In the interest of a special central law to prevent ‘honour killings’ and punish those who carry out such crimes, the Dalit Human Rights Defender Network, a coalition of anti-caste activists and organisations, has put together a 17-page draft Bill titled ‘The Freedom of Marriage and Association and Prohibition of Crimes in the Name of Honour Act 2022’. The Bill seeks to “provide justice, compensation and rehabilitation in crimes committed in the name of honour vis a vis caste, faith, age, gender, sexual orientation, language, class, race, status and tradition”.
The coalition is headed by A Kathir, the founder-director of Evidence, a rights-based organisation that has been providing legal aid and other assistance to families of caste crime victims, and has been a key player in drafting the Bill. So far, Rajasthan is the only state to have passed a Bill against honour killings and mob lynchings. The Dalit Human Rights Defender Network’s draft Bill, meanwhile, is intended to extend to the whole of India.
As the name suggests, the Bill first and foremost seeks to offer protection against victimisation in the name of honour. In the instance of such a crime, the Bill outlines the extent of punishment to be given to the perpetrators, and the compensation and rehabilitation for survivors. It also details the protective measures to be implemented, besides listing down various types of vicitmisations apart from murder, such as social and economic boycotts. Here’s what the Bill drafted by the organisation suggests.
The Bill emphasises the rights of adults to choose partners without the consent of their families, castes, tribes, religious communities or clans. It also seeks to extend protection not only to those choosing to enter a marriage, but also to any persons seeking to simply be in a relationship. Either a district magistrate or a nodal officer may receive an oral or written statement from the couple that they intend to be together, which the nearest police station is required to be notified about. The police are not to take action against the couple at the insistence of any other parties, including family members, relatives or religious community members.
The Bill specifically notes that protection must also be extended to couples who may be harassed on the basis of gender or sexual identities.
The Bill provides an extensive set of examples that can be considered as criminal victimisation in the name of dishonour to a caste, religion or any social norm. Some of them are, but not limited to, ostracisation or forced eviction of couples from their area of residence; abduction of one of the partners or anyone known to them; and imposing a social or economic boycott on the couple or their families. The Bill further covers possibilities of threats of physical harm, sexual violence, forced abortions, intimidation, causing psychological trauma through pressure to separate, seizing of important personal documents and items like laptops, phones etc.
The Bill is also careful to note that intimidation can come through messages or videos made viral on social media, which may incite others into threatening couples, or by causing disturbances at a person’s workplace.
The state government must, in consultation with the High Court, designate district courts as fast track courts to try offences outlined under this Bill. The trial, the Bill suggests, is to be concluded within three months of filing the chargesheet.
Notwithstanding anything contained under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), all offences outlined in the Bill are to be made non-bailable. The burden of proof of innocence is to be placed on the perpetrator. Those who commit ‘honour’ killings are to be punished with rigorous imprisonment for life and fined a minimum of Rs 10 lakh. Attempted ‘honour’ killings that result in causing disability to a person is to be punished with imprisonment of not less than 10 years and a fine of Rs 5 lakh. Anyone who abets, attempts or conspires to commit the offence, or encourages or assists the suicide of the victim, shall also be punished as if they themselves had committed that offence.
Further, the Bill suggests to empower judges of fast track or magisterial courts to pass an injunction against any party, such as even caste panchayats, restraining them from carrying out acts of intimidation. If any person has prior knowledge that a crime in the name of honour is about to take place, they may file a complaint in such a court, and the court is required to issue an injunction. The metropolitan magistrate or a special fast track court will be required to take suo motu cognisance on the basis of any reliable report that a crime motivated by honour will take place.
Disobedience of such an injunction is to be made punishable with either imprisonment of upto two years, a fine of Rs 1 lakh or both.
State governments must identify areas where honour killings or the assembly of caste panchayats have occurred in the last five years. When instances of intercaste and interfaith relationships come to their notice, directives are to be sent to the police stations in these identified areas to be additionally vigilant about trouble arising. A special cell of police for prevention of crimes in the name of honour is to be constituted in each district, and a dedicated 24-hour helpline is to be set up. The special cell must include the Superintendent of Police (SP), a District Social Welfare Officer, and a District Adi-Dravidar Welfare Officer.
With regard to the investigative and legal proceedings once a case goes to court, the state is to provide protection to victims, dependents and witnesses. Victims and dependents are entitled to be notified on time about bail applications by the perpetrator, and to be heard in all proceedings related to bail, parole, release, discharge or convictions. They shall also be entitled to travel and maintenance expenses during the investigation and trial period, besides socio-economic rehabilitation and relocation at this time.
Compensation for victims and witnesses is to be given in the form of immediate cash relief, medical aid, food, water, transport and shelter facilities by the state government. The state government is to ensure that such relief measure are given without discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation. Additionally, the state government is to coordinate with the Union government to include victims of honour-motivated crimes in the Victim Compensation Fund.
State governments must also ensure that safe houses are set up in each district for persons seeking protection against crimes in the name of honour. These safe houses must come under the supervision of the respective SPs and district magistrates. Those sheltering here must have uninhibited access to their lawyers or any NGOs providing them support.
The Home Ministry of the Union government is to work with states to sensitise law enforcement agencies and government departments. The Union government is also to table the measures taken by itself and the state governments in the Parliament every year. Importantly, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) is to be directed to include data on crimes in the name of honour in its reports.
If any police officer or administrative officer comes to know of a caste panchayat assembling with the intention of carrying out crimes against a couple or individual in the name of honour, the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) concerned or SP are to be notified. The DSP or SP is to immediately ensure that those attempting to assemble the caste panchayat are made aware of its illegality, and if necessary, ensure that adequate police force is deployed to stop such a congregation. In such an event, the sub-divisional magistrate or district magistrate must issue an order prohibiting the unlawful assembly of a caste panchayat. If a caste panchayat is constituted despite these measures, the police must file an FIR under sections 141 (unlawful assembly), 143 (punishment for unlawful assembly), 503 (criminal intimidation), and 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Speaking to TNM, Kathir pointed out that not just caste, but patriarchy too played a role in the killings in the name of honour. “This draft Bill is about gender justice too. A marriage ought to be a woman’s choice. But here, it goes beyond that to become a family’s choice, dictated by caste, religion and patriarchy. This Bill seeks to give protection to intercaste and interfaith couples. It is a move towards a casteless society,” he said, adding that India has the third highest number of murders over a person’s choice of partner. “The number of women who die by suicide because they are not able to be with a partner of their choice is also distressingly high in the country.”
It is also to be noted that in the case of ‘honour’ killings of intercaste couples, the current legislation does not allow the partner who is not from a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe community to receive justice under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act — another aspect that the draft Bill seeks to address.