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Honour Killing - By The Society, For The Society

Male dominated society. Patriarchal society. Traditional Values. Our Culture. Caste System. Good Morals. These are a few of the terms that we have grown up with and accepted as part of our family values and incorporated in the societal norms. The most convenient thing for an upper caste male seeing as they are born with the kind of importance and respect, that we all desire.

I am going to discuss the issue of Honour killings here.An honour killing or customary killing is the murder of a member of a family or social group by other members, due to the belief of the perpetrators (and potentially the wider community) that the victim has brought dishonour upon the family or community.[1]This is a term given to homicides where there is no apparent cause or motive other than the fact that Indian cultural values have somehow been deteriorated according to upper caste perception. These dire offences include a female wanting a divorce from a possibly abusive husband, a female wanting to abort a child, a female getting raped by a loathsome predator, a female conversing with a non family male or a female marrying someone of the “lower caste” section of the society. Often the lower case male in such situations also suffers the wrath.

Some might wonder why the common use of the word “female” here. It is an obvious established fact that the onus of upholding the family morality lies upon the females living under his roof and it’s a highly embarrassing situation should anyone ever question the ability of a man to control his woman. Whatever actions the man thereafter has to take in order to restore the so called disobedience and regulate the control on his women, thereby maintaining his reputation and societal status is understandable.This thinking was largely prevalent in the old primitive times wherein the power of a man was judged by his land his women, the two most important possessions. We have progressed, Human Rights have evolved, the constitution now gives equal rights to all and yet somewhere in the minds of all, this regressive attitude remains. The want for societal approval leads to dominating women which is a direct cause to such gruesome crimes.

It is a well known fact that during the partition time, there were several Muslim and Hindu women who were left behind in the religiously undesirable country. These women, those of who survived, after struggling immensely settled down in their respective countries and formed new families. But a not so well known fact is that 20 years after the partition, both the countries decided that they could not tolerate their women habiting in enemy nations and felt it to be unacceptable. So therefore they launched a “recovery mission”. Obviously nobody really thought of the women and how they had been managing since the last 20 years. The women were snatched from their families and sent back to their previous households. What happens thereafter? How can these households accept women who have had marital relations with the enemy and are not chaste enough anymore? Such would not be tolerated in the respected households. Therefore measures were taken to uphold the family honour. One shudders to imagine the plight of these women and the extent to which they have suffered and faced disrespect.

The caste system continues to be the second underlying cause of the Honour killings.Sociologists believe that the reason why honour killings continue to take place is because of the continued rigidity of the caste system.Upper Caste families take pride in their ancestral roots and believe a marital union with the lower caste sect of the society is undesirable, even heinous. Such a match is looked at with disgust and when the problem arises from within their own family; extreme measures are taken which stem from their own innate ideals along with wanting to avoid disrepute within the society. They want to preserve the family honour at any cost.Now as has become the norm, the son-in-law is killed along with the daughter. Thus, this practice continues though it should have been removed by now.

Human Rights are those inalienable rightsto which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being regardless of theircountry, religion, caste or gender to get them.[2]UDHR guarantees the freedom to marry and focuses on consent.[3]Article 21 of the constitution guarantees right to life and personal liberty; including the right against honour killing as held by the Supreme Court in the case ofSurjit Kumar v. State of U.P.[4]Article 14 and 15 enumerate equality between all the citizens of India and prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, caste or sex.[5]Article 17 prohibits untouchability.[6]Thus, the principles of the UDHR along with the constitution articles gives the basic freedom to an individual for choosing their life partners and prohibits exercise of unduly authority over the lower caste in the society. The People in our country however feel such rights are restricted to Western countries and allowing this will somehow dilute the Indian Values.[7]

Lately there has been an influx of cases especially in the regions of North and West India. Khap Panchayats have been formed consisting of the elder residents of a village who take it upon themselves to endorse these killings in the name of saving the family’s honour. The Khap Panchayat claims that the women who obey their male relatives and the families that regulate their females have nothing to fear.[8]The statistics that we have are still out numbered as most of such cases are reported as suicides to avoid penalty, as claimed by many International Organizations.

The problem is severe as there is no proper act governing the honour killings in the country. It comes under the general IPC.All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) in consultation with many women’s organisations and individuals drafted a comprehensive law entitled “The Prevention of Crimes in the Name of Honour and Tradition Bill” and gave it to the government. The Bill defines honour crimes in relation to a violation of the rights of the couple. The Bill goes on to list the various types of crime, in addition to murder; it suggests preventive measures, it provides for punishment of varying degrees, it includes khap panchayats or other bodies acting in the name of caste or community, it ensures accountability of the police and administration. Based on the experiences of women’s organisations actually dealing with the issues, the Bill covers all aspects. But in spite of the united efforts of the Commission and women’s organisations, the bill was not passed.[9]

Illiteracy, to an extent is a major factor for such crimes, but a more deep rooted cause is the mentality of the society. As long as the Gotra system and the caste system are in place, there will be division in the society. The reservation system exists in order to bring the socially backward castes at par with the rest of the society. It is necessary for the protection against discrimination of certain sections of people in the society. But in my opinion, the reservation system is also unintentionally creating a divide between the castes and is segregating the people by acknowledging the existence of differences between the people in the society. It is the basic human mentality to be comfortable around people whom they think are like minded and similar to them. Thus, as long as the government sanctions and accepts the difference amongst the people, the difference with exist. But the government the other hand cannot remove this system because of the existing society which is unfair to the lower section and thus it is forming a vicious cycle.

Therefore the change has to come from within us, as a society. Education will be a huge contributing factor in this. We need to understand the ancestry and caste of a person ultimately does not matter and what matters is a person’s free will. Most of all, the families need to respect their women and trust them to make the right choices and forge the correct path for themselves.


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