Kushal Bhattacharjee is a 5th Year, BA. LLB student of Surendranath Law College, University of Calcutta
Honour killing or shame killing, in simple terms, is the act of killing of a person with the reasoning that such a person has brought shame and dishonour to the family or/and community to which he/she belongs by committing or being a part of a socially unacceptable act. The more common subjects of honour killings are women as compared to men but there are not ‘zero’ cases where males are subjected to these killings. Among numerous reasons for these killing like opting for divorce and separation of married couples, the most prominent is the inter-caste marriages. The Human Rights Watch, a New York based Non-Governmental Organisation, defines honour killing as follows: “Honour crimes are acts of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members who are perceived to have brought dishonour upon the family. A woman can be targeted by 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 committing adultery. The mere perception that a woman has acted in a manner to bring “dishonour” to the family is sufficient to trigger an attack.”
The above given definition, to look closely, only considers the acts done against women under the head of ‘honour killing’ but there have been numerous cases where men have been subjected to these killings as well. Take, for example, the case of the Afghan couple who were stoned to death over their alleged love affair. Another example is that of the killing of M. Sudhakar of Tamil Nadu, who allegedly married out of his caste and was subjected to honour killing even during the ongoing pandemic.
Reasons for honour killing
As read above, there could be numerous reasons behind the occurrence of honour killings. Some of the triggering reasons among them are as follows:
Refusal of an arranged or forced marriage.
Opting for a divorce out of a fallen marriage.
A member of the family being rumoured or alleged to be at least a part of an unacceptable activity.
Homosexuality and same sex-partners.
Being a victim of rape or, in simple terms, victim blaming.
There can be a lot of other reasons for the killing of a person in the name of ‘honour’ or ‘shame’ which includes ‘being sexually active before marriage’, ‘pregnancy before marriage’, ‘choice of clothes’, ‘disobeying the orders of the elders’ etc. There is a dire need to reframe the conservative mentality among the people that they possess and compel all of their family members to blindly have faith in those orders and follow them as said. Honour killing in India: In India, caste system is a deep rooted problem that has been persistent in our society since time immemorial. Inter caste marriages are one of the main motives behind the high rate of honour killings in India. Indian societies have been led by strict and patriarchal norms. The members of the family or/and community who didn’t or couldn’t
afford to abide by these norms are generally subjected to expulsion from the family or community, which often extends to lynching and the killing of such person under the head of ‘honour killing’.
In India, most of the cases of honour killings are reported in the northern states. According to a study conducted by the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), every year more than 1,000 honour killings take place across the country, out of which 30% are from western Uttar Pradesh. While talking further about the stand of honour killing in India, the state president of AIDWA said that “Honour killing is not the same as murder. As the number of cases is on the rise, it is high time that a separate law is formed for this crime. Earlier, cases of honour killing were only reported from states like Haryana and UP but now similar instances are also being reported from Maharashtra, Tamil Naidu, West Bengal among other states.” One more aspect of these killings is that the family members of the female go on to file fake rape cases against the male with whom she had eloped with the motive to marry. Back in 2014,
an English daily tracked that the district courts in New Delhi disposed of 538 cases of rape in the year of 2013. However, more than 40% of these decided cases involved consenting couples who had eloped after which the female’s parents have filed the fake case alleging the man of raping their daughter. Few are of the opinion that none of these killing come under the head of ‘honour killing’. And ‘honour killings’ are only the ones happening in the state of Haryana, where the “khap panchayats” (community councils) are established. Take, for example, the statement made by the then Chairperson of the National Council for Women when a student of journalism, Nirupama Pathak from Jharkhand, was killed by her family members with the motive behind that she had plans of marrying her boyfriend who belonged to some other caste.
When asked about it, the then Chairperson, Dr. Girija Vyas said that the student’s murder did not count as a ‘honour killing’ because these killings were specific to the Indian state of Haryana, where the khap panchayats exist.ii There are reports which claim that honour killings have occurred in the state of Rajasthan as well. The rise in the cases of honour killings led to the Supreme Court demanding responses from the federal and the state governments of Punjab, Haryana, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The court also asked the governments to explain what steps they have taken to protect the young couples who feel threatened by their families and communities.
Laws implemented in India to deter honour killings: India does not have any specific law to deter ‘honour killings’, neither it is defined in any of the statutory codes of India. In light of the rising cases of honour killings, numerous NGOs like Shakti Vahini (Delhi based NGO), Evidence (Madurai based NGO) etc. have been demanding specific laws for the violent act of ‘honour killing’. However, as of now, the following sections under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 deal with the growing issue of honour killings:
a) Section 34-35 deals and penalises any act done in furtherance of common intention.
b) Section 107-110 deals and penalises abetment of offences including that of culpable
homicide and murder.
c) Section 120B deals and penalises criminal conspiracy.
d) Section 299-304 deals and penalises the act of culpable homicide not amounting to
murder and murder.
e) Section 307 deals and penalises the attempt to murder of any person.
f) Section 308 deals and penalises the attempt to commit culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
These sections come into play and act as umbrella sections under which the violent act of ‘honour killing’ is reported to the authorities. Absence of any specific law against honour killings compel the enforcement authorities to register the complaints under the above mentioned sections and laws, whenever there is any. This further makes it next to impossible to trace and track down the exact statistics of honour killing. Also, many experts are of the opinion that these laws are enough to deter the heinous act of ‘honour killing’.
Amidst all this, Rajasthan became the first state to address this issue by passing the Rajasthan Protection from Lynching Bill, 2019, and the Rajasthan Prohibition of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances in the Name of Honour and Tradition Bill, 2019. The later Bill awards a punishment ranging from life imprisonment to death penalty for an act of honour killing in the State.
According to the press release by the Ministry of Home Affairs, posted on 31 July, 2018 by the Press Information Bureau, Delhi, the NCRB data marked 28 cases of honour killing in the year 2014, 251 cases in the year 2015 and 77 cases in the year of 2016. However, field investigations and studies conducted by Evidence, a Madurai based NGO, revealed that over the last five years, 195 known cases of honour killing exist in the state of Tamil Nadu alone. It also revealed that 97% of the victims are women. As stated above, absence of any specific laws these crimes go untraceable under the myriad laws. Usually, these cases are reported as suicide.
To look upon the latest incident, the killing of M. Sudhakar, a 24 years old youth from Tamil Nadu was killed by his family with the reasoning that he opted for a marriage out of his caste. That is to say, even the pandemic and lockdown couldn’t stop or deter this criminal act from our society. In the past, the historic Manoj – Babli Honour Killing Case, in 2010, had spread widespread angst among the activists and general public. Other than these cases, there are numerous cases, both reported as well as unreported, of honour killing across the nation. Since 2001, the number of honour killing cases have gone up by 28% as per the data of the National Crime Reports Bureau (NCRB).
To talk of honour killing and its stand in India, it cannot be more clear that the fire of honour killing is immensely fuelled by the caste system, love affairs and relationships before marriage. Such ‘so-called norms’ appear to be logical and traditional within the patriarchal mind-set of the society. Inter-caste marriages and love affairs tend to be the most toxic element for the honour killings across the country. Further, talking about the implementation of specific laws for honour killing, it would bring more clarity about the offence among the enforcement agencies and also would make the groups ordering or allowing honour killings jointly liable along with the individuals carrying out the killing. The most important among these is the need of education among the people of the community because ‘lack of education’ is the “wind-pipe” of the caste system which has lived and survived in India since time immemorial. In the end, it can be said that the crimes based on caste system, honour killing being one of the many, are itself a disgrace for the society where we call ourselves to be civilians and the most developed “social animals”.
i Shashank Malviya, ‘Honor Killing – A major offence in India’, Readers Blog by The Times of India (India, 21 August 2019) < https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/readersblog/know-your-rights/honor-killing-a-major-offence-in-india-5248/ > accessed 26 December 2020.
iii Mili Agarwal Awasthi/PTI, ‘Legal experts divided over proposed honour killing law’, Business Standard (New Delhi, 16 February 2010) < https://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/legal-experts-divided-over-proposed-honour-killing-
law-110021600122_1.html > accessed 26 December 2020.
iv Mayank Mishra, “Love Kills: Are ‘Affairs’ the fastest growing reason for murder?” The Quint (India, 09 February 2020) < https://www.thequint.com/voices/opinion/love-affairs-honour-killing-murder-india-ncrb-data-generation-divide-patriarchy#read-more > accessed on 26 December 2020.