A woman and her teenage son have been arrested for allegedly beheading the boy’s sister—her own daughter—in a shocking case of suspected honour killing in Vaijapur city in the southwestern Indian state of Maharashtra.
Citing accounts from the suspects’ neighbors, police said the teenager and his mother Shobhabai Mote took a selfie with the victim’s head after they killed her, but the photo has since been deleted.
“We suspect that the mother and son took a selfie with her head. We have sent the phone to the forensic lab to try and retrieve the photo,” Vaijapur assistant police commissioner Kailash Prajapati told local press. It is unclear whether the brother was 17 or 18 years old, but most Indian media outlets withheld his name from news reports in case he is a minor.
A police superintendent told the Times of India that the incident seems to have been inspired by a Marathi film called Sairat, where a woman is beheaded by her brother for eloping with her lover.
Kirti Avinash Thore, 19, had eloped with and married a friend from college in June. A week after her family filed a missing person’s report, Thore arrived at the local police station to inform them of her marriage. According to police, the incident angered her parents, and Thore became estranged from them.
Thore reportedly rekindled ties with her mother just recently. Her brother and her mother then came to visit Thore at her house for the first time on Dec. 5.
“Kirti lived with her husband’s family in a room next to their farm. The mother and son arrived on a bike. Kirti was two months pregnant. She was working on the farm. She rushed to them and took them inside her house. Kirti’s husband was at home and did not suspect anything. He was resting in another room,” said Prajapati.
Thore was preparing tea for her guests in the kitchen when her brother attacked her from behind while her mother grabbed her legs and held her in place. Her brother proceeded to behead his sister with a sickle, police said.
Roused by the commotion, Thore’s husband ran to the kitchen and was confronted with the scene. Police say Thore’s brother attempted to kill him, too, but he was able to run away.
According to police, the brother later paraded Thore’s head outside of the house in plain sight of the neighbors, who said they saw him and his mother taking a selfie with the severed head.
“People who commit such killings feel that the women involved have brought them dishonour and shame. They even feel a sense of pride by doing these acts,” trauma therapist Seema Hingorrany told VICE World News.
“Research shows that they often feel that they will go to heaven for these acts. They believe that they have sacrificed the girl or woman to the gods and goddesses.”
The teenager has reportedly surrendered to police and confessed to the crime. Both mother and son are in police custody.
A similar case in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh occurred in March, when a 17-year-old’s father beheaded her because of a relationship he did not approve of. Her father proceeded to carry her head to the local police station. Gruesome images of the scene were widely shared on social media.
To some, eloping and marrying outside of one’s caste or without the family’s approval is perceived as a major transgression of familial honour. Honour killings are grossly underreported in India, and local activists say the practice is rampant and mostly target women and girls. In 2019, India reported 24 honour killings. From 2014 to 2016, the Supreme Court reported around 288 cases of honour killings, while the local nonprofit Evidence reported 187 cases in the state of Tamil Nadu alone.
“These honor killings are based on very deeply rooted cultural beliefs that border on venturing off from reality,” said Hingorrany.
In some communities, such beliefs stagnate and, without the development of new belief systems, some people are led to act as Thore’s mother and brother did.
“Honour killings are linked with generational traumas,” Hingorrany added. “It runs in families for generations, where nobody is there to challenge the generational trauma and say, ‘Ok, I’m not going to do this.’"
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