lawyers in India

Violence against woman - Issue of Honor killing

Written by: Siddarth Banke - currently pursuing BA.LLb(hons.) at National Law Institute University, Bhopal
Constitutional Lawyers in India
Legal Service
  • Definition
    Honor crimes are acts of violence, usually murder, mostly committed by male family members predominantly against female [relatives] , who are perceived to have brought dishonor upon the family. A woman can be targeted by individuals within 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 (allegedly) committing adultery .The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a specific way to "dishonor" her family, is sufficient to trigger an attack.[1]

    For example, honor killings can sometimes target those who choose boyfriends, lovers or spouses outside of their family's ethnic and/or religious community. Some women who adopt the customs (or religion) of an outside group, may also be more likely to be victims. Furthermore, in certain cultures a raped single woman will garner no bride price if she marries, and thus be considered "worthless" to the family. There is some evidence that homosexuality can also be grounds for honor killing by relatives. Several cases have been suspected but not confirmed. There is also a documented case of a gay Jordanian man who was shot (but not fatally) by his brother.

    Many hold the practice to be self-contradictory, since an honor killing is sometimes justified by its participants or supporters, as an attempt to uphold the morals of a religion or a code, which at the same time generally forbids killing as morally wrong.

    Honor Suicides

    Honor Suicides occur when, in an effort to avoid legal penalties for killing, a woman is ordered or pressured into killing herself. This phenomenon appears to be a relatively recent development. A special envoy for the United Nations named Yakin Erturk, who was sent to Turkey to investigate suspicious suicides, was quoted by the New York Times as saying that some suicides appeared to be "honor killings disguised as a suicide or an accident."

    History: Honour Killing

    Based on proof
    In the Valley of Mexico from 150 BCE - 1521 CE, the punishment for female adultery was death by stoning or strangulation, but only after the husband could prove the offence. According to interpretations of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, the Halakha (Jewish law) punishes certain sexual misconduct for both men and women, with capital punishment (also through stoning) as approved by a court.

    Honor killings, generally considered premeditated, are typically held to be distinct from Crimes of passion, which occur throughout the world. Crimes of passion often have special status under the law. For instance, until 1975, the French Penal Code commuted the sentence of a husband who killed his wife after finding her in the act of committing adultery; this law passed into the legal frameworks of the many nations who based their modern legal codes on the Napoleonic Code. Thus, Crimes of passion are different from honor killings, in the sense that they are spontaneous acts that aren't planned. Furthermore, many honor killings (along with some Crimes of passion) are based on sheer suspicion as opposed to (what appears to be) factual proof, in relation to the idea that an individual has committed or been involved in an "undesirable act", in the mind of the perpetrator(s).

    Honor killing in national legal codes

    According to the report of the Special Rapporteur submitted to the 58th session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (2002) concerning cultural practices in the family that reflect violence against women:
    The Special Rapporteur indicated that there had been contradictory decisions with regard to the honor defence in Brazil, and that legislative provisions allowing for partial or complete defence in that context could be found in the penal codes of Argentina, Bangladesh, Ecuador, Egypt, Guatemala, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Peru, Syria, Turkey, Venezuela and the Palestinian National Authority.

    Some of these, including those of Turkey, have since been modified.

    Countries where the law can be interpreted to allow men to kill female relatives in a premeditated effort as well as for crimes of passions, in flagrante delicto in the act of committing adultery, include:
    Jordan: Part of article 340 of the Penal Code states that "he who discovers his wife or one of his female relatives committing adultery and kills, wounds, or injures one of them, is exempted from any penalty." This has twice been put forward for cancellation by the government, but was retained by the Lower House of the Parliament.

    Countries that allow men to kill female relatives in flagrante delicto (but without premeditation) include:

    Syria: Article 548 states that "He who catches his wife or one of his ascendants, descendants or sister committing adultery (flagrante delicto) or illegitimate sexual acts with another and he killed or injured one or both of them benefits from an exemption of penalty."

    Countries that allow husbands to kill only their wives in flagrante delicto (based upon the Napoleonic code) include:

    Morocco: Article 418 of the Penal Code states "Murder, injury and beating are excusable if they are committed by a husband on his wife as well as the accomplice at the moment in which he surprises them in the act of adultery."

    Haiti: Article 269 of the Penal Code states that "in the case of adultery as provided for in Article 284, the murder by a husband of his wife and/or her partner, immediately upon discovering them in flagrante delicto in the conjugal abode, is to be pardoned."

    Turkey: Recently Turkey changed its laws concerning honor killings. Persons found guilty of this crime are sentenced to life in prison.

    In two Latin American countries: Similar laws were struck down over the past two decades: according to human rights lawyer Julie Mertus "in Brazil, until 1991 wife killings were considered to be noncriminal 'honor killings'; in just one year, nearly eight hundred husbands killed their wives. Similarly, in Colombia, until 1980, a husband legally could kill his wife for committing adultery."

    Countries where honor killing is not legal but is frequently ignored in practice include:

    Pakistan: Honor killings are known as Karo Kari (Urdu: ˜˜ی ). The practice is supposed to be prosecuted under ordinary murder, but in practice police and prosecutors often ignore it. Often a man must simply claim the killing was for his honor and he will go free. Nilofer Bakhtiar, advisor to Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, stated that in 2003, as many as 1, 261 women were murdered in honor killings. On December 08, 2004, under international and domestic pressure, Pakistan enacted a law that made honor killings punishable by a prison term of seven years, or by the death penalty in the most extreme cases. Women's rights organizations were, however, wary of this law as it stops short of outlawing the practice of allowing killers to buy their freedom by paying compensation to the victim's relatives. Women's rights groups claimed that in most cases it is the victim's immediate relatives who are the killers, so inherently the new law is just eyewash. It did not alter the provisions whereby the accused could negotiate pardon with the victim's family under the so-called Islamic provisions. In March 2005 the Pakistani government allied with Islamists to reject a bill which sought to strengthen the law against the practice of "honour killing". The parliament rejected the bill by a majority vote, declaring it to be un-Islamic.

    Incident in Pakistan:- Ghazala was set on fire by her brother in Joharabad, Punjab province, on 6 January 1999. According to reports, she was murdered because her family suspected she was having an 'illicit' relationship with a neighbour. Her burned and naked body reportedly lay unattended on the street for two hours as nobody wanted to have anything to do with it. Ghazala was burned to death in the name of honor. Hundreds of other women and girls suffer a similar fate every year amid general public support and little or no action by the authorities. In fact, there is every sign that the number of honor killings is on the rise as the perception of what constitutes honor -- and what damages it -- widens, and as more murders take on the guise of honor killings on the correct assumption that they are rarely punished.

    Indian Scenario
    Honor-killings", which are widespread in some of the economically advanced States, is an example. Perpetrated under the garb of saving the "honor" of the community, caste or family, such incidents occur often as the State governments are not keen to take action. The acts of violence include public lynching of couples, murder of either the man or the woman concerned, murder made to appear as suicide, public beatings, humiliation, blackening of the face, forcing couples or their families to eat excreta or drink urine, forced incarceration, social boycotts and the levying of fines.

    The largest number of cases was found to have occurred in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh - most of the incidents reported at the convention took place in these three States. One reason for the increased visibility of such crimes is the trend of more and more girls joining educational institutions, meeting others from different backgrounds and castes and establishing relationships beyond the confines of caste and community. Such individuals, both boys and girls, are being targeted so that none dares to breach the barriers of castes and communities. Significantly, in the majority of cases it is the economically and socially dominant castes that organize, instigate and abet such acts of retribution.

    In Muzaffarnagar district in western Uttar Pradesh, at least 13 honor killings occurred within nine months in 2003. In 2002, while 10 such killings were reported, 35 couples were declared missing. It was estimates that Haryana and Punjab alone account for 10 per cent of all honor killings in the country. It is not surprising that no such category of crime exists in government records. In fact, there is refusal even to recognise this phenomenon. Data for such incidents are seldom available and they would mostly be classified under the category of general crimes. Moreover, most of such cases go unreported and, even when reported, often first information reports [2] are not filed and post-mortems are not conducted.

    Caste panchayats have come to play an increasingly important role in Haryana and elsewhere, especially in situations where political patronage also exists. Central to the theme of honor and violence is the subordinate position of girls and women in all castes and communities. A woman's chastity is the "honor" of the community and she has no sovereign right over her body at any point of her life. The retribution is particularly swift and brutal if she crosses caste and class barriers to choose a lower-caste man as her partner.

    Case Study
    Location: Ludhiana
    Date: 12 January 2005

    Four of the five accused, including a retired police Sub-Inspector, in the shocking honour killing of a couple case have confessed to hiring professional killers for the job. They stated that the main accused, Amrik Singh, who was in Australia, had hatched the entire conspiracy and knew the killers, the Sadar police claimed.

    The police has also initiated proceedings for deporting the main accused, Amrik Singh, father of one of the victims Amandeep Kaur, from Australia while hoping that he would return on his own and join investigations.

    The city police has claimed of taking the help of the Australian Embassy for the purpose even as a lot of loopholes exist in the police investigations conducted so far. The police has not been able to furnish any concrete evidence against the accused other than the complaint of the boy's family that the relatives of Amandeep Kaur had been threatening the couple for the inter-caste marriage.

    The four accused are the killed woman's maternal grandfather B. S. Randhawa (aged over 70), a retired Development Officer with the LIC, and three uncles (fufars) — one of them a former Punjab Police Sub-Inspector Kulwant Singh, serving Head Constable with Amritsar police Tejinder Singh and Sukhdev Singh.

    Addressing a press conference SHO Sadar Sandeep Sharma claimed that the four accused had confessed before the police that the couple — wood trader Harpreet Singh and his wife Amandeep Kaur, a BDS student — was 'punished' for marrying outside their castes.

    They said Amandeep Kaur had lowered their image in the community by marrying outside the caste. They stated to the police that it took them nearly a year to carry out murders as they had been waiting for an opportune time.

    The revelation that two cops, one retired and one serving, were involved in the case has again put the Punjab Police in bad light. Four years ago, the infamous Jassi murder case hatched on similar caste lines also had a serving cop in the list of the accused.

    The case now hinges on the return of Amrik Singh from Australia with the arrested persons putting all blame on him and the city police convinced with the statements of the accused as well as the complainants without securing any evidence.

    SHO Sandeep Sharma said Kulwant Singh and Sukhdev Singh were arrested from Amritsar while Tejinder Singh and B. S. Randhawa were arrested from the local railway station here when they were trying to flee the city.

    The SHO said that the accused had threatened the couple and the boy's relatives during their ring ceremony in Amritsar and later again at their marriage ceremony in Mariot Hotel in Ludhiana. The couple had got married in a city court about 11 months ago.

    After that Amandeep Kaur's relatives had invited them to their homes and claimed they had accepted the couple. They had then organized formal ring and marriage ceremonies.

    Interestingly, the relatives of the accused had been claiming that the police had raided their houses and picked them up and kept them in illegal custody.

    The prime accused, Amrik Singh, had pleaded innocence in the case and counter alleged that some relatives of Harpreet Singh were involved in the murder. When asked if the police would register a case against them too as Amrik Singh has also made a statement like the complainants, the SHO said the police would investigate the charges.

    Meanwhile, the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate, Mr G.C. Garg, remanded four accused of infamous couple murder case in one-day police remand.

    Amandeep Kaur and her husband. Hardeep Singh, was murdered mercilessly, allegedly by the family members of woman by hatching a conspiracy.

    The prosecution sought the police remand for further investigation. The judge remanded the accused.

    From the above case it is very clear that not only Islamic society but, different societies in India are increasingly facing the problem of honor killing, to which the state authorities like panchayats and police are a party. Thus in such an ailing situation it is very important that such incidents are taken care of properly by the state and also the society. Such crimes can only be eradicated by:
    1. Putting very serious penal sanctions.
    2. Active police and panchayat body; as these crimes are mainly confined to rural or village areas.
    3. Imparting education to the village people at large.
    4.Active participation of the NGO's<!--[if !supportFootnotes]-->[3]<!--[endif]--> relating to women empowerment.
    5. Judiciary must be positive on such cases.

    Research from around the world point to the fact that violence against women can only be combated if there is a healthy partnership between women's groups and the state apparatus. While women's groups must protect their independence, on certain issues they have to work effectively with the criminal justice system, joining forces to protect the rights of women victims. Moreover, law is an important tool but it is one of the many strategies available to us. While fighting for justice through the legal system, we should also try and put in place education policies, health strategies and community level programmes that promote equality between men and women and teach non violent methods of resolving conflict. A multipronged approach to violence against women will result in far reaching changes, transforming attitudes and practices so that men and women can live in equality and dignity.

    Books and Articles:
    "Jordan Parliament Supports Impunity for Honor Killing," Washington, DC: Human Rights Watch Press Release, January 2000
    Burned Alive: A Victim of the Law of Men Alleged first-person account of a victim of an attempted honor killing (ISBN 0-446-53346-7) The work is based on a repressed memory report and its authenticity has been questioned.
    The Varied Contours of Violence Against Women in South Asia; Coomaraswamy, Radhika.

    [1] As defined by Human Rights
    [2] FIR's
    [3] Non-Governmental Organization

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