A man from Indias Dalit (formerly untouchable) community has died after he was kidnapped by members of his new brides family, police say, in what is believed to be a rare case of a so-called honour killing among the countrys Christian community.
The death of 23-year-old Kevin P Joseph has rocked the southern state of Kerala, seen as among the most progressive in India, where Christians represent almost 20 per cent of the 34 million-strong population.
Mr Josephs body was found in a canal on Monday, three days after his wedding to 21-year-old Neenu Chacko, whose affluent family of Saint Thomas Christians disapproved of the marriage.
Initial post mortem results, released on Wednesday amid a cloud of political accusations, showed Mr Joseph had suffered 15 separate injuries to the body before his ultimate death by drowning.
According to Mr Josephs family, Ms Chackos parents had tried to prevent the marriage from taking place, alerting police in the city of Kottayam on the day of the wedding and claiming the bride had been abducted.
When officers spoke to the couple, Ms Chacko said she wished to live with Mr Joseph and that, as she was 21, she was free to do as she pleased.
Police told reporters Mr Joseph and one of his cousins were kidnapped in the early hours of Sunday morning. Ms Chacko says she and some neighbours alerted police almost immediately, but that officers claimed they were too busy preparing for a visit by the states chief minister to investigate.
Mr Josephs body, already in a deteriorated state, was found 15 hours later, while his cousin escaped alive, Mr Josephs father told The News Minute.
Asked why the brides family disapproved of Mr Joseph, a family member said: We did not know about the relationship. But now we understand that Neenus parents were rich. Moreover, Kevin is a Dalit Christian. They may not have liked him because of these two reasons.
Honour killings are rarer among Indias Christians than among Hindus, said Manjula Pradeep, a lawyer and former director of the Navsarjan Trust, one of the countrys biggest Dalit rights organisations.
Kevins case proves that the caste system is still very much prevalent and discrimination and violence based on caste will continue despite constitutional measures, she told The Independent.
On Monday evening and Tuesday, protests organised by various political groups in Kerala descended on the Kottayam police station and the medical facility where the autopsy was being carried out, accusing local officers of failing to act quickly enough.
According to the New Indian Express, there were clashes outside the Government Medical College hospital as activists from the opposition Congress party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) CPM tried to take ownership of Mr Josephs remains. The Hindureported that some of the suspected kidnappers had links to the CPMs youth wing, the Democratic Youth Federation of India.
Police have now arrested Ms Chackos father and brother, and the CPM-led government has moved to quell protests by suspending the head of the local police station and transferring out the city police chief, VM Mohammed Rafik.
“Had the police acted in time, a life could have been saved and criminals could have been arrested promptly,” said Lathika Subhash, leader of the Congress partys women’s wing, UCA News reported.
Former chief minister A K Antony said Kerala could not remain silent over an apparent honour killing, and said the polices handling of the case could not be justified. The government and CM (Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan) has to take the responsibility for this, he said.
Mr Josephs alleged honour killing represents the second such incident in as many months in Kerala, after police said a 23-year-old Hindu woman named Athira was stabbed to death by her father for trying to marry a man from what he perceived to be a lower caste.
The New Indian Express wrote that the two incidents together threaten to rob Kerala of its progressive roots. Firstpost said the southern state must now reckon with the sort of killings that Keralites believed was mostly a north Indian phenomenon.
Honour killings happen to ensure that the caste system remains intact and no one crosses the rigid boundaries it creates, said Ms Pradeep. Despite generations of Indians growing up in a country with strict political and legal protections for Dalits, she said, these killings show Indian societys psyche and mindset has not really changed much.