Many a times we come across the word “Honor Killing” but very few of us are actually aware of what the term really means.
Honor killing is said to be done when family members murder another family member who has brought “shame” and “disgrace” to the family name.
Usually in India it takes place over an “inappropriate” relationship or because of inter-caste marriages (marriage outside caste or religion) or marriages in the same gotra (clan).
Honor killing is directed mostly against women and girls. Many a times women are killed in the name of family honor by the male members. The criterion of honor is mainly set up by these male members and hence, honor killing is basically a sign of patriarchal dominance.
Many of us think that such practices are limited to rural areas only where the caste system still exists and is above all where modern ideas have not taken root. But, various cases of honor killing has been reported even in the metropolitan areas like Delhi and other major cities which shows that the practice of honor killing is spread over a large area. Therefore, we can’t isolate honor killing to rural areas only.
Honor killings have mainly been reported in northern regions of India, particularly in the states of Rajasthan, U.P., Uttarakhand, Haryana and Punjab. These cases are rare in southern Indian states, and states such as Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Haryana is one of the worst hit as far as honor killing is concerned. Haryana is highly influenced by the Khap panchayat.
Khap is a cluster of villages united by caste and geography. Love marriages are considered to be taboo in areas governed by the Khap. Those living in a Khap are not allowed to marry in the same gotra or even in any gotra from the same village. The main belief is that all boys and girls within a khap are siblings. The entire burden of siblinghood rests on the girl. She is the keeper of village honor.
If you are an eligible bachelor living in a Haryana village, landing a suitable bride could be a nightmarish experience. As traditions go, you could not marry another woman from the same village because sometime, somewhere in history, her ancestors and yours, may have been siblings. You cannot hunt for brides in villages that border yours or even distant ones where other clans living in your village have good relations. If you go against these social norms, then you will be severely punished (burned alive or beaten to death).
In one such case, the Karnal district court ordered the execution of five perpetrators of an honor killing in Kaithal and imprisoning for life. The Khap chief who ordered the killing of Manoj Banwala and Babli, a man and woman of the same clan who eloped and married in June, 2007. Despite having been given police protection on court orders, they were kidnapped and their dead bodies were found a week later in an irrigation canal. Their crime, according to the tribal council that ordered the killing, was to have married within the same Hindu clan, or gotra, which for many north Indians is tantamount to incest.
Recent cases show the violence inflicted by the caste panchayats, which range from the death penalty to compelling divorce, humiliating couples in public, cutting off their hair and beating them with shoes. In other cases, the entire families and even communities as a whole have been boycotted or expelled. It is due to the inherent weakness of democratically elected Panchayati Raj institutions, that Khap panchayats have been powerful. Even the government has not done much to control their power
So far, there is no specific law to deal with honor killings. This kind of murder comes under the general category of homicide. So to prevent and tackle such killings we need to have stricter laws. Recently the Indian Supreme Court has taken a harsh stand on honor killing, saying that “those convicted of such crimes should receive the death penalty.”
Secondly, parents should accept their children’s wishes regarding marriages because it is they (children) who have to lead a life with their life partners and that’s why their satisfaction is of utmost importance; else it will lead to a miserable married life which might even end up in depression leading to suicide.
Society, and parents in particular, need to change their mentality with the changing time to keep pace with the new generation and to bring this mishap of honor killing to an end.
[Hina Iliyas is a graduate student in the faculty of law. She can be reached via email at: hinailiyas[at]gmail.com]