Honour Killing: The least recognized form of violence against women’s autonomy

The term ‘honour killing’ has often been misinterpreted as the ritualistic method of murder that is precipitated by the perceived loss of the aggressor’s honour. The victims in this form of crime are generally women and the perpetrators are males. A widespread form of gender violence against the autonomy of women particularly in the area of marriage and sexuality needs to be brought to concern and inquired into.

What is honour killing?

Honour killing is the form of cultural crime that involves the murder of the family members of a female by one or more family members of the male wherein the aggressors believe that the victim had brought some kind of dishonour upon the community or the family. The Human Rights Watch has defined ‘honor killings’ as the act of violence (usually murder) that is committed by the family members of a male against the family members of the female that have supposedly said to bring dishonour upon the family. The murder that is committed by the perpetrators is in order to emancipate the dishonour caused and hence save the family from the shame that would take place due to the acts of the female.

Marital rape- An Oxymoron?

In India, if a female marries a male who does not belong to the same religion or caste, this leads to honor killing. Khap panchayats play a significant role in giving out punishments in favour of the perpetrators who exercise the act of honour killing. These panchayats mete out the punishments to those couples who do not marry within the same lineage (Gotra) or those who transgress certain social norms. 

The rationale for the act of honour killing

The preeminent reason for the act of honour killing in India is the prevalence of the caste system. The practice of the caste system has continued to be rigid and the habitats of the rural areas disapprove to change their attitude towards marriage. Indian society has turned out to be patriarchal in nature where the men are expected to enforce certain traditions that would protect the honour of the family from any kind of shame due to which women are expected to conduct their actions ‘honourably’.

The belief that the female member of a family brings dishonour to the family that in turn leads to the commitment of honour killing needs to be unveiled and brought to reality. This dishonour may not be the same for all types of families. The dishonour that is said to bring shame to the family is perhaps the result of some kind of behaviour or even the suspicion of such behaviour. The behaviour here may include women wearing a dress that is unacceptable in that community or family, a desire to marry the man of her own choice, preventing or terminating an arranged marriage, engaging in sexual acts with the male of choice and various other reasons. 

Even if the rationale involves an act that is derogatory to the women, honour killing does not halt at that. These acts may involve women being a victim of sexual assault, seeking a divorce from a scurrilous husband or even an alleged crime of adultery. 

Has the landmark judgement immobilized the crime of honour killing?

The Indian media and the legal professionals had recognized the famous judgement of 2010 as the landmark judgement concerning honour killing. The judgement given by the Karnal District Court in March 2010 ordered the execution of five perpetrators that were involved in the honour killing of Manoj and Babli. The court also gave a life sentence to the head of the local caste-based council (khap panchayat) that had passed the order to kill Babli(19) and Manoj(23). Manoj and Babli were members of the same clan. They had eloped and married around June 2007. A week later their mutilated bodies were found in an irrigation canal. 

This was a landmark judgement as it was the first case in India that had convicted Khap panchayats and rewarded a capital punishment for the act of honour killing. This was also the first case where the groom’s family had filed the case in a court regarding the matter of honour killing. In spite of such a landmark judgement and a harsh punishment rewarded for the crime, the act of honour killing has not come to an end. There have been instances of honour killing in contemporary times. The mentality of rural people still needs to be evolved. They still target the autonomy of women and basically control their actions.

Lack of Reliable Data

In 2012, the Law Commission submitted a report that outlined the legal framework for dealing with the crime of honour killing. The Prohibition of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliance Bill was aimed to curb any kind of activities that were related to honour killing, by criminalizing it. It also recommended certain punishments, counselling and legal awareness for couples and protection measures for couples. However, this bill was not brought up by an MP in the Parliament.

In 2019, Thol, Thirumavalavan, an MP from Chidambaram asked for the status of the pending Bill in the Lok Sabha. Nityanand Rai, the Minister of State alluded to the NCRB report and referred to the underreported number of cases of honour killing. He went to say that the existing provisions of the Indian Penal Code were sufficient to do away with honour killing as the number of cases was minimal.

The lack of reliable data regarding this crime is a convenient scapegoat for the delay to introduce legislation pertaining to honour killing because of how it would affect the vote banks.  

Contemporary instances of Honour Killing

There have been various instances of honour killing in India. A 21-year old girl was hacked to death in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh in 2019 as an act of honour killing. Reem Pal (the girl) had an affair with a boy from another caste and community (Yadav community). The youths had a court marriage in November 2019 and then the girl went missing after she returned home married. The police later discovered that the father and son of the girl had taken her to an industrial area in Chakeri and brutally killed her with a hammer. Her body was then thrown in a sewer stuffed inside a sack.

A 19-year old girl who was a second-year BA student had been a victim of honour killing in April 2020. The girl’s family had suspected that she had run away with Amanpreet Singh (Jujhar’s son) as she had gone missing. Jujhar Singh was beaten by the girl’s family and later on, the girl’s family sedated her and strangled her to death. This incident of honour killing took place at the Sasoli village near Garhshankar in Punjab. The police had arrested five people that were members of the family that included the girl’s mother and a cousin (constable in Punjab police). There have been various other instances of honour killing that take place daily but do not come into recognition as they arise in rural areas.

Concluding remarks

A crime as brutal as honour killing cannot be ignored that is prevalent even in the contemporary timezone. An extensive range of measures is needed to tackle the patriarchal crimes that are against the autonomy of women in India with immediate effect. The women in India are campaigning against the patriarchal killings and the restrictions on the choice, mobility, and autonomy of women. 

To prevent such crimes from taking place, the social outlook and mentality of the people need to be changed. The killing of innocent youths does not give honour, and this has to be understood by the perpetrators. This ongoing issue needs to be highlighted. Culture and religion must not be any kind of excuse for killing a woman as it always has a subjective interpretation. This is a serious issue that goes unnoticed in contemporary times.


Arush Mittal | Hidayatullah National Law University

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