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Honour killing: A gift of Casteist Patriarchy

"There is nothing honourable in honour killings and they are nothing but barbaric and brutal murders by bigoted persons with feudal minds," - Justice Markandey Katju

The Perceived Honour

Honour is referred to as the perceived pride and status of the community which can be religion-based, caste-based or sub-caste-based.

Caste Based Honour:

The upper caste, being upper, always wishes to dominate the lower classes and enjoys the superior status. This honour gets challenged if any relationship gets formed between the two classes.

Religion Based Honour:

Religious differences among people pave the way to several forms of violence such as riots, hate crimes and also killing their children who wish to marry in among different religions.

Gotra Based Honour:

Gotra refers to the lineage of a person. It is believed in India that people of the same gotra having the same lineage, are brothers and sisters. This is why, when a girl and a boy plan to get married and are found out to be of the same gotra, they are strongly opposed by the community.

What Is Honour Killing

Honour Killing is the term given to the killing of men or women in the name of honour. The word 'honour killing' was introduced by a Dutch scholar Ane Nauta, in 1978, to distinguish such killings from other killings in the family and society. It includes crimes such as homicide, murder and assault. In such crimes, the perpetrator is within the family or a group belonging to a particular clan/lineage in a community.

Such crimes are commenced to instil a sense of fear within the people of the society and to ensure they adhere to the patriarchal norms. The victims of honour killing are mostly females and the perpetrators are mostly males. The sanctions for such acts of violence against the females of the community are given since the females are believed to bring dishonour to the community.

The primary reason behind all crimes committed under the umbrella of honour is the conventional, narrow-minded and rigid thought process of several communities. It had all started from the core patriarchal systems in societies � men formulated the traditional practices and men took it upon themselves to ensure that future generations adhere to their traditions. It can be seen that the intolerance of the Indian upper caste to the inter-caste matrimonial/pre-marital partnership of women is the main cause of honour killings.

But presently, it is witnessed that a significant number of women support their husbands/fathers or respective elders in sanctioning the killings of those disobeying the traditional norms or disturbing the morality of the community.

The disturbance can be caused by a range of reasons:
from inappropriate dressing sense to engaging in sexual acts with the same gender. Factors such as, challenging the rigidity of the elders; scenarios such as wearing western clothes, mocking/insulting the culture of the community, smoking/drinking, getting along with males of different communities or villages, are all acts that challenge the rigidity of highly conventional and orthodox elders.

They consider all such acts as shameful and a disgrace to the community � the result of which is an intense punishment to the one bringing such shame. It triggers the sentiments of the community to the extent of putting the life of the disturbing person in danger.

Causes Behind Honour Killing

Reasons for the term brought dishonour can be multiple such as:

Refusing for an arranged marriage:

in India, many communities believe in �arranging� the marriage for their children. Especially in the case of females, all the elders of the family prefer and are usually strict regarding selecting the girl�s husband. Hence the family does not accept and tolerate the girl rejecting such marriage proposals.

Being a victim of sexual assault or even rape � any female who becomes a victim of such heinous offences is considered to bring shame to the family and is therefore sanctioned to be killed to get rid of the societal shame.


even from an abusive/torturous husband � a woman is considered to be of service to her husband in such communities because of the patriarchal setup and hence she cannot seek or even mention the idea of ending her marriage.


A woman, who is not even allowed to question the legitimacy of her marriage is never pardoned for engaging in any form of adultery.

The woman is never allowed to raise her voice, question or challenge the values and beliefs of the society and is only expected to follow them. In cases where she refuses to follow the tradition, she is hated, abused and eventually killed. The killings are sanctioned by elders to protect the honour of the community as the woman is considered to bring dishonour. The women are victimized by their own family which leads to psychological trauma since it�s not some friend or acquaintance but her family members.

Why is any other form of punishment not considered, instead of killing?

Members of khap panchayats, elders of the community or family members of the deceased; resort to sanction the killing of the individual to:
  • set an example in the society
  • deter those inspired from committing any shameful acts
  • ensure the purity of the community
  • prevent the formation of any impure legacy
  • maintain the high status/honour in society

Origin Of Honour Crimes

Honour killings are not a new phenomenon. The origins of Honour Killing can be traced back to millennia. In historical records, we find such cases occurring in 1200 BC in the Hammurabi tribes and 6000 BC in the Assyrian tribes. In ancient times, women's chastity was considered as the honour of the community.

In India, from a historical time, the varna system has contributed to the development of distinct groups. Class division and standards have always been dominated by men. This has led to men still leading, instructing and influencing women and children in their respective families.

Casteism is entrenched in Indian communities and is a major cause of honour killing. Marriage in a lower caste is strictly prohibited for two main reasons; first, status � caste reflects the status of the family in society, and status would decline if there were some kind of association with a lower caste. Second, the lineage � union between the lower and upper castes will break the family lineage. No member of the upper caste wants a future generation who does not belong to the same family and ultimately devalues the legacy.

Trend Of Honour Killing In India

Honour killings are primarily found in highly patriarchal cultures. Most honour-based crimes are heinous in nature to create fear in the community regarding the consequences of tarnishing the community�s honour.

According to the National Crime Record Bureau�s crime report of 2018 and 2019, there were 53 murders with motive recorded as honour killing and most of which are reported as a suicide. The 2019 Crime Statistics Report by NCRB records honour killings in the following states: Punjab, Gujarat, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh.1

There have been several cases that have led to legal advances resulting in a changed legal perspective towards honour-based crime.

In the classic case of Manoj and Babli from the hinterlands of Haryana, the two were brutally murdered by Babli�s family in Jun�07. It was ordered by the khap panchayat since they were marrying in the same gotra. In Mar�10, a Karnal district court judge stated that:
This court has gone through sleepless nights and tried to put itself in the shoes of the offender. The Khap panchayat has functioned contrary to the constitution, ridiculed it and have become a law unto themselves.2

This particular case highlighted the sphere of honour killings in India and the dominance of khap panchayats in personal matters, especially those relating to the conduct of women in society.

Lata Singh vs State of Uttar Pradesh:

Lata Singh got married to Bramha Nand Gupta of her own free will in 2000. Being an inter-caste marriage, the husband and his family were murdered. The justice Markandey Katju in this case defined honour-based killing as:
Honour killings are nothing but barbaric cold-blooded murder and no honour is involved in such killings".3

The supreme court went to the extent to state that inter-religion/caste marriages should be encouraged to strengthen the social fabric of society. This case recognized the brutality of honour-based crimes in India and acknowledged that there is no honour in an honour killing. It emphasized the constitutional right of every individual - the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed under article 21 and through this the court even specified the doctrine of due process of law.

In Shakti Vahini vs Union of India, CJI Dipak Misra said:
the assertion of choice is an inseparable facet of liberty and dignity.4 The apex court on 27th March 2018 gave a landmark ruling in a writ petition filed by NGO Shakti Vahini, the court pronounced that any attempt by khap panchayat or any other assembly to scuttle or prevent two consenting adults from marrying is illegal.

The three judges bench also held that the criminal cases on honour killing shall be tried before the designated fast track court. The trial must be concluded within 6 months from the date of cognizance of the offence. This was the very first case in which the court acknowledged the role of khap panchayat and ordered to restrict it.

Despite such a judgment, the social outlook for honour violations still prevails, the pride of caste and religion is so high in the society that it overrides judicial verdicts and every other form of social reform. The shift is being seen as an intrusion in the structure of personal norms, values and the ideology of such communities.

There has been a steady increase in honour-based crimes. Recently in 2018 after Shakti Vahini case judgement, in May 2018, Keven Joseph, a Dalit Christian married Neeru Chacko despite strong resentment from her family. Neeru belonged to the Hindu upper-caste community, the family challenged their marriage and abducted Kevin on 26th May 2018. Kevin's body was found near a river dam in Kollam district, Hyderabad on 28th May morning. A special fast track court set up at Kottayam session court held 10 accused guilty in an honour killing case.

In the State of Maharashtra vs Ekanth Kumbharkar:
The father Eknath Kumbharkar murdered his pregnant daughter Pramila because she had an inter-caste love marriage with Deepak. Father never accepted the marriage and had a grudge in his mind against his daughter. As he believed that she had brought dishonour and shame to his social reputation by marrying a different caste man. The accused was awarded life imprisonment under section 364 of IPC. This shows that the phenomenon of honour is deeply entrenched in the minds of people, the illusion of purity is used as an excuse to eradicate the sense of shame that they feel due to the acts of their family members especially females.

Legal Safeguards
Several lawyers, social workers and politicians have highly recommended amending honour killing as a separate crime. The Constitution of India guarantees every person certain fundamental right such as Article 14,15,17,19 and 21 and honour-related killings are a violation of these rights.

Honour killings are hideously contrary to this very fundamental right, they are predominantly targeted at women and thus give rise to gender inequality and discrimination. Khap panchayats violate the individual fundamental right to life, as they kill or provoke murder, in the name of dignity. Every individual has the right to live. The death penalty is possible only if it is provided by statute.

Honour killing cases in current substantive legal provision come under the offence affecting the human body of IPC, 1860.
Presently perpetrators are prosecuted under:
  • Section 299 - Penalizes Culpable homicide
  • Section 300 &302 - Penalizes Murder and punishment to murder
  • Section 307 - Penalizes Attempt to murder
  • Section 364 - Penalizes Kidnapping and abducting to murder

The Justice P.V Reddy commission in 2010 proposed the bill under the title of "Prohibition of interference with the freedom of matrimonial alliance to curb the social evil of the caste councils/khap panchayats interference with life and liberty of persons wanting to marry partners belonging to same gotra or different caste/ religion. It proposed to check the gathering of such panchayats to condemn the marriages and further take action of harassing and harming them. The bill was laid down to punish any citizen who takes part in an unlawful assembly to socially boycott or cause bodily harm to a man or woman who is married or wants to marry. Unfortunately, the bill was never passed in the parliament.

In Lata Singh v/s State of UP, the Supreme Court held tha:
There is no honour in honour killing. The feudal minds committing and justifying such gruesome acts are directly violating the human rights of the females of their family/community. The right to live is a fundamental right of any citizen and a female befriending any male of a different caste or status should not be controlled to the extent of limiting her life.

The barbaric murders and gruesome killings are a result of rigid conventional thoughts and practices which can be controlled through an amalgamation of different concepts such as stricter punishments to instil a fear of crime, moral education to uplift the social status of such communities, and the most important, females need to be educated about their rights. Uplifting the society cannot be achieved in isolation and ignoring the females can certainly not assist with any form of prosperity.

Eradication of honour killings requires substantial interference in the status quo. Gender equity has not yet been reached and abuse persists in the name of honour. It is also the responsibility of the state and community to protect the human rights of its people and prevent honour killings. Such social evils cannot be prevented by legislation alone; rather, almost all social, fiscal, political and cultural components would have to be sensitized against this crime. There is no denying that the law could only be one of the most essential instruments for fighting these barbaric crimes.

  1. National crime records bureau crime in India 2019
  2. Manoj and Babli Case
  3. Lata Singh vs State of Uttar Pradesh
  4. Shakti Vahini vs Union of India

Award Winning Article Is Written By:
  1. Kritika Deora (MA Criminology, School of Behavioral Science, National Forensic Sciences University, MHA) and
  2. Parth Sharma (MA Criminology, School of Behavioral Science, National Forensic Sciences University, MHA)
  3. Ms.Krupa Nishar (Assistant Professor, School of Behavioral Science, National Forensic Sciences University, MHA)

    Awarded certificate of Excellence
    Authentication No: AP33664816025-14-0421

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