,000 young people are murdered each year in name of saving a family’s honor. The "honor killings," as they're known, are often committed when a forced or arranged marriage is rejected.

Pratibha's death seems to fit the profile. The young woman's relationship with Devanish was very much opposed by her family. And so they killed her "by electrocuting her in a water tank," some of her cousins told the widowed husband.

Sharing his story with journalists and activists gathered at a press conference in Rajasthan, Devanish explains how his wife's family didn't even take their daughter to a hospital. No post mortem was conducted, he says.

The couple married in secret this past May, far away from their homes in New Delhi. They had been in love for many years, but their parents forbade the relationship because they are from different castes.

They first met in the sixth grade. "After that we became very good friends," Devanish says. "But when we were in 11th grade, her father found out about our relationship. As we belong to different castes he got angry and punished her to the worst extent." Devanish says Pratibha was tortured mentally and physically by her father, leading them to elope.

Seeking justice

The widowed husband says he has presented evidence of the killing to the police, including letters and emails from his late wife saying her life was in danger and that her father was threatening her. But is doubtful he will get justice.

"I have submitted all the documents and proof to the police, but the police are asking for eyewitnesses," Devanish says. "From where can I bring the eyewitnesses?"

Women’s rights activists have come forward to support Devanish and demand the case be thoroughly investigated. Kavita Srivastava, the secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, says Devanish is distraught over his loss.

"This is a kind of denial of the right to choice. Plus, to eliminate her because of the honor of the family â€" as if women are the repository of the honor and men are controlling it," says Srivastava. "These are the shocking details and the state refuses to engage."

Evidence of such honor killings continue to pile up. But convictions are few and far between. Nisha Sidhu of the National Federation of Indian Women says that India badly needs a specific law against the crime. The Supreme Court of India has formulated guidelines intended to prevent honor killings, but right now they are only guidelines, not a hard-fast law, and some police officers are not even aware of them.

"Until a new law has been adopted, the guidelines of the highest court of the country against honor killings are to be strictly followed," Sidhu says. "But the problem is that our police are not acquainted with these guidelines."

Tales of torture

Before new laws are in place, Sidhu says that young women continue to seek refuge at her rescue center. Many tell stories of the violence they have endured at the hands of their parents and relatives because of whom they choose to marry.

"The daughters who come to me are tortured in cruel ways by their own parents. Some of them are punished by having iron rods put onto their genital organs. Some are burnt by cigarettes," she explains. "One of the girls was forced to drink acid, which caused irreparable damage to her vocal cords."

Devanish is listening to a Hindi song that Pratibha sang to him once, on his birthday. "Every body has to go one day ... Their value will be that of the soil," the song goes.

"I will bring justice to my dear wife," says Devanish. "I will fight for justice till the end."

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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