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Author: Shikha Mishra, III year of LL.B. from Modi Law College, Kota


Killing someone is ultimately a crime. However, killing someone while in official uniform is considered a fulfilment of duty. But what happens when this uniform is a filter of thought which pledges its allegiance to uphold social honour according to standards set by orthodox, casteist ideology? It results in the most humiliating forms of honour crimes. Honour killing is the most aggressive honour of crime. It is also referred to as ‘Shame Killing’. It elucidates as the acts of violence resulting in the killing of a person from a family or a social group such as a caste performed by other members of that family or social group because the actions of the former brought social degradation to the latter.

The caste system is rooted deep in Indian societies for many years. This system has brought along more destruction and violence than social development. In India, casteism plays a huge role in honour killing and although men and women both fall prey to these crimes, women are the majority victims. Casteism has proved to be a poison that continues to kill democracy and companionship.

What drives Honor Killing?

Ancient and provincial patriarchy which goes hand-in-hand with casteism is the base mentality behind honour killing. Caste classification has to lead the way to hierarchical relationships between ‘higher’ and ‘lower' classes. The representatives or elders of every such social group scale mountains to protect and defend their honour, even if it means resorting to foul and, at times, even horrifying strategy.

In backward areas availability of social education is comparatively less, and an orthodox and patriarchal mindset prevails which is not ready to accept any new form of lifestyle. Men are pushed towards hypogamy whereas women are pushed towards hypergamy When any member of a social group goes against these stereotypical rules, it results in honour crimes.

In fairly rural Indian families, women are objectified as the pride or honour of a family. The pride of a family is bound by the women’s celibacy. Thus, any form of social disdain directed toward the women of a family is considered as directed towards the family itself. Aggressive clashes between families take place when an outsider is the one who points the finger of humiliation towards a woman.

Though, when the actions of the woman herself are considered shameful, the circumstances take a turn for the worse. A woman’s actions such as marital disloyalty, unapproved relationships, are some of the reasons which trigger honour killing. From time to time, these reasons also result in victim demonization when a woman who has fallen prey to rape is accused of having brought shame to the social group or family. Though, amidst all, relations or marriage between a man and a woman with an unapproved caste gap are the main reason for honour killings.

In some states, such as Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, etc. self-appointed community councils, that are also known as ‘khap panchayats, work to solve internal conflicts as elders of the community. The legislation or government has not granted any responsibility upon these khaps to do so and hence, they are non-government bodies. These khaps play as a judge, executioner, and jury for their class and will stop at no length to flatten their honour. Many of the honour killing cases have been tracked up to these khaps and several members of such groups have been punished by the Apex Court.

Legislative Response

In the aftermath of recent cases, the Honor killing has come out as a leading crime. Though there is no separate law regarding this offence. All penalties and imprisonment sentences are decided concerning the already present regulations in the Indian Penal Code regarding murder and culpable homicide.

The following sections are deal while punishing the criminal:

1. Sections 34 & 35 – Sanction for criminal acts done by several people with common intention.

2. Sections 107-116 - Sanction for abetment of offences like murder and culpable homicide by a person.

3. Section 120 (A) & (B) – Sanction for any person involved in a criminal conspiracy.

4. Sections 299-304 – Sanction for any culprit found guilty of murder or culpable homicide. The Sanction for murder is a life sentence or death along with a fine whereas the punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder is imprisonment up to 10 years or life imprisonment and fine.

5. Section 307 – Sanction for attempted murder with imprisonment up to 10 years and fine. If the victim is hurt in the process, the sanction may extend to life imprisonment.

6. Section 308 – Sanction for attempted culpable homicide with imprisonment up to 3 years or fine or even both. If the victim is hurt in the process, the Sanction may extend up to 7 years, with or without a fine.

Considering all the aspects, the Supreme Court has started taking decisions regarding the formulation of new legislation. Though, a difference of opinion has arisen during this process. Some think that honour killing should have separate legislation while others think that the laws which are already present, can deal with this crime efficiently.

Those who feel that new legislation should be constructed express that making honour killing a separate crime would help in bringing more clarity to the law enforcement agencies as to what steps they should take. They put forward that an amendment is made to the Indian Evidence Act. To date, it is the victim who has been asked to present proof of the occurrence of the crime. This puts more pressure on the victim who is already suffering from the upshot of the offence.

The suggested amendment puts the burden of proof on the accused who will then have to prove their innocence in court. Therefore, the khap panchayat and family members will not be able to escape with such crimes. Emphasis has also been made on joint liability. Ergo, the khap panchayat, as well as the people who carry out the killing, will receive rigorous punishment for the crime.

On the other hand, those who argue against the formulation of the new legislation say that the existing sanctions for the offences of murder and culpable homicide are sufficient to restraint honour killing. They also support the fact that a new set of laws will not help in this issue since it is the social mentality that sanctions these actions to stop inter-religion or inter-caste marriages and that this can only be prevented by creating social awareness and literate people to develop a non-partisan instead of a stereotypical one.

Landmark Judgments

In October 2020, a case of attempted honour killing came forward in Allahabad. The senior Police officer was ordered to rescue a girl named Sheeba from the custody of her father and brother. The Muslim girl had converted to Hinduism to marry a Hindu man which had resulted in threats of honour killing from her family. The Bench of Justice Munir in the Allahabad High Court looked over the details and legality of the marriage and also confirmed the consent of both the husband and the wife. In such a way that was a serious threat to the girl’s life, the Court chose to be on the side of caution and ordered the extraction of the girl.

The writ petition was filed in 2010 by the NGO, named Shakti Vahini, ergo the petitioner had sought directions to States and requested the Centre to formulate a plan to restraint honour killings. On 27th March 2018, the Apex Court passed a landmark judgment concerning this writ petition. The Apex Court held that any attempt to prevent two consenting adults from getting married made by khap panchayats or any other social groups would be considered illegal and the Court also suggests measures for its remedy, prevention, and punishment. Trials for cases would be held within 6 months of their occurrence and all the dates would be assigned to the same court to ensure their expeditious disposal. This guideline would also apply to the pending cases.

Inference and Conclusion

As conformist mentalities and caste systems continue to destroy our country, we must bring our focus to solving this issue. Khap Panchayats continue their reign of violence among their classes. Marrying into different castes or religions only increases unity and reduces the grip of casteism. Educating the poor ones and bringing literacy to every part of our country will stop many more crimes other than honour killing too.


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