They brought them into this world, then they took them from it.
Currently, the world presents a situation horrendously filled with brutality, slaughtering, and a decided endeavour to annihilate very pillars of social order that sustain peace, tolerance, harmony, and human dignity. The lives of millions of people around the world have been ruined and such individuals are experiencing unbearable misery and witnessing ruthless devastation.
One such picture of crime that we often see is honour-killing and honour-based violence. Time and again we come across headlines and news about how a person is killed because they willingly refuse to follow the norms of their family or the community and surrender to the societal pressure.
These merciless killings fall in the ambit of honour killing meaning these murders in the eyes of the perpetrator are the only way to save the honour of their family.
But to understand the threads of this cruelty we need to understand how deep it has sunk its claws in.
MEANING OF HONOUR KILLING
An honour killing is the homicide of a member of a family or social group by other members, due to the belief of the perpetrators that the victim has brought dishonour and shame upon the family or community. The loose term “honour killing” applies to the killing of both males and females.
The crime of honour killing is perpetuated when the members of an individual’s family or community believe that they do not fit into the norms and roles that the community wants them to follow. While these individuals choose their lives on their own terms, their families find it hard to accept and acknowledge that these actions and choices of theirs carry shame and dishonour to their family or the community and that they ought to be punished for the same.
REASONS BEHIND HONOUR KILLING
“There are sociological and political reasons for this violence such as policing of caste, class, and religion to prevent individuals from choosing their partners under the sign of nation and community”. –Pratiksha Baxi, associate professor, Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, JNU
Sociologists believe that the continued existence of a rigid caste system is why honour killings continue to be perpetuated. The fear of losing the benefits they acquire in the ambit of their caste is what pushes them to commit this heinous crime.
In a patriarchal society, where honour turns into the quintessence, the job of bearing this descends on the women of the family. The orthodox mindset is well ingrained in our society that any attempt by a woman to assert their right is considered an attack on societal values and cultural norms.
Terming love marriage as the sole reason for honour killing families is a primitive thought. But it still is one of the significant reasons for this heinous crime.
The maintenance of a woman’s virtue is considered to be an obligation of her male family members—first her father and brothers and then her husband. Victims of honour killings usually are alleged to have engaged in “immoral” actions, ranging from simply having conversations with men who are not related to them to having sex outside of conjugal relationship (regardless of whether they are the survivors of assault or rape).
However, a woman can be targeted for murder for a variety of other reasons, including refusing to enter into an arranged marriage or seeking a divorce or separation—even from an abusive husband. The mere suspicion that a woman has acted in a manner that could damage her family’s name may trigger an attack; these presumptions are for the most part dependent on men’s emotions and insights instead of the objective truth.
Moreover, the existence of homophobia in society is also a prominent reason for honour-based violence. While India decriminalized homosexuality in 2018, people of the LGBTQ community still have to face discrimination on every corner and because there still is a stigma about the community, society is not yet accepting of them.
When the fact about one’s sexuality comes to light, the society and family of the individual believe that a sin has been committed and such a relationship or sexuality is not “natural” and “normal” and that they bring disgrace to their families and communities by being their true and actual selves. They often time also believe that they have an obligation to right what they think has gone wrong and end-up committing violence for the same.
This is the reason people from homosexual individual’s families frequently and forcefully drive them into conversion therapies because they believe it would “cure them”. This is also a form of honour-based violence. However, some of the times these people believe that the right thing to do is to harm or kill these individuals simply because they choose to live in a way not acceptable by them and which they do not approve of.
It is not only same-sex sexual acts that trigger violence—behaviours that are regarded as inappropriate gender expression can also raise suspicion and lead to honour-based violence.
Although there have been no formal studies to indicate the presence or absence of psychopathology in honour killers, observations of various honour killing cases indicate the possibility of a psychopathological process.
Media case reports of honour killings have depicted certain psychopathic characteristics in offenders.
The most-watched scenes of honour killing in our country are reflecting that this is a death that is awarded to a man or woman of the family for marrying against the parent’s wishes, having extramarital and premarital relationships, or for homosexual relationships.
These crimes take place throughout the world and are not restricted to one specific religion, faith, or community.
According to The United Nations Population Fund, it was estimated that about 5000 women and girls were murdered by the members of their families and relatives for the sake of honour, around the world.
Honour killings are condemned as a serious human rights violation and are addressed by several international instruments. Honour killings are opposed by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 55/66 (adopted in 2000) and subsequent resolutions, which have generated various reports.
The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence addresses this issue. Article 42 reads;
“Article 42 – Unacceptable justifications for crimes, including crimes committed in the name of so-called honour
- Parties shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that, in criminal proceedings initiated following the commission of any of the acts of violence covered by the scope of this Convention, culture, custom, religion, tradition, or so-called honour shall not be regarded as justification for such acts. This cover, in particular, claims that the victim has transgressed cultural, religious, social, or traditional norms or customs of appropriate behaviour.
- Parties shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that incitement by any person of a child to commit any of the acts referred to in paragraph 1 shall not diminish the criminal liability of that person for the acts committed.”
HONOUR KILLING IN DIFFERENT STATES OF INDIA AND COMMUNITIES
Recent data by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that love affairs were among the biggest reasons for murder in India and increased at the highest rate between 2001 and 2017.
When thinking about honour killing, a misconception is that it is a practice that is limited to rural areas. But in reality, is that it is spread over such a large geographical area that we cannot be associate honour killings with rural areas only, however one can conclude that the majority of these killings take place in the rural areas. But it has also been seen recent incidences of this crime that even in metropolitan cities like Delhi, Chennai. etc.
However, Honour killings in India are to a great extent underreported– not by media yet by the state. India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report recorded just one instance of honour killing in 2018 in the country which was in Delhi. In 2017 again, only one case was recorded in Surat. According to the report, there were no such cases in Tamil Nadu during the two years.
While the number of honour killings reported is so low, a mere look at the headlines and reporting by media, independent NGOs, and surveys tell us a different story.
Indian states of Uttarakhand, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, etc., have a high number of reported honour killings, as a result of people marrying without their family’s acceptance. However, honour killings are rarely reported in Southern states of India and the western Indian states of Maharashtra and Gujarat but to say that honour killings do not exist here would be a far-fetched assumption.
Notably, the influence of reformists such as Vivekananda, Ramakrishna, Vidyasagar, and Raja Ram Mohan Roy has ceased honour killings about a century ago in the state of West Bengal, largely due to the activism of such activist to discourage these killings.
Thus, this practice continues in India though it ought to have been eliminated at this point.
LEGISLATURE ON HONOUR KILLING
India does not have a specific law criminalising the act of honour killing which adds to the fact of this crime going unreported. Often the families of the victims of this crime pass-off the deaths as suicide or they are ruled as homicides or atrocities against scheduled castes and tribes, as these killings are often due to inter-caste marriages.
In March 2010, a landmark judgment in the Manjo-Babil honour killing case was delivered by the Karnal District Court where, for the first time, the killers of the couple were convicted of an honour killing and awarded life sentences. The judge stated here that khap panchayat had functioned contrary to the constitution and took law into its own hands
A judgement passed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the matter of Shakti Vahini vs. Union of India & Ors had advised all States about the preventive, remedial, and punitive measures required to be implemented to address the issues related to honour crime.
These guidelines are to be followed till a proper law is legislated. But these guidelines alone won’t be able to curb this issue and there is a dire need for a specific legislature for the same.
Rajasthan Prohibition of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances in the Name of Honour and Tradition Bill 2019 was passed by the Rajasthan Assembly in August 2019.
This bill is the first of its kind. Now crimes – including but not limited to killing — motivated by honour are non-bailable offences in the state of Rajasthan, punishable by death or a life sentence, in addition to a fine of up to 5 lakh rupees,
This bill seems like the first step in the right direction and sets up a hopeful precedent for the enactment of dedicated legislation by the central legislature.
While this crime presents us with a grim picture of the state of our society, the obligation of battling this wrongdoing additionally lies in the hand of the same society.
Honour killing is a social evil. One of the vital steps to stop this imperative strides is to spread education through our country about the significance of the Right to Personal Liberty and the individual’s very right to choose how they live their life. It is also important to spread the message that no social norm or honour is great enough to take the life of a being, especially one which is a part of their own flesh and blood.
Furthermore, the passing of a specific law combatting this crime is also an essential step and need of the hour. Channels to report these crimes more easily and safely need to be established. There is likewise a need to help the survivors of such violence for them to recover from the trauma suffered by them and proper rehabilitation is a necessity.
By Shreya Shetty, 3rd Year B.A.LL.B. (Hons.), Faculty of Law, The Maharaja Sayajirao University Baroda, Vadodara.