This article is written by Sahajpreet Kaur, from SLS Pune.
A woman eloped with the love of her life against the wishes of her family. One day her Uncles on the pretext of taking her to her new home tried to kill her on the way. It was a dark night when they stopped the car by the canal and started firing bullets at her. When one bullet passed through her hand, they fired again and this time the bullet grazed her cheek and she laid there unconscious. They threw her into the canal. It was only when she felt the water that she tried to get hold of some weeds and pulled herself out. Her father and Uncle are now in jail under the charges of attempt to murder and kidnapping. When her father was interviewed, he said that he had not committed any crime; instead he just prevented his daughter from “dishonouring” the family and the community.
In the above described incident, the victim lived to tell her story but sadly, that is not the truth in many cases. Hundreds and thousands of women, to say the least, die every year as a result of abuse and crime in the name of “honour”. That brings us to discuss the most important question that pops up in our mind.
What is Honour?
Every society and every religion has its own set of customs and practices that they have been following for years now and gradually they become the norm. One such norm which can be witnessed being practiced most commonly in the Indian societies is that a woman should marry as per the whims of the family members. She is not allowed to choose a man for herself or marry someone whom she loves. If she is courageous enough to go against all these so called “rules”, she is said to have brought shame/disgrace upon the family or is blamed of “dishonouring” them in front of the entire community.
Today, honour of the family is not only said to have been hampered in cases where the woman protests against forced marriages but also if she tries to come out and talk about her own sexuality. The family often tries to kill or abuse her to the extent that she is forced to kill herself.
The term “honour crimes” is misleading because it not only validates killing in the name of honour but also gives the notion that such killings are a part of the culture or the norm of the society.
What is Honour Killing?
Human Rights Watch defines “honour killings” as an act of violence, usually murder, committed by the male members of the family against the female members, who according to them have brought dishonor upon the family.
In simple words, honour killing is defined as death which is awarded to the man or the woman of the family for mainly:
- marrying against the wishes of the family,
- having pre-marital or extra-marital affairs,
- marrying outside ones caste, religion or clan, and
- in matters of sexuality.
The practice is very different from dowry deaths which are also prevalent in the Indian society. While dowry deaths refers to cases where the woman is driven to death by her husband or in-laws, honour killing is a crime committed by the woman’s own parents, family members or community who seek retribution for the couple having brought “shame” upon the family.
Situation in India and other nations
Honour Killings are not a new/unique concept to any society, culture or religion. It is something that has been going on since decades and the society has constantly tried to nip the matter in the bud. The violence on the pretext of honour was primarily between men only and sometimes even included women as collaborators. But, more often than always, it was committed by men against women and children who were believed to have harmed the reputation (honour) of the family.
In most of the Arab nations, the practice can be traced back to the pre-Islamic times. The Arabs followed a tradition of burying the newly born girl child. In the ancient Roman times, the pater familias (senior male member of the family) was vested with the right to kill a sexually active unmarried daughter or an adulterous wife. In Medieval Europe, the Jewish Law provided for mandatory death (by stoning, wherein the person undergoes blunt trauma until death) for adulterous wife and her lover/partner.
In India, the Khap or Caste panchayats which refers to a union of villages have lately emerged as a quasi-judicial body which pronounces ruthless punishments such as honour killings on the basis of age-old customs.
The Staggering Facts
Based on the estimations made by the United Nations (UN) there were around 5000 honour killings worldwide as of year 2000. Most of these cases were reported in the Middle East and South Asia but the other countries where such killings occur are Brazil, Iran, Canada, Israel, Jordan, Italy, Egypt, Syria, Sweden, UK, USA, and many more.
In India, the statistics indicate around 900 reported honour killings only from the state of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh and approximately 300 honour killings from the rest of the nation. Since these cases are often under-reported because of the fear created by family members or the community, one can assume that the real numbers would be even higher.
How is the society responsible for such crimes?
The most obvious reason for the happening of such crimes is the patriarchal Indian society where the women are supposed to behave and conduct themselves as per the men of the family. The caste system which was formed centuries ago still continues to be followed rigidly. The people of the rural areas still refuse to accept the choices made by their children for their own lives and since the men are supposed to uphold all the norms and traditions of the society and shield the family from dishonor/shame, they are given all the rights to practice violence against women and in this case, to even kill them.
The Legal Aspect
In India, as of now, there is no specific codified law to deal with honour killings. The Prevention of Crimes in the name of Honour and Tradition Bill, 2010 was introduced in the Parliament but unfortunately, still remains to be in its latent stage. However, the stance of the judiciary, executive and the legislature on such cases can be analyzed with the help of judicial precedents and other codified laws which hold such practices unacceptable.
- Honour Crimes are violative of Article 14 (Equality before law), Article 15 (Prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, castee, sex or place of birth), and Article 21 (Protection of life and personal liberty). Infact, Right to marry out of a person’s own free will is a component of Article 21 under the Constitution of India, 1950. Additionally, in the iconic judgment of Lata Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh it was observed by the Supreme Court that, since India is a free and democratic nation, once the person attains the age of majority he/she has a right to marry whosoever.
- The Indian Penal Code, 1862 also includes various provisions under which honour killings can be made punishable such as, Section 299-304 (Provides for the punishment of any person guilty of murder and culpable homicide not amounting to murder), Section 307 (Provides for punishment for attempt to murder), Section 308 (Provides for the punishment for culpable homicide), Section 120 A&B (Penalizes any person who is a party to criminal conspiracy), Section 107-116 (Punishment for abetment of offences including murder and culpable homicide) and Section 34 & Section 35 (Punishment for acts done by several persons in furtherance of a common intention).
- Acts such as the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 (aimed at protecting the human rights from being violated), National Legal Services Authority (established under the Legal Services Authority Act, 1987 to provide free and speedy services to the weaker sections of the society) and the Special Marriage Act, 1954 (enacted to prevent the atrocities arising out of the marriages in India) are in place in order to protect the interests of the victimized sections of the society.
- In August 2012, the Law Commission of India in the report titled “Prevention of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances (in the name of Honour and Tradition): A Suggested Legal Framework”, recommended a law with the intention to curb the social evil of Khap (or castee) panchayats which meddle with the right of young men and women to marry of their own free will.
India has also signed various International treaties and conventions which violate honour killings like the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), 1979, International Convention of Human Rights, 1948 (also known as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and International Convention of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), 1996.
Conclusion: time to redefine Honour
Honour killing is a crime committed in order to uphold the honour of the family. But it is high time we realize that there is no such honour in killing a person. Culture or customs and Religion should not be an excuse for committing such crimes because they are open ended and we as humans tend to misinterpret them. The right to freely practice religion does not guarantee the right to kill. Hence, in my opinion, in order to curb this evil, the term “honour” needs to be redefined and that can be done by:
- Spreading more awareness: Honour Killings are most common in rural areas and in almost all cases the victim is a girl and since they are the ones who have least access to education, they are not aware of their rights. Therefore, they hesitate to fight back and take it as a punishment for their own fault.
- Social Reforms: Mentality of the people is the root cause for the happening of such crimes. Inter-caste marriages are still considered a taboo. Society demands change with the changing times. Furthermore, the fear of acceptance by the society should not stop people from reporting such cases as it will only be then that the matter will come to the limelight.
- Strict legal backing: Even though such killings can be made punishable under several other laws, it is to be mentioned that such laws provide only umbrella rights and there is a need for a strict specific codified law to be in place so as to deter the society and punish the real culprits for commission of such heinous crimes.
 Sneha Annavarapu, Human Rights, Honour Killings and the Indian Law, Volume 48. Economic and Political Weeekly, 2013.
 Dr. Aisha Gill, “HONOUR KILLINGS AND THE QUEST FOR JUSTICE IN BLACK AND MINORITY ETHNIC COMMUNITIES IN THE UK AND MOVING TOWARD A “MULTICULTURALISM WITHOUT CULTURE”: CONSTRUCTING A VICTIM-FRIENDLY HUMAN RIGHTS APPROACH TO FORCED MARRIAGE IN THE UK”, The United Nations ( Feb.20, 2021, 10:40 PM), https://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/egm/vaw_legislation_2009/Expert%20Paper%20EGMGPLHP%20_Aisha%20Gill%20revised_.pdf.
 PTI, “More than 1000 honour killings in India every year: Experts”, Times of India (Feb.20, 2021, 10:40 PM), https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/more-than-1000-honour-killings-in-india-every-year-experts/articleshow/6127338.cms.
 INDIA CONST. art. 14.
 INDIA CONST. art. 15.
 INDIA CONST. art. 21.
 (2006) 5 SCC 475.
 Indian Penal Code, S.299-304.
 Indian Penal Code, S.307.
 Indian Penal Code, S.308.
 Indian Penal Code, S.120.
 Indian Penal Code, S.107-116.
 Indian Penal Code, S.34.
 Indian Penal Code, S.35.
 Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.
 Legal Services Authority Act, 1987.
 Special Marriage Act, 1954.
 Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979.
 International Convention of Human Rights, 1948.
 International Convention of Civil and Political Rights, 1996.
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