We hear about ‘Honour Killings’ in our day-to-day life. In fact, it is one of the most pressing issues of our times. At a time when people are locked up inside their homes and are fighting an unpredictable war against the Pandemic, Honour killing cases do not seem to seize. Even after various efforts made by the Central and State governments, honour killing cases do not seem to reside. But the most unfortunate thing about this situation is that half of the honour killing cases are not even reported and yet we are not able to do anything about those cases which are actually reported.
Before getting into the depth of this issue, let’s discuss what exactly ‘Honour killing” is. It is the act of killing a person by an individual or a group of people for the primary reason of bringing dishonour to their family or community. This ‘dishonour’ can be in terms of marrying a person outside of their caste, having unapproved relationships, unwanted pregnancy, loss of virginity outside or before marriage and many other groundless reasons. According to the sources , Women are the prime victims in such cases. However, the killing of males especially due to Inter-caste marriage is also very prevalent.
WHO ARE THE PEOPLE BEHIND IT?
It is surprising how some people place their honour above everything else, even above someone’s life. What is more astonishing is the fact that in most of the honour killing cases, the perpetrators are either family members of the victim or someone close to them. Which is one of the very reasons why it is hard to track such cases. At the same time, it becomes even harder for the authorities to protect the victims since they are terrorised by their own family members. According to the sources, Honour-related murders are often reported as suicides and accidents. Thus, most of the cases are buried under the pretence of suicide or accident by their family members. This can be the primary reason for most of the cases of honour killings or honour-based violence going unreported. According to a 2018 report on crime statistics by the National Crime Records Bureau of India, there were only 30 murders with motives recorded as “honour killings” in 2018.
LAWS GOVERNING HONOUR KILLINGS
There is no specific legislation against honour killings. In fact, honour killing cases usually are dealt with under Sections 300 and 302 of the Indian Penal Code. However, there are some guidelines provided by the Supreme Court while dealing with such cases. In a March 2018 ruling, the Supreme Court provided some punitive measures, preventive steps and remedial measures for cases related to honour-based violence. A report was also submitted by the Law commission in 2012 that outlined a legal framework which would help in dealing with ‘honour killings’.
According to the sources, “The Prohibition of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances Bill was aimed at curbing activities and behaviours associated with honour crimes by criminalizing, for example, the unlawful assembly of groups of people to condemn marriage and criminal intimidation of a couple. It also recommended punishments, protection measures for vulnerable couples, and counselling and legal awareness for couples. Sadly, this Bill was not brought up by any MP in the Parliament.”
Another source reported that a bill was adopted by the state Legislative Assembly of Rajasthan in August 2019 to prohibit any collective assembly from taking place to condemn and to prevent inter-caste or interfaith marriages between two consenting adults in the name of honour and to punish murders or ill-treatment “of a couple or either of them on the basis that marriage of such couple has dishonoured, or brought disrepute to the caste, community or family”. But such a law needs to be enforced at the centre as well.
Nonetheless, even if a law is enforced, it won’t bear any fruits until and unless it is properly implemented and regulated. Otherwise, it would be just another law in an ocean full of adopted but unimplemented laws.
DEEP ROOTED CAUSE
However, ‘Honour killing’ is not a simple offence or a crime which can be eradicated simply by bringing in laws and implementing them. Proper laws may help to curb this issue to some extent, however, it won’t be enough to eliminate the root cause of this problem. This is because the issue at hand is not only limited to the outlook of a particular individual but the very mindset of the people in our society. There is no doubt that ‘honour-based violence’ is a result of social stigmas and backward mentality that still persists in our society and has been engraved in the minds of the people. One of those ideologies being the Caste system. This disruptive practice has built a social barrier between people and whoever tries to cross it, ends up suffering. As stated earlier, one of the primary victims of honour-related crimes is found to be couples involved in inter-caste marriages. These are the people who defy the laws of casteism and try to make their own path but their lives are cut short by these groups of people who are blinded by their regressive ideologies. They are filled with hatred towards anyone who tries to defy them or what according to them is the ‘law of nature’. Another social barrier is created due to religion. People who marry or love someone from different religion also fall victims to such crimes. All in all, it is a social evil born out of a man’s thirst for preserving their ideologies, social standing and honour.
THE ROLE OF KHAP PANCHAYATS
One must be wondering whether people who commit such gruesome acts are being punished or not. The harsh reality is that most of the people involved in such cases are acquitted without facing any consequences. This is because of the involvement of some very powerful people who back such actions of these people. One of them being khap panchayats. They are a community or a group that represent a clan or a village who consider themselves as quasi-judicial bodies and pronounce punishments according to their beliefs. They are seen as the primary suspects in most of these cases because many of the honour killing cases have been committed by such khap panchayats. However, not much is done regarding them since they play the role of ‘vote banks’ during elections for the political parties. Thus parties are reluctant in taking strong actions against such groups. Instead, many of the political parties try to protect them from any legal actions that are taken against them. Due to this, they have enough power and social standing in the society which makes it harder, even for the police authorities to register a case against them.
In a ruling on March 2018, the Supreme Court of India stated that the “‘Khap Panchayats’ or such assembly should not take the law into their hands and further cannot assume the character of the law implementing agency, for that authority, has not been conferred upon them under any law”. Some guidelines were also suggested by the supreme court which included preventive, remedial and punitive measures which should be taken into account until the legislation comes into effect.
However, this order does not seem to have much effect because we still get to see cases of honour-based killings committed by khap panchayats while no strict actions being taken against them.
Lack of police cooperation is another problem that needs to be overcome. Many a time it is the lack of cooperation from the side of police which results in the criminals getting away. There have been many instances where the police officials have refused to register an FIR or take any action against the perpetrators. According to the sources, a hotline was launched by the Madurai Police in August 2017 for the protection of inter-faith or inter-caste couples who are in the fear of family retribution. The hotline was to operate for 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The New Indian Express, a daily Indian newspaper, reported that in other districts of Tamil Nadu, the “anti-honour killing cells” with helplines that were publicized were the phone numbers of “‘existing police stations or NGOs, some of whom were taken aback when informed that their numbers were submitted in court as the numbers to the special hotline'” according to the general secretary of the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF). Because of such lazy implementation of laws and lack of regulation, it would be meaningless even if the government or the police itself comes up with a solution for such problems.
Without proper efforts and cooperation by the police officials, it is hard to say that the problem of honour killing can ever be resolved because police is a bridge between victims and the judiciary. Until and unless, they perform their duty with utmost diligence and register and report all the cases of honour-based crimes, and take the necessary preventive and remedial measures, no progress can be done on this front.
Whatever efforts are made by the government or the police authorities, in the end, it is up to the judiciary to do justice to the people who have been wronged and provide remedies for the same.
According to the sources, in December 2017, the Tirupur (Tamil Nadu) court issued the death penalty for five individuals accused in the case of the honour-based killing in March 2016 of an engineering student who had married a young woman against the wishes of her family; one of the condemned was the young woman’s father. In the Dalit Christian case, 10 defendants were found guilty and were sentenced to double life imprisonment in August 2019 out of 14 persons accused.
In the case of The State of Maharashtra vs Eknath Kisan Kumbharkar (16th August 2019), the Bombay high court stated that ‘We have held in Lata Singh case that 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’
The court pronounced a death sentence in another case where the sister of a Dalit man who eloped with an upper-caste woman was killed by the parents of the woman. However according to the same source, “are cases resulting in a conviction exceptions rather than the norm, in terms of the justice delivered. Even when cases are reported, perpetrators get out of jail on bail within a few months” .
If the judiciary takes a strong approach towards sentencing the criminals of honour-based violence, a change in the situation of redressal of honour-based crimes can be expected. Providing stricter rules for the punishment of the perpetrators as well as laws for the protection of the victims would be the right way forward.
Crimes related to honour killings are on the rise even after the various efforts made by the government and the judiciary. This just reflects that whatever has been done till now is not enough. Before our country falls into the depths of honour based violence, something needs to be done to remove this social evil from the very root of the cause. If no steps are taken now, society and the people are going to suffer at the hands of such unjust and fallacious practices. Attention to this issue is the need of the hour.
Aastha Verma, Christ University, Bangalore.