Honor Killings in India with special reference to Women
“………Pure Body, Pure Mind; for sure. But, What is Pure Honor?
Rich dominate with their Wealth.
Educated dominate with their Knowledge.
Beautiful dominate with their Beauty.
Those having nothing, use the idea of ‘HONOUR’, to dominate!”
– Sita: An illustrated retelling of the Ramayana
In the era of modern mindset and advanced thinking, brutal crimes like Honor Killings still hold a stiff place. It is one such heinous offense that is prevalent in almost all the parts of the world with variation in its figures.
No doubt in the present times the perspectives of people are changing, however, the roots of the past are still firm in their minds. Humans have turned themselves into monsters that they don’t even hesitate to kill their near and dear ones for the sake of maintaining their social status and the so-called ‘honor’.
Honor Killings are the revengeful killings of those family members by relatives or the community, especially women who are said to have brought disgrace to the family. Conceptions of ‘honor’ of the family validate such an illegal act.
The Human Rights Watch defines it as an act of violence usually committed by the male family members against the female family members who are perceived to have brought dishonor upon the family by being romantically involved with or choosing to marry men outside their caste, class, or religion.
Position in India
“Sar kataa saktei hai lekin sar nahi jhuka saktei!”
(We can let our heads be chopped off but we won’t bow down)
-Tagline of every orthodox Indian Family
The United Nations estimates 1 in 5 cases internationally comes from India every year. Out of the 5000 cases reported every year, India accounts for 1000 cases. However, many NGOs have claimed it to be 4 times more than the estimated figure. The restricted understanding of the consequences amalgamated with limited study about the act has accorded to the persisting concealed nature of this horrific form of violence.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, this repugnant act is deeply rooted in states like Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, etc. where ‘Izzat’ (Honor) and ‘Lok kya kahenge?’(What will people say?) matters more than an individual’s life. Most cases fall in the age group from 20-25 years both in males and females.
Women as Prime Targets
In a primordial and provincial patriarchal society there always exists a pattern of social evaluation which is based on the performance and the prescribed roles played, especially by women. The idea of honor embodying social values and ideals is always placed at the top and is largely used to establish the social worth of a woman which is constantly examined and sanctioned by the family, relatives, neighbors, community, colleagues, and society at large. When a woman acts contrary to the said rules, it is an unacceptable sin committed by her. This mindset still exists in modern society.
The plight of Indian women is terrible in terms of honor-based crimes. In the year 2000, the United Nations reported that more than 20,000 women are killed for honor worldwide every year out of which 5000 women belong to India. Almost 70% of victims are upper-caste women.
Women are regarded as the property of the males in the family. The owner of the property has the right to decide its fate. Honour is presumed to be female-linked where the males hold a prerogative to see that it is not endangered at any cost and this justifies the aggression and violence against women.
It is believed that a woman’s virginity is the property of the men around her, first her father, later a gift for her husband. The concept of ownership over women and their bodies has turned them into a commodity that can be exchanged, bought, and even destroyed.
A report by Amnesty International states that the regime of honor is unforgiving. Women who are suspected of contradiction are not allowed to defend themselves and the family members have no other socially acceptable alternative than murdering the woman in order to wipe the stain on their honor.
Shame or Fame? Causes
The barbaric act is addressed to women due to multiple reasons:
- The prime reason is marrying outside caste or religion
- Refusing an arranged marriage/eloping away/marrying a man of her own choice.
- When she desires to seek divorce or separation without the consent of her husband.
- Engaging in adulterous relationships.
- Engaging in lesbian or homosexual relationships.
- Becoming a victim of rape, especially if it results in pregnancy.
- Premarital pregnancy or infidelity.
- Disobeying the dress code given by the community to the females or dressing in a way that is deemed inappropriate by the family.
The list is infinite as people have no valid reasons and rationality for committing such an offense.
Method of Killing
The matter is usually decided by the Khap Panchayat (commonly referred to as Kangaroo Courts) of the village, comprising of upper caste elder men. They enforce their verdict through social prohibitions and sanctions and never involve the law. Women are punished in the following ways:
- Naked parades in markets
- Stoned to death
- Buried alive
- Burnt alive
Brutal Killings in India
India has a long list of horrendous cases of killings in the name of honor:
- Nilofer Bibi (Kolkata) was decapitated by her brother with a sword after discovering her affair with a rickshaw driver. He severed her head, took it to the police station, and surrendered himself. He stated, he had no regrets.
- A 19-years-old girl (Delhi) was burnt alive by her parents for having romantic relations with a Muslim man.
- A 20-years-old girl was cut into 11 pieces and dumped in a gunny bag. Later it was revealed that the girl had married a man against the wishes of the family. Her parents and brother were sentenced to life imprisonment.
- A 16-years-old Dalit girl (Uttar Pradesh) was strangled and mutilated by her brother and father as she got pregnant outside wedlock.
- In 2010, 2 lesbian couples committed suicide on account of threats from their families.
India does not have a separate law on honor killings. It is dealt with under the existing laws:
- Article 14, 15 (1) & (3), 17, 18, 19, & 21, of the Indian Constitution provides protection against honor-based crimes.
- It is punishable under Section 299 (Culpable Homicide) & 300 (Murder) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 with imprisonment up to 10 years which can extend to life and a fine.
- Person party to or abetting the offense is also punished under Section 120 A & B and 107-116
- The Special Marriage Act, 1954 provides for marriages of Indians residing in and outside India, irrespective of their religion or faith.
- The Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 is linked with honor crimes as most cases relate to caste and religion. The act penalizes assault, naked parades, and sexual exploitation of women.
- Other acts like the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Act, 2006, Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, Indian Evidence Act, 1872, and the Indian Majority Act, 1875 also contain several provisions of protection against honor-based offenses.
- Prevention of Crimes in the Name of Honor and Tradition Bill, 2010 was proposed by the National Commission for Women. However, it failed to become a law.
- The Rajasthan Prohibition of Interference with Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances in the Name of Honor and Tradition Bill, 2019 was passed by a voice vote. It has been implemented so that people overcome the narrow mindset.
- India is a signatory to international conventions like CEDAW, ICESCR, and UDHR, which urges the state parties to penalize the offense of honour killings.
In the landmark, Manoj-Babli case, where the couple was brutally murdered, the Karnal District Court ordered the execution of the five perpetrators and sentenced life imprisonment to the Khap Panchayat head.
In Lata Singh v. State of UP & another, the Supreme Court observed that there is nothing honorable in honor killings. It was held that every individual has a right to choose one’s life partner.
In Shakti Vahini v.Union of India, any attempt by Khap Panchayats or any other assembly to scuttle or prevent two consenting adults from marrying is illegal and punishable.
The following points can be taken into consideration to curb the menace:
- Caste-based discrimination needs to be eradicated, only then inter and intra marriages will be accepted.
- There is a strong need to amend the existing laws or enact a new stringent law promoting secular humanism and respect for multicultural ethos.
- Media can play a significant role in creating awareness of the rights of individuals and unleashing the unconstitutionality of the Khap Panchayats.
- Education can change the mindset of people.
- Politicians, influential people, celebrities, and NGOs can come forward to spread awareness on the same.
- The patriarchal system needs to be completely uprooted from society. Women must be educated on their Right to choice and the Right to control and own their bodies.
Seventy-five years to Indian Independence, but it is really disturbing to know that the mentality of the people is still fragile. It is like a pandemic, having a rigid spot in their minds. The concept of izzat or honor has taken away the lives of so many people and has ruined innumerable families. It’s time to understand that honor is not a delicate issue rather it is an archaic relic of a primitive past that has survived despite so many reforms in caste and gender.
“To honor is….
to love, to protect, and to defend.
There is no honor in killing!”
Adv. Siddhi Gokuldas Naik
LLM, V.M.Salgaokar College of Law, Goa