Despite the fact that such crimes are neither new nor on the decline, there is no law against honour crimes in India.

India needs a separate law to tackle honour crimes Activists demand is govt listeningAmit Nair and Mamta Chaudhary; Twitter/Dinesh Kumawat
news Crime Sunday, May 21, 2017 - 10:49

You know how fairytales go? Boy meets girl, and they fall in love. A romantic song and few familial misunderstandings later, they drive off into the sunset and the cliche, live happily ever after.

In reality? Not so much.

Amit Nair and Mamta Chaudhary were married for two years, against the wishes of her parents. On Wednesday, a hitman, along with Mamta’s parents, arrived at the couple’s residence in Jaipur, and shot Amit in the chest three to four times, according to a report in The Indian Express.

This instance of honour killing is just one of many that have taken place across the country.

Using religion and caste as backing, families and relatives brutally assault or murder the husband and/or wife, whose only fault is that they fell in love with someone from a different caste.

One of the most brutal instances of such killings is the murder of Sankar, a Dalit man from Coimbatore. Sankar fell in love with Kawsalya, an upper caste Hindu. Escalating caste-based violence, a group of men hacked Shankar to death for marrying an upper caste woman without the permission of her family.

Read: Living to defy caste: Kausalya's incredible journey since her husband was hacked for 'honour'

In another case, Abhirami, an OBC woman and Marimuthu, a Dalit boy. decided to get married despite her family’s objections. After the birth of their daughter, Soundarya, the couple decided to return home to Chennai. Abhirami’s brother invited Marimuthu under false pretences and along with his father, brutally hacked Marimuthu’s body into pieces and left it near a river.

Despite the fact that such crimes are neither new nor on the decline, there is no law against honour crimes in India.

‘Honour’ killing not recognised

The Supreme Court, in 2006, ruled that, “Inter-caste marriages are in fact in the national interest as they will result in destroying the caste system.” The SC further added,

“We, therefore, direct that the administration/police authorities throughout the country will see to it that if any boy or girl who is a major undergoes inter-caste or inter-religious marriage with a woman or man who is a major, the couple are not harassed by anyone nor subjected to threats or acts of violence, and anyone who gives such threats or harasses or commits acts of violence either himself or at his instigation, is taken to task by instituting criminal proceedings by the police against such persons and further stern action is taken against such persons as provided by law. We sometimes hear of `honour' killings of such persons who undergo inter-caste or inter-religious marriage of their own free will. There is nothing honourable in such killings, and in fact they are nothing but barbaric and shameful acts of murder committed by brutal, feudal minded persons who deserve harsh punishment.”

However, despite such rulings, honour crimes have hardly been recognised as a separate crime.

Until 2013, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) had 12 causes/motives of murder, and honour killing was not one of them. It was only from 2014 that honour killing was recognised as a separate cause/motive for murder, one of another six added to the records.

NCRB reports show that in 2014, there were a total of 28 cases of honour killing reported, while in 2015, the number shot up to 192, which is almost an 800% increase.

However, official records do not reflect on the number of cases that go unreported around the country. Moreover, there are a number of problems with the sort of investigation and prosecution that goes into a case of honour killing, which is why experts believe it is time to re-examine Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

‘Honour crimes can’t be tried like other crimes’

Women’s rights activist, Brinda Adige, thinks that there needs to be a separate law against honour killing in the IPC. “Lawyers and policemen look at honour killing as just another murder case, no one looks at what preceded the murder. Honour killings are usually premeditated - there is immense brutality that is committed, specially atrocities against SC and ST individuals. Lawyers base their defense claiming ‘a crime of passion’ was committed, or that it was an ‘emotional’ attack. Judges, in the same way, hear the case as a murder, and not an honour killing”, says Brinda.

Why is the murder law not sufficient to deal with honour killing?

“We have the law, but unfortunately, the system doesn’t function properly. We need a special law that specifies what needs to be looked at during the investigation and prosecution of an honour killing case and that it is not tried broadly as a murder. There need to be detailed examinations, the forensic evidence needs to be collected keeping the motive of honour killing in mind and so on. They need to check what preceded the murder.”

Very much a caste issue

In August, 2012, The National Law Commission (NLC), under the guidance of Justice PV Reddi, drafted a report on ‘Prevention of Interference of Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances (in the name of honour and tradition). The first part of the report highlighted the problem: “Very often, such incidents and offences (honour crimes and killing) are not even taken cognizance at the threshold. The domineering position and strength wielded by caste combinations and assemblies, silence or stifle the investigating and prosecuting agencies”.

The second part of the NLC report put forward various proposals to prevent honour crimes and killing. This included penalising panchayat assemblies for disapproving of a marriage, minimum punishment for members of family or community engaging in honour crimes, understanding the autonomy of a free-mind, simplification of Special Marriage Act procedure, and that live-in relationships should also be legally recognised and protected under the law.

According to Kathir, executive director of Madurai-based NGO Evidence, the NLC’s report was not even discussed in the Parliament. The draft was just tabled, which shows that at a higher level, honour killing is not taken seriously, he adds.

Kathir says, “Love is just a feeling, where does caste come under it? We definitely need a strong law against this in particular. Firstly, calling it ‘honour killing’ limits it and excludes other crimes committed for the sake of honour. So, I think, that if there’s a new law for these violent acts, it should include all honour crimes, which includes killing.”

‘Shame’ stops families from reporting crime

He says that these crimes are not reported by the families as it shames them, and secondly, at the law level, the police make false promises of following up, but do not even lodge FIRs for fear of being ostracized by the community or village. “The dominant caste or community in the village maintains control over the police, which is why, when even on a rare basis cases are reported, they go unregistered. The judiciary also needs to look at this matter under honour killing category, and not just as a murder,” adds Kathir.

Kathir adds that the investigation team needs to consider Section 174 of the Code of Criminal Procedure as well. “Honour suicide is equally part of an honour crime, but not considered under the law seriously,” he says.

“I think it is a major attitude problem in India. There needs to be harsher punishment to deter further violent acts like these. Moreover, not just harsh punishment, the system on the whole needs to change. If there is an inter-caste marriage, the police need to immediately provide protection to the couple, this will help prevent violence against them,” he adds.

The media needs to gear up and extensively report about honour killing cases, Kathir adds. “Only in English media are cases of caste issues and honour crimes covered. Regional media hides these as the journalists themselves have small-town mentality and do not understand gender and caste perspectives. They think that the girl is committing an immoral crime and this mentality needs to change,” he says.

Read: Karnataka’s honour killings: women are murdered, but no convictions

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