India is a nation where traditions and customs are widely followed. The family’s dignity comes first and they expect to lead a very respectful life in society. There is a huge divide among the population in the country in the name of caste, religion, sex and locality. The prevailing social evils like casteism and discrimination on the grounds of religion, lead to honour killings. Honour killing is a murder performed on an individual either on an outsider or a family member to protect their dignity in society. To date, honour killings are still prevalent in India despite, the development which is happening in the country.
Recently, a Dalit man was killed in Hyderabad by his Muslim wife’s brother. The man was killed because the woman’s family didn’t accept the interfaith marriage. It was also stated by the woman that her brother tried to hang her when she stated that she wanted the marry Nagaraju who even was willing to change into a Muslim for her1. Due to the deep-rooted traditional cultures present in India, honour killings are based on orthodox beliefs. India is considered to be a patriarchal society where women are seen as a commodity and not as equals to men. They see women as a representation of the family’s reputation. Their rights and choices aren’t given any preferences even when the constitution sees men and women equally.
Defining ‘Honour killing’
An individual is killed in ‘Honour killing’ if a family member or hired killer believes that the person has compromised their moral character and, as a result, tarnished the family’s reputation. Both the victims and the perpetrators of honour killings may be male or female, and the crime may be committed for a variety of criminal reasons. The victim or the offender may be the target of an honour killing in situations where there has been an evident sexual transgression.
Factors causing Honour Killings
The concept of Honour killing was present in India since ancient times. People have reported crimes against their relatives and described these executions as a demonstration carried out to preserve the family’s dignity. Honour killings have historically been committed primarily as sexual orientation-based crimes and have been used as a tool to maintain the dominance of men in society over women. This doesn’t mean that the man has been completely spared from this horror, though.
Illiteracy also is a reason for the honour killings as many of the people wouldn’t be open enough to understand the concepts like homosexuality and inter-caste or faith marriages. Many households aren’t comfortable accepting marriages with lower caste members and this is one of the major factors triggering the honour killings in India especially.
The presence of Khap panchayat is also a reason for the honour crime to be existent in India; also called caste courts. The Khap panchayat, an endogamous, gotra-centric clannish body, developed into a powerful institution in the area around Delhi during the Middle Ages in response to the tenuous state of law and order brought on by the recurrent incursions of foreign invaders into that region. It served two purposes: to protect its members and to mediate conflicts among them. However, the Khap panchayat is an unauthorized organization to declare that something is unethical because of their ideologies.
The case of Laxmi Kahhwaha v. The Rajasthan State2 along with a PIL (Public Interest Litigation)had drawn the attention of the Rajasthan High Court. The court had observed that these unconstitutional self-styled panchayat systems have been imposing their authority on the weaker sections of the society, especially on women. It further observed, “These panchayats had no position whatsoever to pass social blacklists, or impose any fine on someone and ignore a person’s basic rights.”
Provisions present against the Honour Killings in India
The offence of Honour killing is against the fundamental rights assured by the Constitution. It violates Article14, 15 (1) and (3), 17, 18, 19. It also violates Article 21 i.e., the Right to Protection of life and personal liberty which says that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law3 which cannot be infringed unless prescribed by the law which is fair, free and just as per the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India4.
On the recommendation of the community panchayat, a 20-year-old woman in West Bengal was gang raped because she was dating a guy from a different group. The Supreme Court took suo moto cognizance of the case5. As part of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, the Court reaffirmed that the State has a responsibility to uphold the right to choose one’s spouse.
Under Section 3 of the Indian Majority Act, 1875 any person who has attained 18 years of their age is considered to be a major6. However, the eligibility for marriage is 18 years for women and 21 years for men where they have the right to choose their partner and it was held in the case of Lata Singh v. State of U.P. & Anr.7 by the Division bench of the Supreme Court that the inter-caste marriages are valid according to the Hindu Marriage Act and it was also stated that if the parents had a problem in such marriage, they can cut the social relations with them but they don’t have any right to harm the couple. In the event of such violence, the court can institute criminal proceedings against them. The Supreme Court, in the petition by the NGO Shakti Vahini v. Union of India8 declared, “It is illegal for Khap panchayats to scuttle marriages between two consenting adults.”
Indian Penal Code 18609 provisions-
Any individual found guilty of murder or culpable homicide that does not amount to murder is punished under Sections 299–304. The murder penalty consists of a fine, life in prison, or death. Culpable homicide that is not murder is punishable by a fine and life in prison or a maximum of 10 years in jail.
Section 307: Threatening to kill is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine. If someone is hurt, the sentence may be increased to life in prison.
Section 308: Penalties for attempting to commit culpable homicide include up to three years in jail, a fine, or both. If it results in harm, the offender faces up to 7 years in prison, a fine, or both.
Criminalize anyone who participates in a criminal conspiracy under Sections 120A and 120B.
Sections 107 to 116: Punishes those who aid and abet killings, including culpable homicide.
Criminal acts committed by multiple people in service of a single goal are punishable under Sections 34 and 35.
The Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribes Act, 1989, The Protection of Human rights Act 2006, The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, Dowry Act, etc., are present to punish the offender, whoever commits the offence. Due to Casteism, there are many cases where the lower caste people have been tortured and killed for marrying a superior caste person.
Prevention of Crimes in the Name of Honour and Tradition Bill 2010- According to a recent ruling by the Supreme Court, parents or Khap Panchayats cannot intervene in an adult couple’s decision to be married. The most recent decision confirms the Supreme Court’s 2010 directive to the central government to stop honour killing. There has been a proposal to amend IPC and remove the Khap panchayats.
Punishments and Penalties
The convict is awarded death penalty or imprisonment for life and a penalty more than Rs. 5 lakhs. In situations of grave injury, the punishment is 10 years in imprisonment and a fine of Rs 3 lakh, or 3-5 years in prison and a fine of up to 2 lakhs.
Honour killing is a barbaric practice which is still happening in a nation like India which has been developing at a very fast pace. Due to the deep-rooted social evils, the practice is ongoing in rural areas mostly. These types of killings occur due to the disapproval of marriage with the lower community or a caste person or when the sexuality of the persons differs or due to the loss of virginity prior to marriage, and the list goes on.
For same-sex marriages and inter-faith and cultural marriages, it is important to notice that many people in rural areas are uneducated and still have outdated ideologies as they don’t have proper exposure. However, it is important to understand that even though a person’s interest differs from their family, they do not have the authority or the right to take the law into their hands and kill them. Being in a democratic country, people have a right to choose the way they want to live. People have a right to choose their sexuality and their partner as it is their choice. Article 21 doesn’t just mean mere breathing, it is a right to live with dignity and peacefully. The choices opted by the persons regarding their priorities in life do not affect anybody and no one has a charge over a major’s life.
- Laxmi Kahhwaha v. The Rajasthan State, AIR 1999, Raj HC
- The Indian Constitution, art. 21.
- Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, 1978 AIR 597.
- In Re: India Woman says Gang-raped on Orders of Village Court published in Business & Financial News dated 23-1-2014.
- The Indian Majority Act, s. 3.
- Lata Singh v State of UP & Anr, Writ Petition (crl.) 208 of 2004.
- Shakti Vahini v. Union of India, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 231 of 2013.
- The Indian Penal Code, 1860.
This article is written by K. Mihira Chakravarthy, 1st year, B.A. L.L.B. student from Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University (DSNLU).