If it ever occurs to people to value the honor of the mind equally with the honor of the body, we shall get a social revolution of a quite unparalleled sort.
Killing someone is ultimately a crime. However, killing someone while in uniform is considered as fulfilment of duty. But what happens when this uniform is actually a filter of thought which pledges its allegiance to uphold social honor according to standards set by orthodox, casteist mindsets? It results in the most mortifying forms of honor crimes. Honor killing is the most aggressive honor crime. It is also referred to as ‘Shame Killing’. It is defined as the acts of violence resulting in the killing of a person from a family or a social group such as a caste performed by other members of that family or social group on the grounds that the actions of the former brought social dishonor to the latter.
The caste system is rooted deep into Indian societies for many years. This system has brought along more violence and destruction than social development. In India, the caste system plays a huge role in honor crimes such as honor killing and although men and women both fall prey to these crimes, women are the majority victims. Casteism has proved to be a poison which continues to kill democracy and fraternity.
What drives Honor Killing?
Primordial and provincial patriarchy which goes hand-in-hand with the caste system is the base mentality behind an honor killing. Caste segmentation has led to hierarchical relationships between ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ classes. The elders or representatives of every such social group scale mountains to protect and defend their honor, even if it means resorting to foul and, at times, even horrifying tactics.
In rural areas availability of social education is comparatively less, and orthodox and stubborn mindset prevails which is not ready to accept or adapt to any new form of lifestyle. Men are pushed towards hypogamy (marrying someone of their own caste or a lower caste) whereas women are pushed towards hypergamy (marrying someone of their own caste or higher caste). When any member of a social group goes against this stereotypical regulation, it results in shame and thus, honor crimes.
In fairly rural Indian families, women are objectified as the source of honor of a family. The pride of a family is bound by the women’s chastity. Hence, any form of social disrespect directed toward the women of a family is considered as directed towards the family itself. Aggressive clashes between families take place when an outsider is the one who points the finger of shame towards a woman.
However, when the actions of the woman herself are considered shameful, the situation takes a turn for the worse. A woman’s actions such as marital infidelity, involvement in pre-marital intimacy or unapproved relationships or denial of arranged marriages are some of the reasons which trigger honor killing. Sometimes, these reasons also result in victim demonization when a woman who has fallen prey to rape is accused of having brought shame to the family or social group. Stereotypically unacceptable social stands such as coming out as transgender are also considered as shame triggers. But, among all these, marriages or relations between a man and a woman with an unapproved caste gap are the main reason for honor killings.
In some states, namely Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, etc. self-appointed community councils, generally called ‘khap panchayats’, work to solve internal clashes as elders of the community. The government or legislation has not bestowed any authority or responsibility upon these khaps to do so and hence, they are non-government bodies. These khaps play judge, jury and executioner for their own class and will stop at no length to upholding their honor. Many of the honor killing cases have been tracked up to these khaps and several members of such groups have been punished by the Supreme Court.
In the wake of recent cases, honor killing has come forth as a prominent crime. However, there is no separate legislation regarding the crime. All penalties and imprisonment sentences are decided with reference to the already present regulations in the Indian Penal Code regarding murder and culpable homicide. The following sections are considered while punishing the criminal:
Sections 34 & 35 – Penalty for criminal acts done by several people with common intention.
Sections 107-116 – Penalty for abetment of offences like murder and culpable homicide by a person.
Section 120 (A) & (B) – Penalty for any person involved in a criminal conspiracy.
Sections 299-304 – Penalty for any culprit found guilty of murder or culpable homicide. The penalty for murder is a life sentence or death along with a fine whereas the punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder is imprisonment up to 10 years or life imprisonment and fine.
Section 307 – Penalty for attempted murder with imprisonment up to 10 years and fine. If the victim is hurt in the process, the penalty may extend to life imprisonment.
Section 308 – Penalty for attempted culpable homicide with imprisonment up to 3 years or fine or even both. If the victim is hurt in the process, the penalty may extend up to 7 years, with or without fine.
Taking all the aspects into consideration, the Supreme Court has started taking decisions regarding the formulation of a new law. However, a difference of opinion has arisen during this process. There are those who think that honor killing should have separate legislation while others think that the laws which are already present, can deal with this crime efficiently.
Those who feel that a new law should be constructed express that making honor killing a separate offence would help in bringing more clarity to the law enforcement agencies as to what steps they should take. They recommend that an amendment be made to the Indian Evidence Act. Till date, it is the victim who has been asked to present proof of the occurrence of the crime. This puts more pressure on the victim who is already suffering from the consequences of the crime.
The suggested amendment puts the burden of proof on the accused who will then have to prove their innocence in the court. Thus, the khap panchayats and family members will not be able to get away with such crimes. Emphasis has also been made on joint liability. Hence, the khap panchayat as well as the people who carry out the killing will receive punishment for the crime.
On the other hand, those who argue against the formulation of a new law say that the existing penalties for the offences of murder and culpable homicide are sufficient to curb honor killing. They also support the fact that a new set of laws will not help in this issue since it is the social mentality which sanctions these actions to stop ‘gotra’ and inter-religion marriages and that this can only be prevented by creating social awareness and educating people in order to develop an open mindset instead of a stereotypical one.
Moreover, they put forth an opinion that holding the entire khap panchayat or any such social group liable would be detrimental towards the members who never favoured the killing or crime in the first place. In this way, the Supreme Court is trying to decide a suitable measure in the best interests of both sides with reference to the welfare of our nation.
In October 2020, a case of attempted honour killing came forward in Allahabad. The Police Senior Superintendent was ordered to rescue a girl named Shikha (Sheeba) from the custody of her brother and father. The Muslim girl had converted to Hinduism to marry a Hindu man which had resulted in threats of honour killing from her family. The Bench of Justice Munir in the Allahabad High Court scrutinized the details and legality of the marriage and also confirmed the consent of both the husband and the wife. As there was a serious threat to the girl’s life, the Court chose to err on the side of caution and ordered the extraction of the girl.
The writ petition signed was filed in 2010 by the NGO, Shakti Vahini, wherein the petitioner had sought directions to States and requested the Centre to formulate a plan to stop honour killings. On 27th March 2018, the Supreme Court passed a landmark judgment with reference to this writ petition. The Supreme Court held that any attempt to prevent two consenting adults from getting married made by khap panchayats or any other social groups would be considered illegal and the Court also laid down measures for its prevention, remedy and punishment. Trials for cases would be held within 6 months of their occurrence and all the dates would be assigned to the same court so as to ensure their expeditious disposal. This direction would also apply to the pending cases.
Inference and Conclusion
As orthodox mentalities and caste system continue to destroy our country, we must bring our focus onto solving this problem. Khap Panchayats continue their reign of violence among their own classes. Marrying into different classes or religions only increases unity and reduces the grip of the caste system around India. Educating the commoners and bringing literacy to every part of our country will stop many more crimes other than honor killing too.
Whilst the Supreme Court is trying its best to deliver justice, we as citizens should recognize the gravity of this dangerous situation. People have started spreading awareness regarding honor killings. Movies like ‘Sairat’ have put the clarion call for justice into motion by depicting the horrors of honor killings in a way which has touched the people’s hearts.
The illusion of purity is now a curtain, used to cloak our minds from disasters like honor killings, bride burning and child molestation. Purification is, ultimately and inevitably, genocide.
Those who seek purity through honor killing only end up rendering their own soul impure. To truly honor someone is to love, protect and defend them. And there is no honor in murder. We must ask ourselves this – With each passing day as we’ll see more incidences of honour killing and choose to remain silent, are we not killing the honor of our nation?
Editor’s Note India has been chained in the evil shackles of caste system since time immemorial. The consequences of casteism are horrifying and are clearly visible in the present times. One of the adverse effects of the caste hierarchy is the crime of honor killing. This article explains the concept of honor killing and the driving factors behind the commission of this heinous crime.
The author has also thrown some light upon the legislative response towards this crime and substantiated it with the help of certain landmark judgments. The author has concluded by saying that we as citizens should understand the adverse effects of casteism and spread awareness regarding the same. There is no honor in murder and we are killing the honor of our nation by remaining silent about a heinous crime like that of honor killing.