Author: Smriti Shah, Student at Bennett University.
We proudly state that we are citizens of a democratic and secular country, that people of all cultures and faiths reside here and we live together in a harmonious manner. We have evolved much over the years, but a few things remain the same, untouched by the changing times: ethos of marriage. In India, a marriage is supposed to be a holy bond which is formed between two people, usually chosen by the families themselves. Over the years, the generations have started to choose their life partners on their own, the question remains whether this will be accepted by the families or not. While many get their happy endings with their families being liberal enough to accept the choice and the one chosen by their child, but many times, things don’t turn out to be like this and then these couples have to face the wrath of their families.
WHAT ARE HONOR CRIMES?
Many young and innocent couples had to experience “horrific and horrendous waves of massacring for choosing the life partner according to their wish and choice.” Choosing their own life partner subjects the women to the supreme caste, atrocities at the hand of religious groups. Atrocities against women don’t just restrict themself to the topic of her choosing her own husband; they also occur if she is has been sexually assaulted, if she asks for a divorce – doesn’t matter how the husband is. These atrocities are committed because the family thinks that the girl has brought dishonor to the family by these. These crimes are known as honor crimes or killings. “Honor crimes are acts of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonor upon the family. A woman can be targeted by (individuals within) her family for a variety of reasons, including: refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce — even from an abusive husband — or (allegedly) committing adultery. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that “dishonors” her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life.”
Honor killings are not something new faced by India. It’s been happening since ages in villages (most cases reported in places such as Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh), not only the rural spaces but there are cases being reported even in the capital of the country (allegedly the Talwar case) and many southern states. These killings are various times ordered by the local authority body which is very shocking as panchayats are supposed to be the safeguard, who takes care of the rural people, it is a part of the governmental body. “According to the ‘conservative’ khap panchayat, marriage between people of the same village is considered incest as they are siblings and hence these marriages are not valid. So the panchayat orders the murder of the couple and hangs their body in the village crossing as an example to other straying couples.”
The Indian society feels that the females are ‘properties’ who is passed from her parent’s home to her husband’s. They are meant to keep the honor of the family intact. It is felt that when a girl does something or has something done to her which tarnishes this so-called honor of the family, then the males of the family, in order to bring back the honor, feel that it is their right to murder her, the one who dared to blot the family’s prestige.
These crimes violate and reject the basic fundamental right which is the most vital under the constitution, the right to equality. It also shows how prevalent patriarchy is in our society. It is highly difficult to be able to discover the actual numbers of such cases as many of these cases aren’t reported, leading the criminal to go without nay reprimand, giving them a sense of their act being justified.
These offences aren’t just restricted to India but there are cases reported world-wide. “Honor killing is a global phenomenon1 and has been widely reported in countries such as Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Bangladesh, Algeria, Brazil, Ecuador, Morocco, Israel, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, the Balkans, Sweden, Holland, Germany, Italy, Yemen, India and many more countries2. It is estimated by the United Nations Population Fund that as many as 5,000 women and girls are killed by the members of their families and/or relatives each year for the sake of honor around the world3. But Robert Kiener in the study “Can Murders of Women and Girls be stopped” claims that the number of 5,000 is thought to be gross under count and the figure is closer to 20,000 per year worldwide.”
One important case of honor killing is that of Manoj and Babli. They were in love and ran away together and married each other. When the families found out about this, they were furious and hunted down the couple. When the family went to the khap panchayat, the initial statement was that anyone found helping the couple will be fined Rs 25,000. The families had an issue with the marriage because the two belong to different castes. The couple was abducted and murdered by the people and it was said to be the order of the khap panchayat because Babli’s grandfather was the leader of the Khap. The court sentenced the five accused for murdering the victims to a life sentence and the driver who was involved in the abduction of the couple was also put behind the jail for 7 years. This is a major landmark case for honor killing.
The issue came under the microscope again after Nirupama Pathak was murdered, a delhi based journalist, alleged to be murdered by her own parents because she was found to be pregnant and was planning to get married to a boy of her choosing, outside her caste.
- Sections 299-304: Penalises any person guilty of murder and culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The punishment for murder is life sentence or death and fine. The punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder is life imprisonment or imprisonment for upto 10 years and fine.
- Section 307: Penalises attempt to murder with imprisonment for upto 10 years and a fine. If a person is hurt, the penalty can extend to life imprisonment.
- Section 308: Penalises attempt to commit culpable homicide by imprisonment for upto 3 years or with fine or with both. If it causes hurt, the person shall be imprisoned for upto 7 years or fined or both.
- Section 120A and B: Penalises any person who is a party to a criminal conspiracy.
- Sections 107-116: Penalises persons for abetment of offences including murder and culpable homicide.
- Section 34 and 35: Penalises criminal acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention.”
Indian government should enact more stringent laws to deal with honour killings as it goes against several of our fundamental rights such as Art. 14 which talks about right to equality, Art. 19 which talks about right to freedom and Art. 21 which talks about right to life. Such heinous crimes shouldn’t exist in the first place, and if it exists then all necessary measures should be taken to eradicate it.
Kaushal K. No Honour in Honour Killing: Comparative Analysis of Indian Traditional Social Structure vis-à-vis Gender Violence. ANTYAJAA: Indian Journal of Women and Social Change. 2020;5(1):52-69. doi:10.1177/2455632719880870
 Kiener, Robert, Honour Killings: Can Murders of Women and Girls be Stopped, Global Researcher, 5(8), 185, (2011)