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A Socio-Legal Study On Honour Killing As A Crime In India

Indian Society is a multicultural, multi-traditional society where it exists different types of castes, class, creeds, sections where everyone believes that their class is the best in whole and every person of that class should follow their customs and traditions throughout their lives where woman are considered as the bearer of honour to the family.

This perception is so well rooted that any attempt by women to breach their rights is seen as an attack on the cultural norms of the community and is strongly countered by the whole society and these counter activities taken by the member of her family in the name of honour leads to Honour Killing.

Mainly in these cases, women are the target but recently there are some cases where males are also targeted and murdered in the name of honour killing. Though there is no existence of specific laws on such types of killing by their family members.

Honour Killing or Shame Killing is the murder of a member from the family, due to the executioner belief that the victim has brought shame to their family or has brought dishonour to their family. The victim has also violated the principles of their community or religion, usually for various reasons like-divorcing or separation from either of the spouse, refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being in a relationship that has disapproval by their family or community or religion, having premarital or extramarital sex, becoming the victim of rape or sexual assault, dressing in such a way which is inappropriate, or denial a faith.

This term is also defined as the purposeful pre-planned homicide, generally of a female person, by or at the command of her family members stimulated by a perception that she has brought shame to her family or community which have dishonoured her family.

[1]Another report says that “the regime of honour is not able to forgive to a woman on whom suspicion has fallen are not given an opportunity to defend themselves whereas family members have not socially acceptable alternative but to remove the stain on their honour by attacking the woman.”

Two main factors contribute to violence against women, firstly, women's commodification[2] and conceptions of honour. The concept of women as a commodity, not human beings endowed with dignity and rights equal to those of men, is deeply rooted in tribal culture.

Definitions Of Honour Killing:

Honour Crimes- the illegal decrees by caste/ class/community panchayats to annual or prohibit marriages, social boycotts and even murder of couples.

According to Human Rights Watch defines honour killing as follows:

Honour Killings are acts of vengeance, usually death, committed by family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonour upon the family. A woman can be targeted by her family for a variety of reasons including refusing to enter in an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce- even from an abusive husband or committing adultery.

The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that “dishonour” her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life.

In some cases, Men can also be the victims of honour killings by the family members of the family of a woman with whom they are perceived to have an inappropriate relationship, or by the involvement of homosexual activity.

History Of Honour Crimes

The practise of honour killing has ancient origins that predate all written religions. Centuries ago in desert tribes, custom regarded women and their chastity as representative of family honour. From the tradition followed the belief that a male person has a duty to protect the honour of his entire family by killing any female relative involved in an inappropriate sexual relationship.

Today, however, the spectrum has broadened, acts such as marital infidelity, flirting, premarital sex, seeking a divorce, being raped, becoming pregnant or failing to serve a meal, can affect family's honour. Containing a large social dynamic, honour killing presently embodies the same traditional notion that a woman is a property of her male relatives, reflecting their family's social status and pride. In addition, honour killing remains subject to culturally influenced laws and practices that provide exceptions to standard notions of justice.

Over time, honour killings have become deeply rooted and prominent in various parts of the world. If we talk about India honour killings have been reported in northern regions of India, mainly the states of Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh. In contrast, honour killings are less prevalent but are not completely non-existent in South India, Maharashtra and Gujrat.

The law in many countries directly or indirectly permits honour to be an excuse or mitigating factor for murder, allowing perpetrators to go unpunished or to receive lighter punishments/ sentences. A male relative's mere suspicion of a dishonouring act is often enough to justify an honour killing.

These killings frequently go unreported and therefore, the exact number of deaths per year is unknown. In 2015 National Crime Records Bureau data shows, 251 honour killings were reported in India, activists consider this number to be an underestimation due to misreporting of killings under general murders.

Honour Crimes In India

Honour Crimes as against women are committed worldwide. They occur whenever a man regards a woman as his property and seeks to uphold this false assumption by cruel and abusive force.

Preserving the family's honour and showing innocence is what is expected of a woman in many Asian cultures. Thus the attempt by many Indian families worldwide to hold onto the traditions of the past is in increasing conflict with the expectations of modern women, often with tragic results. Their perceived crimes can include wanting to go to university, refusing an arranged marriage or having a boyfriend. Every week in India there are three to four cases of honour crimes: women burnt by husbands or mothers-in-law attempting to murder them.

Whereas the role of women in the country's urban centres has changed, hardship and discrimination still remain the norm for the majority in the rural heartlands. Many are ready to tackle family attitude towards women by encouraging them to complain about “Eve teasing”, euphemism referring to sexual harassment. But it is a definition that presents women as “eves”, temptresses who provoke men into states of sexual titillation. That gives an insight into the psyche in segments of that society, and how far it still has to go to transform these entrenched societal attitudes.

Moreover, there are other forms of harassment and even sometimes fatal activities which started as social customs and are still practised in various corners of the country: practices such as sati, dowry-deaths, bride burning, and even child marriage in order to repay debts or other social obligations which often results in sexual acts against the girl-child still continue to this day. These customs, even after they have been abolished on paper by the law, still continue to be practised in the grab of keeping up the traditions.

Reasons For Predominance Of Honour Killing

  • Patriarchal Mindset: Honour Killing is often associated with the term Honour'. In defining the term honour, many theories relate it to shame'. It is a concept which is always linked with the women of the family and men are considered to monitor women and prevent women from abusing the so-called honour. This shows the patriarchal. Mindset is still prevalent in society. Women's right and their will and choices are seen as oppression against these social norms and traditions. Hence, only when people become open-minded and respect the choice of women or men in their personal liberty, these honour killings will come to an end.
  • Caste System: The existence of the caste system in Indian society is a curse to the whole nation. Here in India inter-caste marriage is denied by certain cultural groups, by individuals, or by the gotras of that individual or parents gotra. Not only intercaste marriage leads to honour killing but also inter-religious marriages lead to it.[3]According to the National Commission of Women study shows that among 326 cases of conflict surveyed, 72% due to inter casts marriages and 3% due to inter-religious marriages.

    In Supreme Court Case[4], the statement made by Justice Markandey Katju that “Honour Killings are nothing but cold-blooded murder and no honour is involved in such killings”. The Supreme Court also observed that intercaste and inter-religious marriages should be encouraged to strengthen the social fabric of society.
  • Khap Panchayat: Khap Panchayat is a group of persons or a community organization especially found in villages and in Northern India to exert a social influence within a country. These people take the laws in their hands and indulge in offensive activities which endanger the lives of persons marrying according to their free will.

There are various judicial decisions provided by the courts against the action of Khap Panchayat. One such landmark case is Smt. Laxmi Kachhwaha vs. State of Rajasthan (1999). In this case, a PIL was filed in Rajasthan High Court against the illegal functioning of Khap Panchayat violating the individual's basic rights. Here the court-ordered State authorities to restrict the functioning of Khap Panchayat and arrest and punish its members. Therefore, it should be abolished completely.
  • Lack of Education: There is a lack of awareness and education of people on the rights guaranteed to them and how to claim their rights are one of the reasons for such honour killings.
  • No Separate and Strict Laws: Honour Killings are seen as a customary crime and it is not yet recognised in Indian Legal System. Though there is an increase in these types of crimes, there is no legal recognition, no protection to the victims, no accountability and no punishments.
These killings are reported only under two categories:
  1. Murder (Section 302 of Indian Penal Code)
  2. Culpable Homicide (Section 304 of Indian Penal Code)
Due to this most of the killings are unreported or reported as murder. Thus there is no proper statistics for these killings.

Constitutional Provisions:

In the Constitution of India, there are various provisions which allow an individual to exercise his/her choice of caste, religion or gender and protection from honour-related crimes including honour killings.

Below are those provisions that substantiate this:
Honour Killing is cases of homicide and murder which are under IPC. Section 299 and Section 301 deals with culpable homicide not amounting to murder while Section 300 deals with Murder. Honour Killings amounts to culpable homicide and murder because in this acts there is the presence of both Mens Rea and Actus Reus. The perpetrators can be punished as per the Section of 302 of IPC. The Khap Panchayat and family members can also be held liable in these Sections for honour killing.

Article 14 of the Indian Constitution guarantees to every person the right to equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws. Every person, whatever is his or her status or situation is subject to the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts. The right to Equality is the fundamental right of an Indian citizen. As Honour Killings are mainly directed towards the women and thus it gives rise to gender violence.

Honour Killings involves the murder of a particular person especially women and thus it comes under the Section of 299 and Section 300 of IPC. It is also a violation of Article 19 and Article 21 of the Constitution. Thus brutal murders under the name of saving the family honours also count to murder. As every person has the right to live. Here the capital punishment is also possible, only when granted by the law.

The Act of honour killing is linked to the killing of individuals in relation to caste and religion. The protection of Human Rights Act, 2006 makes the provision for the protection of individual rights of human beings and the Constitution of a National Human Rights Commission seeks for protection of human rights of individuals. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 provides for more effective protection of the rights of women guaranteed under the Constitution who are victims of violence of any kind occurring within the family and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 makes provision to punish those who conceal facts, either before or at the time of, or after the alleged crime. Article 13 of this Act:
Facts relevant when right or custom is in question- Where the question is as to the existence of any right or custom, the following facts are relevant:
  1. Any transaction by which the right or custom in question was created, claimed modified, recognized, asserted or denied, or which was inconsistent with its existence;
  2. Particular instances in which the right or custom was claimed, recognized, or exercised, or in which its exercise was disputed, asserted or departed from. The Act is relevant to bring to justice those who become a victim because of the verdicts issued by the Khap Panchayat.

Initiatives Taken Against Honour Killing:

The issue of honour killing for the first time was heard in Parliament in 2009. The Rajya Sabha went into discussions on this issue. In July 2009, the members in the parliament demand for separate laws for honour killing. In March 2010, there was a landmark judgement in Manoj and Babli honour killing case by Karnal District Court which gave life sentence to Khap Panchayat head for ordering killings. The judge has stated that Khap Panchayat has functioned contrary to the constitution and took laws in its hands.

The issue was later referred to Law ministry, which gave certain recommendations in 2010 The IPC and certain other Amendment Bill 2010. This flawed understanding resulted in dealing only with crimes of honour related to murders and not tortures faced by young couples.

In August 2010, the legal cell of All India Democratic Women's Association in consultation with other women's organization drafted a comprehensive law named as The Prevention of Crimes in the name of Honour and Tradition Bill' and gave it to government. This Bill addresses the violation of the rights of young couples and lists various types of crime in addition to murder. Suggests preventive measures and provides various degrees of punishments. It included Khap Panchayat or other bodies in the name of caste or community and accountability of police and administration.

In March 2018, the Supreme Court gave preventive measures to combat honour crimes in India. The guidelines are to be followed until a proper law is legislated. Though the Supreme Court has framed guidelines, there is a need for proper and strict law without delay as delay in justice could lead to denial of justice. Till then proper implementation of the preventive measures is to be ensured.

Honour Killing is a customary crime which needs to be prevented because every year number of innocent women dies in the name as they have brought shame to their family due to various reasons that is Gender Discrimination, Violation of Women's Rights, lack of education and awareness among the people, less stringent laws and unreported cases.

India being the multicultural, multi traditional should prohibit these types of crimes as it hampers the development of civilised country. Thus there is a need to respect each and every religion, caste, gender without discrimination and protecting each other and seeing for the welfare of the society at large. No religion' or culture' can be invoked to validate the evil practice of honour killing.

There are various crimes which are being punished in India, few of them escapes as there are some loopholes in the present Indian law system. One of them is honour killing where there are no separate laws for it and due to which many of the innocents lose their lives and there is no severe punishment to the victims which move freely in the society and expect others to do the same as they have done with their females in the family.

Laws only can punish the criminal otherwise there is a mindset among the people that no one can punish us and we can do anything as and what we want. Thus, there is a need to end this mind-set of the people with strict laws in India for smoothly working and protecting the women's in India.

Recommendations And Suggestions:
Every human being has fundamental rights to live with human dignity. No one has right to deprive life and his basic rights of a person. In order to protect and preserving the family honour, dignity of the family who commits dishonouring activity against the customary rites and customs they will become victims of honour Killing.

In this crime the culprits are family itself who kills other family members for the sake of honour of their family. They give a justification for their honour for such murders, but there is no honour in killings their own family members. In our country, several young girls and boys killed under the name of family honour.

Now it is time to take stringent action against honour killings at International and national levels. This study reveals that the state, central government and judiciary has played its role quite effectively and has always upheld the basic principles of human dignity. It has investigated a several cases involving serious violations of human dignity of citizens.

The following suggestions are made in order to ensure the efficacy and efficiency of the state. If these recommendations are admit to be true so that everyone can live with human dignity and honour in society. It is easy to process to curb the customary evil practices from society.
  1. The Central and State Government should take initiative to ensure an adequate new stringent legislation on honour killing and religion-based crimes and to impose serious penal sanctions against community leaders who approve or tolerate such honour crimes.
  2. The Government has enacted many laws however it does not mean that it will give justice and protect discrimination in the society. It requires seeing that better implementation of laws for developing the status of women hood and elimination of unauthorized institution in the society like Khap Panchayat is also necessary. Laws are meaningless without there being a proper implementation of such laws in society.
  3. I strongly suggest that, along with the laws it is high time to come out from caste-based discrimination, evil traditions, the male-dominated approach of society, unwanted and exaggerated importance of so-called honour' of community which at the end resulting utter discrimination and offence like honour killing.
  4. There is an urgent need for a specific legislation like Prevention and Control of Honour killing Act on the equal footing of Sati Prevention Act, 1987 and Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 etc.
  5. Illegal acts of Khap Panchayat which results in the death of a person should be punishable with death sentence or life imprisonment with a heavy fine and seize the entire property of a member of Panchayat and also in such cases the whole Panchayat should be held responsible for the death of a person.
  6. The separate clause should be added to Under Section 300 of Indian Penal Code 1860according to that, any person or group of persons would be said to have committed murder if it is found that they acted in concert with anybody else to cause any persons or person's death in the belief that he/ she brought dishonour to the family or community or caste.
  7. All forms of violence against women and men committed in the name of honour should be criminalised and those deliberately participating in facilitating, encouraging or threatening any type of violence against women and men in the name of honour should be punished.
  8. It is also suggested that to seek immediate justice it is necessary to constitute fast track courts to decide the cases of honour killing.
  9. All reports of violence against women committed in the name of honour should be promptly, impartially and thoroughly investigated by the police officers and prosecutors without going to political or other pressure from powerful local leaders and should treat crimes of honour killing seriously and effectively.
  10. Awareness should be created in the minds of people passing on a message that there is no honour in honour killing and the incidents of sex-selective abortions, female infanticides, genital cutting, rape, physical assault and forced marriage will be treated as honour killing cases.
  11. It is necessary to provide legal awareness programs in a rural area so that the people will know some important information about laws.
  12. The role of NGO is very important to tackle such problem from society. They can approach the people in those areas where such practices are still prevailing and can assist the Government in its efforts to prevent and control of honour killing incidents. NGO should participate and work in arranging various programs about social reforms movement against the caste system, gender-based crime to eradicate honour killing crimes
  13. It is also suggested that the Central Government should take a monthly report of violence against women from the State Government and to prepare a plan to curb such crimes.
  14. There is a need that police and judiciary's attitude towards women should be change, we must make our system active so that no one commits violence against women dignity.

  • Anand Mishra, Honour Killings: The Law it is and the Law it ought to be, Manupatra
  • Dr. Pandey. J.N., Constitutional Law of India Allahabad: Central Law Agency, 2015
  • Paras Diwan and Piyush Diwan, Human Rights and Law
  • Jyoti Vishwanath, Patriarchal Ideology of Honour and Honour Crimes In India , IONR Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, 2011

  1. Report by- Amnesty International- 2001
  2. The commodification of women is also the basis of the tradition of Khoon baho when a woman is handed over to an adversary to settle a conflict.
  3. National Commission of Women Report and International Journal of Management.
  4. Latha Singh vs. State of Uttar Pradesh (2006) 5 SCC 475)

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