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Teen couple executed by their parents .. for daring to fall in love; MURDERS EXPOSE THE BARBARIC TRUTH OF CASTE SYSTEM.

Byline: HELEN ROWE in Alinagar, India

THEY were two young sweethearts whose only crime was to fall in love.

But the secret romance between the teenagers ended in their barbaric deaths - killed by their own families.

Last week they were hanged, one after the other, after they refused to give up on their relationship.

It is hard to believe, in the 21st Century, that such a terrible thing could happen. But Vishal, 16, and his 17-year-old girlfriend Sonu came up against centuries-old religious and social prejudices that would have defeated any young lovers.

So ingrained is the caste system within Indian society that even close members of their families agreed their deaths were justified.

Yesterday Sonu's sister Babita told the Sunday Mirror: "What my mother and father did is right because what Sonu and Vishal were doing was bad."

Vishal, a high caste Brahmin, and Sonu, a lower caste Jat, were executed from the roof of a house in front of a crowd of villagers after they were accused of bringing shame on their families.

The lynching happened in the north Indian village Alinagar, about 94 miles north of the capital Delhi. Here, inter-caste marriages are not tolerated for fear the stigma will taint the entire village and make it difficult for its young people to marry.

Many of the village's buildings are made out of mud. Transport is either a bicycle or cart pulled by water buffaloes.

It was in Alinagar that Vishal and Sonu met four years ago after Sonu's family moved to the village.

Although Vishal had dropped out of school three years ago to become an apprentice electrician working with his brother, Sonu was a dedicated student. The strikingly-attractive teenager dreamed of getting a job and leading an independent life in the city.

But about a year ago, rumours began to circulate that Vishal and Sonu were in love, even though both were expected to marry someone from their own caste.

The idea of a romance between the couple horrified their families who banned them from seeing each other. But on Monday night, their neighbour Balbiri spotted Vishal and Sonu talking to each other behind some bushes.

Immediately, she told other villagers who summoned the teenagers' relatives.

"There had been talk of a love affair between the two teenagers for some time," said Rais Pal Singh, the police officer heading the murder investigation. "On Monday, they were seen together and some villagers caught them and tied them up in a room.

"The girl's parents decided that the best way out of the situation was to kill their daughter.

"The boy's brother and sister-in-law were also called. They were all of the opinion that the relationship was not acceptable and that Vishal and Sonu should be punished. The girl's parents hanged their daughter and after that they said the same should be done to the boy.

"The boy's brother and sister-in-law said they would not do it themselves but that they would not oppose them if they killed him."

Mr Singh said the mob botched Sonu's killing. She had to be cut down from the beam and only died as she lay on the floor by pressure applied to her neck.

Vishal's widowed mother pleaded for her son's life but he too was hanged. Their bodies were then dragged to the local cremation ground where they were burned together. By 2am almost all trace of the couple was gone.

The following afternoon, an anonymous caller alerted police. In the village, the families didn't even try to hide what had happened, claiming Vishal and Sonu's behaviour had forced them to act.

Police arrested Vishal's brother Sanju, sister-in-law Babli, Sonu's father Surinder, and mother Munesh, as well as a fifth villager who helped dispose of the bodies. Six more were arrested later including Balbiri, in whose house they died. All face charges of murder or destruction of evidence

Yesterday Vishal's house was deserted, while at Sonu's family home few tears were being shed.

Sister Babita said: "She was a good student and the village thought she would bring pride to us all. Instead she goes and disgraces herself like this."

Sonu's aunt, Kusum, said she was told neither Sonu nor Vishal put up a fight, appearing resigned to their deaths.

She said: "They did not try to run away. They didn't put up any resistance. Sonu said, 'OK you can kill me', and put the noose around her neck herself. She said, 'If what I have done is so bad, go on and kill me'. The boy didn't say anything."

In jail Balbiri, the neighbour who reported the couple, remained unrepentant: "Everybody knew that they were meeting," she said. "Their parents said if I saw them anywhere I should catch them."

Only Sonu's aunt appears to have misgivings about the killings. She said: "Sonu did something very wrong but what they did was wrong too. As parents what they should have done is to talk to both of them and if necessary marry them off somewhere else.

"There was no need to take such extreme steps."

CAPTION(S):

KILLER: Sonu's father Surinder; DESERTED: Vishal's family home; DEFIANT: Sonu's sister Babita; HORROR: Where the bodies of Vishal (inset) and Sonu were burned
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 12, 2001
Words:872
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