Author : Neha Singh
Gender based violence has been in tenacious forms in India and one of which is Honour killing. Although it’s a crime but implication of it being an ‘Honour’ is deceptive. Honour killing is form of violence to regulate women’s choices of marriage and sexuality. Murder of not only women but also men is committed by their own relatives in the name of preserving Honour of the family that has been damaged because of their autonomy. Furthermore, the conception of Honour and shame as the justification of the violence and murders reflects the historical background of it in many countries such as the Trojan war of Greece. The engagement of pre-marital or extra-marital affair relations by women provided a ‘right to kill’ to their husbands or families in Ancient Rome, Peru, Britain, Brazil, Latin American societies and many Arab countries.
In Vikas Yadav vs State of U.P., (2016) 9 SCC 541, the infamous Nitish Katara murder case, the Supreme Court stated that “Neither the family members nor the members of the collective have any right to assault the boy chosen by the girl. Her individual choice is her self-respect and creating dent in it is destroying her Honour. And to impose so called brotherly or fatherly honor or class honor by eliminating her choice is a crime of extreme brutality.” However, the perception that these crimes instigates from the culture, the customs and traditions is very unexceptional also is alarming as the society refuses transformation, and the existence of Khaap Panchayats (Community Council) in the state of Haryana is the acknowledgment by society of the widespread presence of these rigid traditions. Inter-caste and inter-faith marriages are most subjected to Honour killings in India.
According to UN reports the data on Honour killing is scarce, but conferring studies show that it remains a practice in parts of Asia; particularly in rural areas and hence such crimes often go unrecorded and unreported. India law does not have a separate law for Honour killings and has not defined the offence ass such anywhere. The UN has recommended to constitute such offences. Although, India has a national obligation of Art. 14, 15, 19 and 21 of Constitution of India to deal with offences such as Honour killing and international commitment of Beijing declaration, UDHR and Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW).
According to the former UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women: “Honour is generally seen as residing in the bodies of women. Frameworks of ‘Honour’, and its corollary ‘shame’, operate to control, direct and regulate women’s sexuality and freedom of movement by male members of the family. Women who fall in love, engage in extramarital relationships, seek a divorce, choose their own husbands are seen to transgress the boundaries of ‘appropriate’ sexual behaviour. ‘Regulation’ of such behaviour may in extreme cases involve horrific direct violence including ‘Honour’ killing. In these contexts, the rights of women to control their own lives, to liberty and freedom of expression, association, movement and bodily integrity mean very little.”
Constituting a separate new law for Honour killing in India will bring clarity to the law enforcement authorities and enable the government to collect data on the matter. Need for amending the Special Marriage Act is also required for prevention of Honour killings, the Act demands the couple to publicize their marriage 1 month before their wedding and the process of registration takes 45 days leaving the couple vulnerable.
On a national level, criminal justice responses are accommodating to tackle with the issue. The establishment of specific crime of Honour killing and inclusion of the elements that depicts the specific crime differ significantly across the legislation and conviction of Honour killing. Various policies and practices can be acquired by the government to reduce the prevalence of Honour killings in the country such as early intervention of law enforcement authorities starting campaigns and helplines to help the victim and extend awareness. Multi-directional and multi-agency efforts can be approached to address the issue and start initiatives such as training and sensitization of community police officers, social workers, and prosecutors on such cases. Instituting special units and expertise of police, prosecution and court to deal exclusively with cases of Honour killing, Jordan has created special units within its judiciary to deal with Honour crimes.
According to UN studies, 50,000 women per year are murdered by their partners and relatives globally as of 2017. When issues such as violence against women has been addressed comprehensively across the world on national and international level, various conventions and legislations are in effect yet offences such as Honour killing are in practice which implies that we still have a lot to achieve. The customs of policing women have to depart and society has to progress to accept the autonomy of women and their decisions for their lives.