Author: Anamika Krishnan, pursuing LL.M. in Health Law, Policy and Bioethics from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, Indianapolis, USA
“There is no honour in killing.”
An honour killing is the homicide of a member of family, due to perpetrator’s belief that the victim has brought shame or dishonour to the family, or has violated the principles of a community or a religion. A more comprehensive definition for the same is that “honour killings are acts of vengeance, usually death, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonour upon the family. A woman can be targeted by (individuals within) her family for a variety of reasons, including: refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce- even from an abusive husband- or (allegedly) committing adultery. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that ‘dishonours’ her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life.”[i]
The term applies to both women and men generally. But, honour killings are often the collective result of strongly held patriarchal views on women and depict the position women hold in our society. India has registered an almost 800% rise in the number of killings in the name of honour as reported in 2016.[ii] The surge may seem to reflect people’s willingness to report such crimes, but it is pertinent to note that it is only a beginning. People still consider such killings just and reasonable to uphold the outrageous concepts of values of various communities. In my personal observation and opinion, honour based violence is still an under-reported crime and a social evil, which slays the rights of the women, especially. The most complicated issue is that of the still undetermined relation between the women and honour based violence. Further, in most countries, data on honour killings are absent or collected unsystematically and also, reported as mere suicides or accidents. Women are seen as having besmirched the honour of her family. Families are ashamed to report such crimes and thus, it becomes an under-reported form of violence against women. This paper does not limit to honour killings as the author believes that there are several other forms of honour based violence like acid attacks, abductions, mutilations, shooting, burning, stoning, strangulation etc. Thus, this article attempts to unveil this under-reported social evil in the context of Women’s rights and portray the hardcore reality of violence against women in the name of honour and put forward socio-legal solutions for the same.
CURRENT SITUATION IN INDIA: STATISTICS
According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics, Indian police registered 251 cases of honour killings in 2015 as compared to 28 cases in 2014.[iii]The highest number of such crimes was reported in Uttar Pradesh. By now, the state has earned dubious distinction for the honour based violence in practice.Haryana is also infamous for its honour killings, mainly in the upper caste of the society, among Rajputs and Jats. As per the NCRB Data, Uttar Pradesh has reported highest number of honour based murders of 4372, followed by Bihar 3178, Maharashtra 2509 and West Bengal 2096. According to Honour Based Violence Network (HBVN), average of 1000 honour killings occur in India every year, out of which 900 belongs to Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab and 100 belongs to rest of India.[iv]Participating in International Child Abduction, Relocation and Forced Marriages Conference organised by the London Metropolitan University, Chandigarh based legal experts Anil Malhotra and Ranjit Malhotra opined in their joint paper that the total figure for India would be about the same as estimated for Pakistan, which researchers suggest has the highest per capita incidence of honour killings in the world.[v]
ENLISTING ORIGINS OF HONOUR BASED VIOLENCE
Traditional misinterpretations of religion have played a role in developing a patriarchal culture that places emphasis on female chastity and male superiority. The power dynamics of patriarchy reduce women to their reproductive potential. Women are treated as mere objects and thus, in such patriarchal societies, men control much of the lives of women, especially their social relationships. Society acts as a judge to check a man’s ability to protect his family’s honour. He is left with power even to kill those people who tarnish the so called “honour” of his family. But, what exactly is “honour”? Cambridge English dictionary defines honour as ‘the quality that combines respect, pride and honesty or to feel you must do something because it is morally right, even if you do not want to do it.’ It points out towards the concept of morality. Morality is defined as a set of personal or social standards for good or bad behaviour and character.
This is the point where interpretations of religions and communities regarding segregation of good and bad go wrong. Renowned thinker and author, C.S.Lewis views morality as having impact on our behaviour in three levels:
(i) To ensure fair play and harmony between individuals
(ii) To help us make good individuals in order to have a good society, and;
(iii) To keep us in a good relationship with the power that created us.
But, morality has become a complicated issue in the multi-cultural world we live in today. What may seem morally right to one may not be so for another. But people resist accepting this diversity in thoughts, which are inherent in an extraordinarily complex society like ours. In fact, the term “honour-killing” or “honour based violence” itself is a misnomer. How can we relate honour to killing or fatal attacks? But, for the sake of addressing the issue, this paper will continue using the term.
The origins of the practice run back into cripple-minded individuals who wanted to establish unquestionable control over women and helpless members of their communities. Some others say that it originated among nomadic people who carries valuables with them and did not have proper recourse to law, and thus, they used aggression to protect their properties. Cultures of honour thus appear among people in regions where official law enforcement is out of reach. Once a culture of honour exists, it is difficult for its members to make the transition to a culture of law. If people link it to religion, it is absurd. None of the religions or their books condones honour based violence against women. In fact, in India, Rig Vedic women enjoyed high status in society and were always given opportunity to attain high intellectual and spiritual standards. There was no sati system or early marriage. So, perpetrators trying to justify their actions on religious grounds cannot be entertained. It is deeply depressing to see states failing to end impunity for honour based violence.Hindu honour killings in India seem largely confined to the north and are perpetuated by socio-cultural factors largely specific to India. In northern India, honour crimes are even explicitly sanctioned by caste-based councils called khap panchayats. Although, inter-caste and inter-gotra marriages were made legal, most of the Hindus never accept them. Some of the Muslim scholars justify honour based violence like lethal stoning is needed for people engaged in adultery and lashes for extra marital sex. It just came down as a culture and not as a religious practice. But people in order to save them from punishment, try to hide under veils of religions. In fact, the Holy Quran says, “whoso slayeth a believer of set purpose, his reward is hell forever. Allah is wroth against him and he hath cursed him and prepared for him an awful doom.”[vi]
In most cultures, men are said to uphold the honour while women only are considered to be spoiling it. Whenever a woman destroys honour, there arises a need for immediate revenge to restore the damage. Thus, honour based violence gets into action. There are instances when people attack or kill a family member if they are homosexual or transgender. Some of the societies believe that women bring dishonour to the family through their sexual behaviour. But, in recent times, it is seen that women who gain economic independence from patriarchal families strive to make a change and then, the male family members intervene in an oppressive manner to regain power. This also is honour based violence. There have been misconceptions that killing or attacking someone for reasons like inter-caste marriages, being victims of rapes etc are to be treated as honour crimes. But, it is extremely important to note that in a dynamic world, honour based violence takes several forms and any attempt to control members of the family in fear of losing honour or control over them is to be called as an honour crime. So, finally when we enlist the reasons for honour based violence, we can summarise them as:
Patriarchal views on women
Misinterpretations of honour
Misinterpretations of religious ethics
INFAMOUS INSTANCES : THE OBNOXIOUS FACE OUR DEMOCRACY
Manoj Babli Honour Killing case- It was the honour killing of Indian newlyweds Manoj Banwala and Babli in June 2007. Both of them belonged to the Jat community and marrying within same clan is treated as incest. After marriage, while they were eloping, family members of Babli kidnapped them. Babli was forcefully made to drink pesticide and Manoj was strangled before her and both of them were killed. This case owes its historical importance for being the first resulting in the conviction of Khap Panchayats. It is a landmark judgment, a victory over these infamous assemblies, which acted for years with impunity as parallel judicial bodies.
Murder of Asha Saini- In June 2010, Delhi witnessed a brutal honour killing in Swarup Nagar, when 19 year old Asha and her boyfriend Yogesh, 20 were tortured, electrocuted and beaten to death by the girl’s family who opposed their relationship as the boy belonged to a lower caste.
Deepti Chikkara Murder- Deepti was a school teacher at an MCD school in Uttarakhand. She was strangled to death by her mother and brother for trying to marry one Lalit Vats, who belonged to a different caste.
Nitish Katara murder- Nitish was a business executive and the son of an IAS Officer. He was murdered on February 17, 2002 by Vikas Yadav, the son of Uttar Pradesh politician D.P. Yadav. Nitish was in a relationship with D.P.Yadav’s daughter Bharti for a long time and the girl’s family did not approve this. He was murdered by Bharti’s brother, cousin and a hired contract killer. All three have now been sentenced to life terms for abducting and killing Nitish.
THE WAY FORWARD: SEARCHING FOR THE SOLUTIONS
The issue of Honour based violence when viewed broadly is a threat to Human rights. But, for the sake of the theme, we confine this crime under the head of Women’s rights. Our Indian Constitution declares men and women equal under the law, yet the male dominated, private sphere of society leaves an ideal space for honour crimes to creep into domains of women’s rights. Honour based violence is one among the most brutal forms of violence perpetrated against women in order to control and punish their sexuality and basic freedoms. The quest for solutions to this perpetual social evil is not an easy ride. Considering the extraordinary complexity and texture of Indian democracy and its socio-political and economic reality, the way forward is hard, but we cannot refrain from making a change.
How long can we let women suffer? Some of the practical solutions are put down below:
(i) What is the fate of awareness programmes? According to Cambridge English Dictionary, “awareness” means knowledge that something exists, or understanding of a situation or subject at the present time based on information or experience. Mere advancing of learning or awareness programmes is not a solution. The awareness should get injected into the souls of those who are being reformed. What can mere government initiated study classes do? In the author’s opinion, a new language, a new approach should come up. By language, we do not mean words or phrases. Language is the system of communication between people and a new such system should rise. The aim is to reform not to inform. The picture of ideal woman being obedient, house-wife and all-sacrificing should be brought down. An ideal woman is the one who can fight for her rights.
Art is a way to change culture. Art can take many forms; music, dance and drama. Art speaks where words are unable to speak. Awareness can be brought through forms of art. Recently, a trend has come up where protests are patronised through songs. For instance, in Kerala, the band Oorali holds the caption “music is a protest”. Such innovative ways to spread awareness can be done through Art alone.
(ii) There is no specific law to deal with honour based violence. It is very hard to trace out evidences of such attacks. It is a dire need to have separate legislation to control and eradicate such social evils. Special complaint cells or units must be opened in every district to deal with the complaints on honour based violence and police officers must file FIR with the nearest magistrate within 24 hours of receipt of such complaints. There is ample space to enact a Prohibition of Honour Crimes Act.
(iii) Separate counselling centres should be set up to provide proper mental and emotional support to victims of honour based violence. Civil Society Organisations assisted by Government can be vested with this duty.
(iv) The counselling or help centres should provide a toll free 24 hour’s phone number to register complaints and the government should advertise it to the maximum possible extent. Community based awareness camps can also publicise this information to the general public.
(v) Social policy analysts should focus on establishing policy instruments that demystify the mindset of class struggle in the rigid caste system.
India is the largest democracy in the world. Yet it is not free from religion and caste based hierarchy. Despite the dynamics of globalisation, most of the people in India still ride on the premise that social class status must be protected by all means. The belief that sexual and marital interactions across the castes constitutes losing of family status or honour, is a mindset that has been and will continue to drive this primitive practice of honour crimes unless a paradigm shift in public policy is put in place. Honour based violence portrays the obnoxious face of Indian democracy. The educated elite and intelligentsia criticise honour crimes from a distance. Mere criticism without making the suggestions operative is a total folly. It needs to be addressed as a gender based violence, when viewed through the lens of Women’s rights. The fact that honour based violence is under-reported and ubiquitous is a key factor that has made it difficult to demystify the practice. The legislature must bring on a stringent legislation to combat honour based violence. Special attention should be directed towards mainstreaming honour crimes into criminology. We need to reiterate to the world that “Every woman has the right to be treated with dignity and respect.”
[i]Violence against Women and Honour Crimes, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, 2001. [ii]India sees huge spike in ‘honour’ killings, AL JAZEERA (Dec. 7, 2016, 10.09 AM), http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/12/india-sees-huge-spike-honour-killings-161207153333597.html [iii]IndraniBasu, Honour killings reported in India, HUFFPOST (Dec. 7, 2016, 10.52AM)http://www.huffingtonpost.in/2016/12/07/honour-killings-reported-in-india-have-increased-by-796-in-a-ye_a_21622177/ [iv]Statistics and Data, HBVN, http://hbv-awareness.com/statistics-data/ [v]Anil Malhotra & Ranjit Malhotra, More than 1000 honour killings in India every year, TOI, (Jul 4,2010, 2.20PM) https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/More-than-1000-honour-killings-in-India-every-year-Experts/articleshow/6127338.cms [vi]Holy Quran, An Nisa- 93