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Honour Killings In India and Role of Khap Panchayats

Honor killing is probably one of most terrible of all the crimes of honour that occur. While some of the components of the offence may coincide with criteria of Culpable Homicide under the IPC 1860, It has some distinct characteristics that make it even more terrible than culpable homicide. The target of an honour killing is typically a part of the accused's own family or social group, rather than a third party.

Humankind has developed throughout time. The human species has carved itself a distinct place in a spatial setting. Men have maintained their position at the top of the hierarchical hierarchy. As a consequence, the environment has adapted to their specific requirements. Humans are in fact looking for pleasure. But, from ancient times, human civilization has placed a high value on the concept of honor. As a consequence, whether it's in the Ramayana era, when society was not ready to embrace Sita, or in modern times, reputation is prioritized above happiness.

The concept of honor or repute, for which an individual's life is not spared, is also a source of contention in societal structure. Man is, first and foremost, a social animal, spending his whole existence in interaction with other humans and as a part of different structured social organizations. In many instances, the offender is a brother or parent whose traditional duty was originally intended to be to shield the victim from danger. The culprit of these acts is motivated only by an idealistic ambition to restore dignity to the bloodline by killing the member of the family who has caused disgrace to the clan.

The lack of control that male family members feel over a female family member's sexual activity is usually the cause of this perceived shame. It has been declared a violation of human rights all around the globe. There are many reports in the press that a female was murdered as a result of having a relationship with a boy, that a young couple were murdered for having a wedding, or that a boy and a girl were cruelly attacked for being discovered in a compromised position.

There have also been instances of freshly married inter-caste spouses being executed as a penalty for violating caste endogamy norms, as well as women being murdered by their husbands on the assumption of sexual adultery. One aspect that these killings had in general was nobody in public, with the exception of NGOs fighting to defend gender equality and empowering women and the mainstream press, denounced them throughout time.

The much-discussed Manoj-Babli murder case, in which the Karnal district court in Haryana sentenced the 5 accused people to death. It was a watershed event when the court sentenced the culprits in an honour killing case to execution for the very first occasion. Furthermore, the chief of the khap panchayat who commanded the murders but was not engaged in the assassinations was sentenced to life in jail, while the chauffeur participated in the kidnapping of the victims was sentenced to seven years in prison.

The case sparked a lot of debate in the news and among the wider populace. The fact that the case was sentenced to death most likely made it worthy of press highlights and widespread debate. It is most common in India in states like Punjab, Haryana, and the western portion of Uttar Pradesh, as well as certain areas of Bihar. The number of incidents is unknown. Honour killing is a violating the right to live with dignity.

Honour Killing: Meaning and Concept

Religion may be used to excuse honor murders in certain cases. Honour killing is a murder committed in order to restore family honor, respect, purity, or to restore the tainted honor, or the reputation in issue. As a result, killing is a type of cleansing action in this context. It cleanses the tainted tribe with the immoral person's bloodshed. In attempt to reestablish the chastity, community standards may require the execution of the offender.

The more heinous the assassination, the more comprehensive the recovery of the family's honor. As a result, victims are often hanged, stabbed, or tortured to death. Violence has the effect of enhancing the purity to be imparted. Among societies, measures such as chopping, roasting, or strangulation are common. These assassinations are the consequence of the view that defending one's honor justifies murdering someone whose behavior dishonors their tribe, group, or family [1].

According to Human Rights Watch (2001),
A woman might be assaulted by (individuals within) her family members for a number of reasons, including being the victim of a sexual assault, refusing to join an arranged marriage, or seeking a divorce from an abusive or (supposedly) unfaithful spouse. The simple perception that a woman's behavior dishonors her family is enough to justify an attempt on her lives.

According to Amnesty International:

Honour killing of a woman by a male relative is a crime that is collectively planned, sociologically expected, and socially sanctioned by the family and community involved. It further contends that the honor system is merciless, and that women are not given the opportunity to justify oneself. Their relatives have no other culturally adequate solution than to attack them in clearing the blot on family reputation.[2]

The notion that honor killing is some kind of crimes against women doesn't really imply nor suggest that males are not susceptible to such murders, but women continue to be the predominant casualties of such offences. Females are often critical role actors in upholding the bounds of sexual behavior and may also be privy to agreements to murder, even their own children, in executing crimes of honor. The term honour in honour killing is ironic since the killings undertaken, as well as the manner in which they are perpetrated or executed , are devoid of any honor.

Role of Khap Panchayats

The term khap originally appeared in the Jodhpur census report of 1890-91, which was based on religion and caste. However, there isn't a lot of reliable information regarding khaps. Experts believe that the term khap is derived from the saka language word khatrap, which denotes a clan-specific region. A khap political unit is described as a collection of 84 villages.[3]

Khap panchayat, which are common in several regions of India, had attracted criticism for their involvement in delivering different types of mandates or fatwas which pose a major danger to people' basic freedoms. As a result, hence the need to analyze its function in this respect. The Supreme Court of India has expressed strong opinions upon that rising threat posed by khap panchayats. There seem to be a lot of examples that've been explicitly recorded that demonstrate the amount of effortful control via the mandates of khap panchayat under the guise of customs, heritage, and social standards that are contrary to the conceptions of life and liberty.

The function of the court is critical in a democratic society. However, in addition to the official Indian courts, there are many communal courts that are authorized by the local residents themselves to determine different concerns pertaining to their group. These communal judges lack the lawful authorization to determine the laws, and their verdicts have no constitutional status in system of justice since it is thought that their working is opaque an most of the times contradicts the constitutional provisions.

These are self-proclaimed extra-constitutional entities that wield all authority of the judicial system to deliver instructions that are commonly seen to be in contravention of basic freedoms. Such additional undemocratic entities, which exist in the shape of caste panchayats, have created sentiments amongst itself as protectors of reputation and believe it is their job to punish individuals who breach societal norms and practices.[4]

Among the most pressing challenges facing khap panchayats is the selection of a life mate. If a person makes a decision that goes against the etiquette of the societal structure, the khaps will limit that decision. As per the khaps, wedding is the only device that guarantees sanctity in lineage, group, and religious dogma, and anyone who attempts to contravene the standards is considered to be introducing shame and humiliation to the group.

Weddings are customarily finally agreed by the seniors of the household and are backed by the social rules and social customs, and the khap followers think that as the leader of the cultures, they have had the duty to preserve the cultural norms and practices of the community that the younger generation under the influence of western culture want to infringe. It is claimed that modern people are not willing to adhere to ancient customs that limit their opportunity to appreciate and use their constitutional protections. Those who embrace khap beliefs argue that it is vital for upholding ethical code in community.

There have been many occurrences in the recent past wherein the khap panchayats et severe critics for their notorious diktats. Such as a khap panchayat in Rohtak had ordered a married couple to live together as siblings since they were from the same gotra.[5] a khap panchayat in Up ordered girls to not wear jeans and banned boys also from wearing shorts.[6] The examples of mandates show the level of cruelty performed by khap panchayats in community underneath the guise of upholding cultures and practices.

A 23year old boy named Vinay Dahiya was shot down by half dozen man while injuring his wife. Notably, the two had previously petitioned the Punjab and Haryana High Court for security from the girl's relatives, who purportedly intended to murder them if they married. Following that, the court dismissed the plea by instructing the couple to seek security from Sonipat Police.

There was discontent in the girl's family since they felt her marrying with Vinay, who belonged to the same gotra, had given them a terrible name in the society. [7]The main contention advanced by khap proponents is that it is necessary to safeguard cultural practices in order to preserve or perpetuate the social fabric. They do not stand firm or put logic or common sense to the proof in this baseless claim since norms, beliefs, and societies can never be unswayed by changing situations or abolished.

A certain level of integration in concerns of personal life and interests is essential for a community to progress. Honour assassinations appear to be the outcome of panchayat narcissism and their fear of losing society females in different ways . Honor crimes may be found in every section of our nation; no region is immune, although locations such as Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh have a high number of occurrences.

Intentional killings of young couples have been carried out on the orders of dictatorial khap panchayats since these khaps see intercaste, intra-clan, and within-village weddings contrary to their ethos. To these khaps, it makes no difference that the families of the boy and girl planned the wedding, that a child has already been born as a result of the marital relationship, and that they have done nothing illegal in the legal sense.

It has been observed that the khap panchayat organizes a session of village elders and gives authoritarian diktats to do horrific killing of married people, expel their family members from village region, and end up making a requirement of some terrific value to enforce on those who would offer to help them or even have a conversation with them in the long run.
  1. Politics and Khap Panchayats

    Despite the fact that there is a parallel dictatorial and undemocratic court system, efforts to eliminate khap panchayats have stalled numerous times. Even the Supreme Court's decisions against such panchayats are rendered ineffective. These facts raise issues such as:
    Why did these endeavors fail?

    Why can't such irrational organizations be outlawed?

    The answers to these issues are hidden behind the complicated labyrinth of Indian political traditions. In the khap dominant regions, the Jats and Gurjars constitute the majority and have a big population. In political terms, they are a large political force, and any action done towards them might result in a larger electoral loss for a ruling party. As a consequence, these toxic political tactics are destroying Indian society's harmony and dignity. To back up these facts, we may go to the commitments of several politicians who have given fair credentials to these khaps and see them as a vital part of our society.

    Manohar Lal Khattar, the current Chief Minister of Haryana, had issued a pro-khaps declaration. He asserted that:
    They are like parents minding the children, and they take swift decisions on matters in which the courts are silent. Khap Panchayats consist of experienced members of the society and they make sensible decisions.[8]

    Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the former Chief Minister of Haryana, in his admiration for these panchayats. Said:
    Khap Panchayats are like NGOs as we have resident welfare association, they are part of our culture.[9]

    So what would be the fate of the state which reports the maximum incidents of honour killings and its leaders are openly supporting the institutions behind the honour killings
Judicial Trends
The judiciary is an important aspect of the democratic system, and its importance in the building of a free democracy is difficult to comprehend. The court's role is not confined to administering justice; it also serves as an interpreter and defends the liberties. The judiciary has the authority of judicial oversight and may either approve or reject legislation that are incompatible with constitution. Personal freedoms cannot be safeguarded or enhanced in the absence of a dynamic judicial process. The courts are critical to the protection and expansion of people' democratic and basic rights.

It also has a significant degree of responsibility for carrying out the legal requirements and protecting people' basic rights. Furthermore, the efficient operation of the other organs of the state is dependent on the successful execution of judicial proceedings. With groundbreaking rulings, the court establishes a precedent that aids in the resolution of numerous issues.

The judicial procedure that resulted from such rulings strengthens the previously existing legal system and offers up new avenues for people' rights protection. As a result, basic human rights are effectively protected in the courts. Lately, in several regions of India, incidences of honour crimes have been escalating on a daily basis. The tendency is fast expanding across the nation, resulting in serious abuses of human rights. The courts has demonstrated excellence not only in preventing this horrible crime but also sending a clear signal to authorities to take preventative steps.

The supreme court has played an active role in protecting personal rights and in taking necessary steps against variety of social evils prevalent in community, one of which is honor killing, upon which it has played a massive part not only in deterring the offenses but also in sending solid instructions to police to take measures. Through many landmark rulings, the Supreme Court of India has constantly taken a strong role in lifting the veil on honour assassinations.

In case of Lata vs. State of UP[10] Hon'ble SC had allowed the writ petition under article 32 to a woman for her right to marry any person of her choice by her free will. In this case court stated that:
"The caste system is a curse on the nation and the sooner it is destroyed the better. In fact, it is dividing the nation at a time when we have to be united to face the challenges before the nation unitedly. Hence, inter-caste marriages are in fact in the national interest as they will result in destroying the caste system.

However, disturbing news is coming from several parts of the country that young men and women, who undergo inter-caste marriage, are threatened with violence, or violence is actually committed on them. In our opinion, such acts of violence or threats or harassment are wholly illegal and those who commit them must be severely punished. This is a free and democratic country, and once a person becomes a major he or she can marry whosoever he/she likes.

If the parents of the boy or girl do not approve of such inter-caste or interreligious marriage the maximum they can do is that they can cut off social relations with the son or the daughter, but they cannot give threats or commit or instigate acts of violence and cannot harass the person who undergoes such inter-caste or inter-religious marriage.

We, therefore, direct that the administration/police authorities throughout the country will see to it that if any boy or girl who is a major undergoes inter-caste or inter-religious marriage with a woman or man who is a major, the couple are not harassed by any one nor subjected to threats or acts of violence, and anyone who gives such threats or harasses or commits acts of violence either himself or at his instigation, is taken to task by instituting criminal proceedings by the police against such persons and further stern action is taken against such persons as provided by law.

There is nothing honorable in such killings, and in fact they are nothing but barbaric and shameful acts of murder committed by brutal, feudal-minded persons who deserve harsh punishment. Only in this way can we stamp out such acts of barbarism"[11]

In another milestone and significant decision, the case of Manoj and Babli:
The girl's family murdered the two young lovers to death, reaching new lows in depravity. The circumstances altered when the Hon'ble Court sentenced the five suspects in this case to death for murdering the couple. The court also remarked that this was not merely a case of murdering two innocent children, but also a heinous crime against humanity, calling it the rarest of the rare in nature.[12]

In his verdict the judge observed:
This court has gone through sleepless nights and tried to put itself in the shoes of the offenders and think as to what might have prompted them to take such a step as well as the khap panchayats have functioned contrary to the constitution, ridiculed it and have become a law unto themselves.

In Pradeep v. State of Haryana, The Punjab and Haryana High Court Laid down the guidelines while dealing with matter where girls parents file a complaint against the boy in case, they runaway ,the court was dealing and flooded with the number of cases of runaway couples hence issued directions regarding the same . The High Court in this case laid down the laws regarding the matters where the complaints have been filed by the girl's family against the boy and even against his family.

The court in this case directed authorities that in case if any complaint is received by the girl's family regarding kidnapping and abduction against boy, then he will not be arrested immediately unless the police receives any statement by the girl. Also the girl if she is a major, she should not be forcibly handed over to her family against her consent and no criminal force be applied to boy as well. The court also directed that if any threat is received and life liberty is endangered regarding the runaway couple, the police must initiate the action for the protection of such couple.[13]

Arumugam Servai v. State of T.N The court ruled that honor killing is a breach of a person's constitutional protections as well as a breach of civil rights. The Supreme Court interpreted the law to say that if a couple is of majority age, they have a statutory right to marry. The court also harshly criticized the practice of khap panchayats taking the law into their own hands and engaging in illegal activities that endanger the personal lives of those getting married as per to their own preferences.[14
  1. Shakti Vahini Case Guidelines

    In Landmark Judgement of Shakti Vahini v. Union of India and others[15] Court held that:
    "Two consenting adults do not need the consent of their families and elders to get married. Further, any attempt of the Khap panchayat or any other body to suppress their wishes to marry each other is illegal.

    The court observes:
    Class honour, howsoever perceived cannot smother the choice of an individual which he or she is entitled to enjoy under our compassionate constitution. Referring to the 242nd report of the Law Commission, the SC highlighted the devastating impact is not the only type of crime ordered by Khap panchayat. It is a part of honour-based crimes. Any type of honour-based crime which is meant to suppress an individual's choice to love marriage is illegal"

Preventive Measure
  • The state government has been asked to identify regions where occurrences of assassinations or Khap panchayat assemblies have been recorded in the previous five years
  • SP in certain districts are expected to be extra watchful in the event of inter-religious or inter-caste weddings in the area.
  • If a police officer becomes aware of a Khap panchayat meeting in the vicinity, he should notify his higher officer and the DSP.
  • Home dept and state government. are told to work together to educate and inform the police agencies. All Vested interests must be included in this process. Institutional mechanisms should be in place to cooperate with all parties.
  • If, after dealing with representatives of the Khap, the DSP has grounds to think that the meeting cannot be avoided or that the couples would be injured, he may refer to the DM/SDM and request a direction under Sections 144 and 151 of the CrPC.

Remedial Measures
  • Failure to comply with the aforementioned directives by police or district authorities will be regarded an act of purposeful carelessness or misconduct, for which departmental action must be launched and completed within 6 months.
  • State govt. to make provision o 'safe houses' for such couples.
  • Regardless of the precautionary steps, if the Khap panchayat issues a judgement against a couple, a FIR should be filed.
  • Trials should be completed as soon as possible in situations involving honour crimes and assault against spouses. These matters must be resolved within six months, and this directive also applies to ongoing cases.
  • Special cells and 24-hour helplines must be created.[16]


It is time to put an end to these prevalent misconducts and time requires that the violent and aggressive custom of Khap be abolished and the public be made aware of their liberties since slaving for Khap in the name of honor and heritage is nothing more than a violation of an individual's fundamental human rights. Honour killings are a violation of various fundamental rights such as the right to life and liberty (Article 21) Right to Equality (14) etc.

It is now necessary for the government to make laws on such a pressing matter as Khap, as well as for the criminal justice system to prohibit these insulting acts. As a signatory to the Universal declaration, the ICCPR, and other treaty obligations, India has duty for initiating a system to address this issue. However, strict legal safeguards alone will not suffice.

This issue stems from a centuries-old civilization with an aristocratic and authoritarian structure that can do anything for its culture and traditions. The necessity here is not only to modify people's mindsets today, but also to break free from old and obsolete practices in order to avoid these unlawful behaviors. Leadership of Khap may be ignorant senior members of the Khap community due to a lack of adaptability in approach.

It is possible to make them work in accordance with the law by educating them and raising their understanding of current and existing legislation. Women's involvement should be encouraged at the national levels, and everyone should be given a fair hearing before the Khap Panchayat makes its final decision. This may be very beneficial in pulling about social improvements in rural areas.

  1. Shobharam Sharma, "Honour Killing in India: Need for Deterrent Action", LawZ Media (2011)
  2. Azad Kumar, Honour Killings; Global Perspective 11 (Saad Publications, Delhi, 2014).
  3. Khap panchayats � the role & history of complex social institution in Haryana & western UP accessed on 14 Oct 2021
  4. Shakti Vahini v. Union of India and others (2018) 3 SCC (Cri) Para 7.
  5. Khap panchayat forces Haryana couple to live as siblings accessed on 17 Oct 2021
  6. After banning jeans for girls, Khap panchayat in Uttar Pradesh bars boys from wearing shorts accessed on 17 Oct 2021
  7. accessed on 18 Oct 2021
  8. Haryana CM Khattar defends khap panchayats, calls its decisions "sensible" accessed on October 19, 2021
  9. Hooda defends khap panchayats, says they do not order honour killings accessed on 19 October 2021
  10. Lata vs State of UP AIR 2006 SC 2522
  11. Lata vs State of UP AIR 2006 SC 2522
  12. The Pre And Post Scenario Of Honor Killing After Manoj-Babli Case
  13. Pardeep vs. State of Haryana2008 (3) RCR Criminal 376.
  14. Arumugam Servai v. State of T.N (2011) AIR SCW 2863.
  15. (2018) 3 SCC (Cri) : (2018) 7 SCC 192.

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