Indian journalist dead in suspected ‘honour killing’

Agencies May 03, 2010

PATNA: Indian police said on Monday they had arrested the mother of a pregnant Indian journalist who was found dead last week in a suspected case of honour killing.

Nirupama Pathak, 22, who worked for the leading Business Standard economic daily in New Delhi, was visiting her parents in Koderma district in eastern Jharkhand state when she died. Pathak’s family initially reported the death on Thursday as suicide, informing the police that she was found hanging from the ceiling fan in her room.

But an autopsy report showed the death was “a clear case of murder... caused by asphyxia as a result of smothering”, senior Jharkhand police officer MS Bhatia told AFP by phone. Another senior state police officer, Kranti Kumar, told AFP Pathak’s mother had been arrested and faces murder charges, while her father and brother are being interrogated. Suspicions that the death was an “honour killing” were strengthened by the autopsy that revealed Pathak was three months’ pregnant, another police source said.

Newspaper reports said Pathak, who hails from the upper Brahmin caste, wanted to marry fellow journalist and former batch mate Priyabhanshu Ranjan from the lower Kayastha caste in neighbouring Bihar state - something her family was bitterly opposed to. “Her father once told her that I was the lowest of the upper castes,” Ranjan told the Indian Express newspaper website.

Ranjan said Pathak’s parents were not illiterate or conservative people. “Her father is a manager in a national bank. She was the youngest of three children — the eldest is an Income Tax inspector and the second is doing his Ph.D in Biotechnology,” he said. However, he added that her parents had made it clear that they wanted Pathak to end her involvement with Ranjan. There are no official figures for the number of honour killings in India, though they are usually the result of relationships that break strict intercaste or inter-village marriage conventions in rural areas.

Pathak’s case is rare given her education and successful career in a middle class profession such as journalism. Ranjan told NDTV he had lost “my girlfriend, my wouldbe wife”. “She called me on April 28. She told me she would not be calling me again. She was crying a lot and said that there was pressure from her mother and brother’s friends,” he said to Indian Express. The young journalist’s death sparked outrage on the Internet, with friends and well wishers condemning the crime.

“We claim to live in a 21st century, globalised and modern world,” wrote Anindita Neogy, listed as one of her friends on social networking site Facebook. “The only fault of Nirupama was that she was in love with somebody whom her parents didn’t choose and approve of... was this reason enough to take somebody’s life?” she added in her status update. Another friend Deepthi Bathini wrote: “There is no purpose continuing as professional journalists if we can not secure justice for Nirupama.”

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