Honour Crimes in India: A Legal Analysis

Introduction

In India, when the whole country was in nationwide lockdown in April, “The Frontline” reported the practice of honour killing in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. M Sudhakar was murdered by his wife’s father and relative, reason being casteist mentality of Sudhakar’s in-laws. The couple, which eloped and married six months ago, had been forcibly separated by a local panchayat for marrying beyond their castes. In India, these consequences are frequent for inter-caste couples, although it’s uncertain whether Sudhakar’s death would be classified as an honour killing.

The latest report of “National Crime Records Bureau” reveals “Honour Killing” as the 3rdbiggest murder motive in India. According to data, there is frequent increase in cases of honour crimes on one side and slight decrease in cases of murder on other. Considering the fact that data available is highly underreported, the severity of problem can be understood. According to the NCRB, 10,773 individuals eloped in 2018 because of their “love relationships.” The reason couples elope is generally because of disapproval of their relationship by family on ground of existing differences in caste, creed, class and religion. As a result, these couples are more prone to violence for similar reasons.

The issue arises is should we maintain the status quo or should we think about reforms in matters related to Honour Crimes? “Honour crimes are seldom one-time occurrences; there is often a long period of harassment, physical abuse, coercion, and kidnapping before the murder. Thus, having a separate legislation can be a possible solution as it will “define the events leading up to these crimes” and will assist in avoiding deaths.

Definition of Honour Killing

Honour killing is described as a murder inflicted on a woman or man by their own family members for marrying against their will, having a pre-marital relationship, marrying within the same gotra, or marrying outside their caste. The assassination of a relative, particularly a female relative, as retaliation for the family’s alleged dishonoring, is mandated or sanctioned by some cultures and religions.

According to the Human Rights Watch honour crimes as:

Honor crimes are acts of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members who are perceived to have brought dishonor upon the family”.The mere suspicion that a woman has acted in a way that “dishonours” her family is enough to prompt a life-threatening attack. Men can also be the victims of honour killings carried out by the family members of a woman with whom they are thought to have an unacceptable relationship, or by engaging in homosexual conduct.

Purpose of Honour Killing

The key factor leading to this horrible crime is people’s mentality, which refuses to accept that their children can marry according to their own preferences, whether within or outside of their caste or religion.

There is no ‘Honour’ in act of ‘Honour Killing’. Killing someone just for sake of them choosing a life partner of their choice is wrong and against the law of land. According to Article 21, 19(1)(a) and 14 of the Indian Constitution, the freedom to marry person of one’s choice is a fundamental right. The right to choose a life partner was declared a fundamental right in Shakti Vahini v. Union of India.

Shakti Vahini, a non-governmental organization, filed a  Public Interest Litigation(PIL) emphasizing khap panchayats’ reign of terror, which includes extreme punishments for couples who have fallen in love or broken the customary sagotra marital relationship regulation. The absence of formal bodies such as a panchayat Smiti or a valid assembly in the Khap Panchayat leads to brutal management of the illegal and extra-constitutional panchayat. However, the petition was disposed of by the Apex court.

Apex court, on the said petition, noticed that only 3% of honour killings are linked to gotra, the rest 97% accounted for religion and other factors. This shows people’s attitudes regarding marriage in similar gotras and outside of the community are unacceptable. Especially when the marriage isintercaste.

Honour killings are distinct, as criminals are not stigmatized in their communities because their actions are seen as legitimate. Their actions are marked as justified in the eyes of this patriarchal society which places a person’s reputation above their life. Risk of losing reputation or rank earned by a position incites them to commit such a heinous crime.

Grounds behind predominance of Honour killing

Honor killing is sometimes considered as a way for men in society to maintain their authority over women and to ensure that their children are committed to age-old arranged marriage traditions. If they break those traditions, and practice their Right to choose a life partner of choice, the end result is their victimization under honour crimes.

Major reasons behind honour killing are as follows:

1. Patriarchal Mindset: Honour killing is inherently connected to the phrase “honour.” Many theories link honour to shame when defining the term. It’s a concept that’s always associated with the women of the family, and men are expected to keep an eye on them and prevent them from abusing the so-called honour. In today’s world, Patriarchalmindset is still widespread. Women’s rights, as well as their will and choices, are considered as an affront to established societal norms and traditions. As a result, honour killings will cease to exist, only when people become more open-minded and respect choices of men and women in their personal liberty.

2. Caste System: The existence of a caste system in Indian society is a curse for the entire country. Inter-caste marriage is prohibited in India by certain cultural organizations, people, or the gotras of the individual or parents. Honor killing occurs not just in intercaste marriages, but also in interfaith marriages. According to a study conducted by the National Commission on Women, 72 percent of the 326 cases of conflict surveyed were caused by inter-caste marriages and 3 percent by inter-religious marriages. In case of Latha Singh vs. State of Uttar Pradesh, according to Justice MarkandeyKatju, Honour killings are nothing more than cold-blooded murders in which no honour is involved. The Supreme Court also stated that intercaste and inter-religious marriages should be encouraged in order to strengthen society’s social fabric.

3. Khap Panchayat: A Khap Panchayat is a group of individuals or a community organization that exerts social influence in a society. They are mostly found in rural areas in Northern India. These individuals take the law into their own hands and engage in offensive behaviors that risk the lives of people who marry of their own free choice.

The illegal functioning of the Khap Panchayat, which is infringing on people’s basic rights, was the subject of a PIL filed in case of LaxmiKahhwaha vs. The Rajasthan State(1999) before the Rajasthan High Court. The state was directed by the court to restrict the functioning of the Khap Panchayat, as well as arrest and punish its members. The court stated that these panchayats had no authority to pass social blacklists, issue fines, or overlook a person’s fundamental rights.

Smt. Chandrapati vs State of Haryana and Others popularly known as Manju-Babli murder case is a landmark case on honour killing. In this case, the Khap panchayat ordered the killing of a couple as they married in the same gotra. As Babli’s grandfather was Khap leader, he along with relatives assisted in killing of the couple. When the case was heard in the Karnal District Court, five of the murderers were sentenced to life imprisonment. This is the first case involving an honour killing that has resulted in a historic judgement awarding the accused with a life sentence.

Lack of awareness and education, and absence of strict laws to governhonour crimes make the situations worsen.

Provisions in Indian law

Every citizen in our country has his or her own set of rights. Every citizen in India has rights, regardless of caste, religion, or gender, guaranteed by the Constitution of India. The Indian Constitution declares that India is a secular state, where we have the freedom to practice any religion and choose a life partner of our choice.

Honor killings are similar to homicides in certain ways. Sections 299 and 300 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, define culpable homicide and murder. when the victim is killed with the goal of bringing the family’s honour into question, those involved in murder can be booked under either of Section 302 or Section 304 of IPC.

The Indian Penal Code & Certain Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2010, Proposed addition of ‘filthy’ clause to Section 300 of IPC, which in present defines murder under 4 categories. The new definition would have made khap-ordered honour killings a separate crime, putting all individuals involved in the decision on account for the main charge of murder, with the death sentence as the maximum penalty. The said amendment is need of time.

i) Penalties under IPC
  • Sections 299304:Any person found guilty of murder or culpable homicide that does not amount to murder is penalized. Murder is punishable by life in prison or death, plus a fine. The penalty for non-murder culpable homicide is life in prison or up to ten years, plus a fine.
  • Section 307: An attempt to murder is punishable by up to ten years in prison and a fine. If a person is injured, the penalty can be extended to life in prison.
  • Section 308:Penalties for attempting to commit culpable homicide include imprisonment for up to three years, a fine, or both. If it causes harm, the person may be sentenced to up to 7 years in prison or fine, or both.
  • Section 120A and 120B:Penalizeseach and every one who takes part in criminal conspiracy.
  • Sections 107116:Persons who aid and abet crimes such as murder and culpable homicide are penalized.
  • Section 3435:Penalizes criminal acts committed by people in support of a common intention.
ii) Protection under various fundamental and constitutional rights:
  • The honour killing violates Article 14(Equality before law), Article15(1)(Restriction of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth) &Article 15(3) (Creating special provision for children and women), Article 19(Protection of freedom of Speech),Article 21(Protection of life and personal liberty) and Article 39(f) of the Indian Constitution, providing children with chances and facilities to grow in a secure and dignified environment, as well as safeguarding children and young people from abuse and moral and material abandonment.
  • The Indian Majority Act, 1875states that every person residing in India on completion of 18 years of age, shall be attainingmajority under Section 3 of said act.In case of guardianship assigned to minor, the age of majority will be 21 years.The Act applies in situations when khap panchayats have forcibly separated married couples who are otherwise eligible for such marriage due to age, etc. This appears to be a violation of the Act’s requirements.
  • The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 strengthens the protection of women’s rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution to the victims of domestic violence of any type, as well as things related to or incidental to such violence.
  • Indian Evidence Act, 1872punishes those involved in concealing evidence, before or after the suspected crime. Article 13of the act states the following facts, which are crucial for determining the existence of any right or custom. They are:
  • Any transaction that originated, claimed, changed, acknowledged, affirmed, or rejected the right or custom in issue, or that was inconsistent with its existence;
  • Particular instances in which the right or custom was claimed, acknowledged, or practiced, or when its exercise was contested, affirmed, or deviated from. The Act is necessary to bring justice to people who have become victims as a result of Khap Panchayat decisions.
  • The Protection Of Human Rights Act,2006provides for the protection of individual human rights, and the formationof a National Human Rights Commission strives to safeguard individual human rights.
  • The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989was passed by parliament to promote social integration of Dalit families in Indian Society. This act is synonymous with that of honourkilling as multiple cases of honour crimes are reported.The offences under this act are as follows:
  • Forcing SC / ST peoples to eat or drink some uneatable or undesirable material.
  • Showing them in nude or with a painted face or body after removing clothes.
  • Trying to attack, dishonour, or offend the modesty of a SC / ST woman.
  • Forcing a SC/ST to leave his or her home or village is punishable under said act.
Suggestive Reforms
Conclusion

The Central and state governments should take the lead in enacting new, more rigorous regulations on honour killings and other religion-based crimes, as well as imposing severe penalties on community leaders who support or allow such crimes.A particular law such as the Prevention and Control of Honour Killing Act, on par with the Sati Prevention Act of 1987 and the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, is urgently needed. Reference could be taken from law implemented by Rajasthan. A dedicated law at centre would provide more reliable data and an urgency to protect couples at risk of “Honour crime”.

FAQs

WHAT IS THE MEANING OF HONOUR CRIMES?

Honour crimes are acts of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members who are perceived to have brought dishonour upon the family.

IS HONOUR KILLING REALLY HONOURABLE?

There is no ‘Honour’ in act of ‘Honour Killing’. Killing someone just for sake of them choosing a life partner of their choice is wrong and against the law of land. According to Article 21, 19(1)(a) and 14 of the Indian Constitution, the freedom to marry person of one’s choice is a fundamental right.

DOES KHAP PANCHAYATS HAVE AUTHORITY TO ORDER HONOUR KILLING?

The Rajasthan High court has stated that these panchayats have no authority to pass social blacklists, issue fines, or overlook a person’s fundamental rights.

WHAT IS THE REASON FOR HONOUR KILLINGS?

It was noticed by Supreme Court in a petition that only 3% of honour killings are linked to gotra, the rest 97% accounted for religion and other factors. This shows people’s attitudes regarding marriage in similar gotras and outside of the community are unacceptable. Especially when the marriage is inter-caste.

WHAT IS THE PUNISHMENT FOR HONOUR KILLING?

It is punishable under various provisions of Indian Penal Code under Section 299-304 for murder, Section 120 for criminal conspiracy, Section 107-116 for aiding and Section 34-35 for common intention.

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