Honour Killing: Law at present and the changes required

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In the name of Honour Killing, Humanity is being murdered.

This post has been written by Deyashini Mondal, a first-year student at Symbiosis Law School, Pune

We have often heard it in the news, seen documentaries on it, and Bollywood has made movies on it; honour killing. Thousands of young individuals in this country have faced death every year owing to this ruthless crime linked to forced marriages and it is the need of the hour for the country to implement stringent laws to deal with this heinous crime. In places like Rajasthan, Haryana, Delhi, etc. more than a hundred young men and women are killed on the orders given by the “khap-panchayat”

Honour killing can be termed as a very misleading term for a ritualistic form of murder where the aggressors feel they have lost honour due to the action of the victim and generally these perpetrators are male and their victims are female. It can be seen as patterns of conduct cutting concerning cultures, religions, communities, castes, and nations and are believed to be corrected by a range of forms of violence directly in most of the cases towards women including murder and forced marriages. The concept and practice of honour killing is an undisputed crime and threatens the harmony and well-functioning of a community and acts and an obstacle preventing women to progress. It still prevails mostly in various ethnic and religious groups.

A very unforgettable case of honour killing was the death of Nirupama Pathak, a Delhi based journalist who was supposedly killed by her own family because she was pregnant and had plans to marry a person of an outside caste. Taking into account the cases reported, the capital has seen such cases rarely. These types of cases are most often witnessed and reported in the northern states of India like Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh.

A piece of very recent news gave away another horrifying case of honour killing but now in the South. During the nation lockdown, many people were forced to go back to their home town because of the scarcity of jobs. M. Sudhakar aged 24 was forced to return to his village Morappan Thangal, where he was killed by his wife’s father and other relatives. The couple had eloped and gotten married 6 months ago. They had forcefully been separated by the local panchayat for marrying from outside their castes.  

The main reason behind the practice of honour killing is that the honour of the family is tied to the chastity of the women. This explains why there can be so many reasons for the same; like marriage infidelity, having unapproved relationships, refusing arranged marriages, pre-marital sex, or even rape.

It has been defined by the Human Rights Watch that honour killing is an act of violence, usually murder committed by the male members of the family against the female members for being romantically involved with a person from another caste and choosing to marry someone from an outside caste, class or religion. Almost 97% of honour killing victims according to activist Kathir Vincent are women.

The Khap-panchayats are respected a lot in these villages to the point that their words matter more than the concerned family’s daughter’s life. These panchayats also oppose and give out punishments for couples who marry within the same gotra (lineage).

It was for the first time in a recent judgement given by a sessions court in Karnal that the death penalty was awarded to the five people who were involved in the murder of a young couple who married against the diktats of a khap-panchayat. It had given a life sentence to one of the members of that panchayat who declared the marriage invalid and was present during the killing. The Supreme Court soon issued a notice to the centre and eight states to map out steps to prevent honour killing. Taking a cautious approach the government rejected Law Minister, M. Veerappa Moily’s proposal to amend the Indian Penal Code and rein in the khap panchayats (caste-based extra-constitutional bodies). 

It was however decided that a Group of Ministers must be formed to consult states and look into ways this social evil could be tackled by special laws. There are various opinions over the laws proposed for honour killing. Some experts feel that the existing laws are sufficient enough to deter honour killing if implemented properly while others feel that more stringent laws are required to tackle this heinous crime.

Existing Penalties under Indian Penal Code:

  • Section 34 and 35: Penalises criminal acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention.
  • Sections 107-116: Penalises persons for abetment of offences including murder and culpable homicide
  • Section 120A and B: Penalises any person who is a party to a criminal conspiracy.
  • Sections 299-304: Penalises any person guilty of murder and culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The punishment for murder is life sentence or death and fine. The punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder is life imprisonment or imprisonment for upto 10 years and fine.
  • Section 307: Penalises attempt to murder with imprisonment for upto 10 years and a fine. If a person is hurt, the penalty can extend to life imprisonment.
  • Section 308: Penalises attempt to commit culpable homicide by imprisonment for upto 3 years or with fine or with both. If it causes hurt, the person shall be imprisoned for upto 7 years or fined or both.

Arguments for the special laws

  • It would bring clarity to the law enforcement agencies if there were separate laws for the crime of honour killing.
  • The people involved in the crime will be jointly liable. The khap-panchayat giving the orders and the individuals carrying out the crime will be jointly liable for the punishment.
  • It was proposed that the Indian Evidence Act be amended and the accused be given the burden of proof. Thus, the khap-panchayat or the family members will have to prove their innocence.

Arguments against the special laws

  • It is sufficient if the present punishments for the offence of murder are implemented strictly and efficiently.
  • There is a need to create awareness among these communities through education
  • The people practicing this killing will not care about a new set of laws deterring honour killing. The most important thing for them is their respect and honour and it will be the same until the awareness is not spread.
  • Also, it could be misused for vindictive agendas. The people who don’t believe in this concept will be negatively affected if the khap-panchayats are held accountable collectively.

Meanwhile, khap panchayats are up in arms defending their stance against same gotra marriage.  They have demanded an amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 disallowing same gotra marriage.

Conclusion

The solution to this problem is to eradicate the myths present in the minds of these people. Formal education must be given to these individuals about the provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act and truly what kind of marriages are considered invalid. Since the concept of Gotras and Sapindas are different from each other, it should be explained to them.

All the powers given to the khap-panchayats must be taken away till a level minded and positive thinking panchayat can be formed which will prevent the naïve people from being instigated to commit such crimes. This will take time but it has to be done.

It is time for India to grow in its true sense.

References

https://theswaddle.com/honor-killings-india-law/

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/readersblog/know-your-rights/honor-killing-a-major-offence-in-india-5248/

https://www.prsindia.org/theprsblog/honour-killings-are-we-prepared-tackle-problem

https://indialawyers.wordpress.com/tag/honour-killings/

http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/271/Honour-Killing.html

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