India got its Independence more than 70 years ago. Although the world is advancing towards new avenues of the advancement of technologies, modernization, etc. Still, one problem persists and is quite dangerous which makes society vulnerable. A society where people are literate, modern, advanced still for them the life of their related ones are cheaper than their so-called “honour or status”. Yes, honour killing is among the very dangerous things in society. And, unfortunately amid all advancements we the people are somehow being part of the system encouraging this thing. This can prove to be very lethal for society at large and has some vulnerable consequences.
According to one of the leading English web dictionaries, Merriam Webster defined Honor killing as “Homicide of a member of a family by other members, due to the belief that the victim has brought dishonour upon the family or community. It is the grubby behaviour of the members thinking about the status of their family instead of one’s life.
Both man and woman can be targeted by their family for a variety of reasons including engaging in sex outside of marriage, refusing an arranged marriage, marrying outside of one’s religious sect or cast, having a love affair with someone outside his/her caste and even same-sex relationships also having infidel friends, and shifting more towards West(in case of a woman) and many more.
Plight in India
In India, the idea that parents have a right to control who their child marries has especially wide acceptability because of the structure of social framework in countries like India and of similar nature. Some of the worst violence is meted out to men of the most oppressed – Dalit class if they marry a woman of a more privileged caste. The hierarchical order of the caste system still prevails in the present era too in India.
The upper caste has its own supremacy and it is widely accepted. Among Rajputs, marriages with members of other castes can provoke the killing of the married couple. Inter caste marriages still remain a taboo and if it happens the following caste is considered impure by the society and it has been treated as an alienated component of the society.
Impact of the caste system
In a horrific reminder of how caste and family honour continue to be prized over women’s lives in India, a 21-year-old student of Delhi University’s Sri Venkateswara College was allegedly murdered by her parents for marrying her boyfriend against their wishes. The reason for her killing: the girl Bhavna had secretly married Abhishek, a boy from a different caste.
The Honour Killings are carefully planned conspiracies which also involve the collaboration of female relatives such as mother, sister, aunt, etc. and moreover it is not based on any particular religion. According to a well-known writer’s research, Hindus in India mostly indulge in this, and in Europe and the United States, the Muslim-on-Muslim phenomenon takes place.
In India, regions like Punjab, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh face atrocities committed in the name of honour killings are very much common. In such cases, the infamous ‘Khap Panchayats’ play a major role which is caste and religiously discriminative. Police also facilitate in making possible the return of fled couples who married in different caste or religion The return of the couple when called up by Khap Panchayats seemed to be a dead end as ultimately they are killed by their respective family members for the sake of their honour.
Role of Law
- India is a secular state and every citizen has a right to life, choose, etc; irrespective of caste, creed, colour, gender, and religion.
- According to our Indian Constitution, Article 19 and 21 deals with the Right to Freedom and Right to life. And therefore no person should infringe anyone’s freedom or life.
People must be educated about the laws and should be given a message that what consequences they would deal with if they commit a crime. A conscience must be created. The law and its enforcing authorities must ensure that law and order must be maintained and no one must be kept above the law. Whoever, no matter who he/she is, if it takes law in his/her hand must be dealt with by a procedure set up by law strictly. The hegemony of Khap Panchayats must be a break as evidently, their dominance has cost the lives of many in the name of honour and many such cases.
One of the landmark judgements on Honour Killings:-
Manoj and Babli Case
Manoj and Babli were the victims of the case. But their love for each other is unacceptable in the community where they live. As a result of the elopement, their family members became angry and furious. The Khap Panchayat announced a strict fine of Rs 25000 on the person who will maintain any kind of contact with the couples. After finding their whereabouts they were brought in front of the panchayat.
The Khap Panchayat gave the decision against the couples as they belonged to different castes. The end result was that they were killed.
The judgment of District and High Court
The issue was taken to the district court of Karnal. It further went to the High Court of Haryana. There the court had given a life sentence to five people who were involved in the murder of the couple. This was one of the very first judgments of its time. The uniqueness of this judgment was that the people who were found guilty by the Court were given life imprisonment for honour killing. Thus, making it a landmark judgment. In this case, the driver was also involved and he was also sentenced to imprisonment for a period of seven years. From this case onwards, the courts started treating it as one of the serious criminal offences.
View of the Apex Court
In March 2018, these incidents caught up the eyes of many. The incident was in a village panchayat in Muzaffarpur district of Bihar. A couple was tied to a tree as a form of punishment just because they were in a relationship. This news has made to the headlines of the Hindustan Times which has been greatly addressed by the apex court. It delivered a blistering judgment against Khap Panchayats for targeting inter-caste and inter-religious marriages.
Former Chief Justice Deepak Misra wrote in the judgement “the human rights of a daughter, sister, brother or son are not mortgaged to the so-called or so-understood honour of the family or clan or the collective.” Even it was laid down that the proceedings of the panchayats must be recorded as evidence. The police even have full authority to impose curfew to prevent the Khap Panchayat from coming together.
The State of Maharashtra vs. Eknath Kisan Kumbharkar
The court, in this case, held,” There is nothing “honourable” in honour killings, and they are nothing but barbaric and brutal murders by bigoted persons with feudal minds.” In our opinion honour killings, for whatever reason, come within the category of the rarest of rare cases deserving death punishment. It is time to stamp out these barbaric, feudal practices which are a slur on our nation. This is necessary as a deterrent for such outrageous, uncivilized behaviour. All persons who are planning to perpetrate “honour” killings should know that the gallows await them”. (6 August 2019)
Conditions in other countries
The track record of our neighbouring countries is not also very good. In countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan, the incidents of Honour Killings are quite common things. The Kohistan case has cost the lives of more than 10 people just because of a video in which 5 ladies were clapping on the dancing of three young men in Kohistan which later went viral on social media platforms in Pakistan and around, later the whistle-blower of the incident was also shot dead recently in 2019.
According to HRCP (Human Rights Commission of Pakistan) data on reported cases of Honour, killing shows that at least 419 people were killed over issues of “honour” across Pakistan last year. A young girl was killed in London for so-called “honour”. Banaz Mahmood (16 December 1985- 24 January 2006) was an Iraqi Kurdish Muslim woman who lived in Wimbledon, London and was raped and later brutally murdered at age 20 by her family. Her father and uncle were convicted, with three other men, of her murder. Later her lover committed suicide and ended his life.
India is also not very far away. The list is pretty long and many such cases didn’t get the required attention. Only a few cases catch up eyes but the people from nowhere try to normalize it. That is why NCRB (National Crime Record Bureau) of India also didn’t show up the data when it comes to honour-killings. The problem still persists and must be addressed.
According to India Today’s report, ‘Love is one of the main reasons behind such killings’. The issue is serious and people should come up against all stigmas. Laws are of no use if people don’t show up their seriousness with respect to this. If this would not be stopped soon then it will give birth to a lethal culture. This can be very destructive for our society and the country’s harmony and peace. Hopefully, with concerned authorities and people’s initiative, things will change for sure and the purpose of law gets served.
Sabaat Fatima | HILSR, Jamia Hamdard, New Delhi
Qasim Abbas Kazmi | AMU, Aligarh
“Ethics: Honour Crimes”. BBC. 1 January 1970.
Phyllis Chesler, A Family Conspiracy: Honor Killing, New English Review Press, Nashville (2018)
“30% honor killings of the country in west UP: AIDWA survey”. News 18. 29 October 2015.
Rohit Mullick & Neelam Raaj (9 September 2007). “Panchayats turn into kangaroo courts”. The Times of India.
Dawn.com, Naveed Siddiqui (21 October 2016). “Kohistan video case: Girls declared alive by SC had actually been killed, says Bari”. www.Dawn.com (Pakistan) https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-47480597