The so-called ‘honour crimes’ are acts of violence, typically killings, perpetrated by members of the family against women who have brought the family into supposed ‘disgrace’. A woman may be targeted by (persons in her own family) for a number of reasons, including: refusal to enter an arranged marriage, being the victim of sexual assault, seeking divorce even from an abusive spouse or in cases of adultery. The mere notion that a woman has acted in a manner that “dissonates” her family is enough to assault her life. Our nation was extremely selective of the kind of development it underwent. At the world level with the nuclear agreement, 8% growth rates, and India’s acknowledgment of its position, it appears that ‘India shines.’ But delving deeper into this growing country’s dark secrets, we still discover widespread murder of young couples by their family members in order to preserve their ‘honor’ because of the couple’s differential social status.
The “traditional” khap panchayat claims that marriage between individuals of the same village is deemed incestuous since they are considered siblings, and thus these weddings are not ethical. The panchayat thus orders the assassination of the couple and hangs their bodies at the village crossing as an example to other prospective couples. Two adults are allowed to marry and, according to the Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, speaking out against honor murders in India,
“No third person” may harass or injure them. Women are regarded as property and the vessel of family honor in India, with its patriarchal culture. And any conduct that may block the prestige of the family gives the male members an unequivocal right to kill the girl, ‘correct’ their mistakes and gain back the honor.
JUDICIAL PRECEDENT IN HOMICIDE, ‘HONOUR KILLING’
Honor killings, as defined by the Human Rights Watch, are “acts of violence, usually murder, perpetrated by male family members against female family members who are perceived to have brought dishonour to the family by being romantically involved with or choosing to marry men outside their caste, class, or religion.” Frequently camouflaged and reported as suicides by relatives, women account for over 97 percent of honour killing victims in India itself, because “the regime of honour is not able to forgive a woman on whom suspicion has fallen” and remove the stain on their honour by attacking the woman.” Often named as homicide, Honour killing is a heinous crime and a greater evil, homicides may affect public interest whereas the offence of Honour killing shakes public conscience. The lack of a specific law to deal with these particular crimes, in which ‘honour’ is the common motive, results in them being reported under myriad laws, making them nearly impossible to track. These crimes against honour being grossly violative of the constitution, attract the violation of various enactments like-
• The Indian Majority Act, 1875
• The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989
• The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005
• The Indian Evidence Act, 1872
• The Special Marriage Act of 1954 and
• The Indian Penal Code, 1860
In spite of being violative of the law on so many levels, honor killings are notoriously underreported – not by the media, but by the State. The institutional reluctance to enact specific laws, fearing a sway on political outcomes, results in a convenient scapegoat and the resulting underestimation.
To discover a remedy for such atrocities, it must be investigated from the very heart. The fundamental foundation of such a marital taboo in the same “gotra” is that it’s considered incest. The 1954 Hindu Marriage Act prohibits the marriage of sapindas, individuals falling in the third generation of the mother and the fifth generation of the father. In addition, marriage between specific ‘degrees of forbidden connections,’ including between sisters and brothers, is also prohibited. The law thus sets out the components for a legal marriage and excludes marriage between close family members.
THE HONOUR AND TRADITION BILL: POSITION IN 21ST CENTURY
Although the state action against this crime has been active, most of the state reforms have died in latency. The Prevention of Crimes in the Name of Honour and Tradition Bill, 2010, was introduced in Parliament, however it never progressed from its embryonic stage. On August 2010, the Supreme Court imposed the capital punishment in the case of U.P. v. Krishna Master & Ors to three defendants in the event of the ‘honour’ killing of six people in a district of Uttar Pradesh in 1991. The Divisional bench of Justices, H.S. Bedi and J.M. Panchal overturned the judgement of acquittal issued by the High Court of Allahabad after which, death penalty was handed over to them by the court. The Bench upheld the decision of the trial court and stated that: “murdering six people and squandering nearly the whole family on the weak basis for preserving the family’s honour would be one of the most unusual instances” As a condemnation of the crime,in the case of Lata Singh Vs State of Uttar Pradesh and others, a single Judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice Markandey Katju had said, ‘’Honour killings are nothing but barbaric cold blooded slaughter and no honour is involved in such killings.’’ Thus, the stance of the judiciary, executive and the legislature on such cases, analyzed with the help of judicial precedents and other codified laws, hold such practices unacceptable. Honor killings violate various provisions and there exist distinct legislation and punishments against this, however each of these sections offer certain exceptions, and aren’t cut out for adept dealing of these crimes. For example: the Indian Evidence Act puts the burden of proof on the victims, this makes most of the crimes go unreported, as the victims don’t live to testify. A suggestive reform would be to amend it to place the burden of proof on the accused, however amending each of the provisions to meet the demands of penalizing this crime would be a futile exercise. The IPC, offers an exception for homicides, triggered by sudden provocation and honor crimes, done by family members through brutal, clever planning mostly hidden behind this. Thus is the requirement for a distinct law so that no innocent voice is stifled in demand of justice.
THE INDIAN STANCE: STILL FOGGY?
The government steadily took steps to prohibit honour killing by the time various laws were modified. We end our piece by referring to the most distinguished example given by the then Chief Justice Dipak Misra, who made a substantial improvement in the case of Shakti Vahini against the Union of India in 2018, one of the most significant cases and judgement by declaring that “liberty, using the word in its practical connotation includes right to choose.” Feudal thought must dissolve into darkness and provide the pleasant path towards freedom. The right to freedom must be kept constantly and fiercely to blossom with power and splendor. Rajasthan Government has adopted strict measures and changes by adopting a new bill on the prohibition against interference in the freedom of matrimonial alliances in the name of honour and tradition in 2019. ‘Religion’ and ‘culture’ cannot and must not be used as excuses for murdering women, because religion and its rules are always a subjective interpretation. No ‘culture’ has the right, based on their sense of morality or integrity, to murder or mistreat women. Unfettered faith does not imply free killing and activist laws are thus the only remedy to such dishonest activities.
The remedy to this problem is largely to eradicate the myths in people’s thoughts. They need to be informed about the requirements of the Hindu Marriage Act and what types of weddings are truly invalid. Given the difference in the idea of Gotras and Sapindas, they should be clarified.
‘Honour killings’ violate various provisions and there exist distinct legislation and punishments against this, however each of these sections offers certain exceptions, and isn’t cut out for adept dealing of these crimes. For example, the Indian Evidence Act puts the burden of proof on the victims, this makes most of the crimes go unreported, as the victims don’t live to testify. A suggestive reform would be to amend it to place the burden of proof on the accused, however amending each of the provisions to meet the demands of penalising this crime would be a futile exercise.