Honour Killing: Is It Honourable?

Article for Blog Post Writing Competition 2011 | by Sunaina Sharma and Katyayini Sharma

May 18th, 20111:13 pm

Honour Killings have been persistent in Indian society particularly in Haryana, western U.P., and Rajasthan. In a country like India strong adherence to caste system has been the driving force behind most of the cases of honour killing. We are still bound by our traditional beliefs making us a slave to rigid caste system and a virtual hierarchical order which doesn’t let us get out of itself. Honour killing, in short, is killing of a member of a society or a clan by fellow members because he or she is believed to have brought dishonour to the family in some way. They are nothing but barbaric and brutal murders by bigoted, persons with feudal minds. The most important reason behind honour killing has been inter-caste marriages. Other pertinent reasons can be inter-religion marriage, homosexual relations, relationship outside marriage etc.

Basic mind set behind this barbaric act is that honor of the family is above the life of a person. “Rishton se badi pratha” a soap opera started on colours channel clearly reflects the same mindset. The clash between the traditional belief and so-called modernization is one of the main reason which leads to such killing. Parents want their children to get married in the same caste but children don’t want to bind themselves to the rigid caste system, fall in love and marry against the wishes of the society and their family. Parents think that rather than bringing dishonor upon the family, it is better that the one bringing it dies. Another reason is the fear, the fear that one such act of rebellion would act as a bad precedent for other youngsters of the family. Therefore, the elders and other family members act as moral vigilante to teach a lesson to people who they think have brought shame to their family.

The institution of khap panchayats has also facilated and attributed to such killings. Since the majority of people in India still live in villages, it becomes really tough for the village people to file cases in court and come for hearings again and again. So they have real faith in these khap panchayat which apparently help them solve trivial issues which can be solved even without intervention of the courts. When the matters related to honor killing go to khap panchayat, it has been observed that they are very much bent toward the belief in rigid caste system and are against the people who break the rules that are being followed and rule in favor of the murderers. Thus, khap panchayats rather than being an institution which imparts justice has been the one which favors injustice. Framing of any kind of law against honor killing has always been opposed by khap panchayats as it will infringe their liberty to rule that the murder committed by the people in name of honor killing was the right decision. Not only these khap panchayats support honour killing but also order for killing the person who they think has done a grave crime by getting married outside the caste. Therefore people from various sections including the Supreme Court has the suggested holding caste panchayats guilty of any “honour” crime, and holding all members of such bodies as deemed guilty, whether or not they favoured the killing. This if implemented properly can hopefully bring down the rate of such killings.

Thus there is a need for a strong law which not only condemns honor killing as a specific crime but also punishes the bodies like khap panchayat which have actually been made to protect innocent people from the barbaric acts emerging from long followed practices like caste system but they are not doing so. There is a need to strengthen section 302 of I.P.C. in order to hold people who commit this heinous crime liable for it. The new law would be required to cover torture, social boycott of the couple and discrimination. Honour killings in such a law can be defined as “where men and women are killed by their kin or members of their caste for defying traditions”. It should be listed as a separate crime under the IPC and those found guilty should be punished with death or life imprisonment since it can be said to be one of the most heinous or barbaric crimes that can be committed by human beings. There have been assurances given by the government time and again that a stringent law will be created to deal with serious matters like honour killing. Union law minister Veerappa Moily was planning to bring a bill in Monsoon Session of Parliament July 2010 to provide for deterrent punishment for honour killings which provided five clauses to Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code, making honour killings a “distinct offence”. However the bill has been stalled with only two states responding to the Centre’s request to send their opinion on the controversial issue as there is still a lot of opposition from the conservative section of the societies. The political parties also fail to take a strong step as they fear for their vote bank for the only thing that matters to them is winning and losing elections.

A positive response in this regard has come from the Indian Courts which are now going hard against those persons who kill their own relatives in a so-called “honor killings”. In March 2010 a Karnal district court in the Manoj-Babli Honour killing case sentenced the five perpetrators to be executed, the first time an Indian court had done so in an honour killing case. The khap head who ordered but did not take part in the killings received a life sentence, and the driver involved in the abduction a seven-year prison term.

The recent ruling of Supreme Court in Bhagwan Dass vs State (NCT) Of Delhi on 9 May, 2011 recommended the death penalty for perpetrators of “honor killings,” calling the practice barbaric and feudal in a ruling making us hope that it will inspire opposition to a crime seen as anathema to a democratic nation. Judges Markandeya Katju and Gyan Sudha Mishra explained honor killings fall within the rarest of rare category and deserve to be a capital crime. The court said tough measures were needed to stamp out India’s caste system and the violence and harassment young people faced as they tried to break out of the shackles of centuries-old social practices. 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.

In addition to such laws, there is a need to break the shackles of rigid caste systems and bring a sense of awakening. If someone is not happy with the behaviour of his daughter or other person, who is his relation or of his caste, the maximum he can do is to cut off social relations with her/him, but he cannot take the law into his own hands by committing violence or giving threats of violence. Honour killing is a practice which needs to be removed from the society as soon as possible. It is a problem as big as naxalism or terrorism which needs to be solved. People should understand that the trends which are being followed in any society are created by people themselves and it is only in their hands to change it. If a society doesn’t believe in inter-caste marriage, it is only in the hands of the people especially, the younger generation to change the mindset. If people feel no guilt over what they have done, it will be difficult to tackle this menace. The need is to have counseling or debates and discussion with such people, broaden the horizon of the people through various channels and means of entertainment so that they can understand the perspective of the youth. So that they can see there is nothing `honourable’ in `honour’ killings.


Article by:

Sunaina Sharma and Katyayini Sharma

4th Year Students, National Law Institute University, Bhopal

[Submitted as an entry for the MightyLaws.in Blog Post Writing Competition, 2011]

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