Honor killings in India: a sordid tradition

Over the years India has been known for several positive aspects of its culture such as its festivals, the overall communal harmony as well as its music and dance forms etc. However, there have been a few things that have also painted Indian culture and life in general in a poor light and one of them has been honor killing that has taken numerous lives in different parts of India and denied people a chance at a normal and healthy life. By definition, this form of crime is committed either by the victims’ family members or other people in the social group where they belong to.


Common reasons of honor killing


The basic reason in all these cases is that the people who have been killed have supposedly ashamed their communities or families with their actions. However, the secondary reasons differ a lot and normally are any one of the following:


  • Not agreeing to marry someone who has been chosen by the family
  • Being the victim of rape or any other form of sexual violation
  • Engaging in a relationship that does not have the approval of the family members, relatives or important people in the community
  • Dressing in a way that is not considered right by the family
  • Having sexual relations outside marriage
  • Getting involved in a homosexual relation


In fact, in several communities this is regarded as an integral part of the tradition.


Where does it happen in India?


In India honor killing happens primarily in the northern part of the country, particularly in the states such as Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. As opposed to this, honor killings are not that common in states such as Maharashtra and Gujarat as well as parts of South India. However, it is not that such incidents do not happen in these states. West Bengal, too, experienced this phenomenon about 100 years back when it was stopped owing to the efforts of social reformers like Swami Vivekananda, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Raja Ram Mohan Roy.


In case of Rajputs the common causes of honor killing are marriage with members of other castes. In fact in such instances, the married couple can be murdered along with the family members of both the bride and the groom.


Among all the states in India, Punjab is the one where the maximum instances of honor killing have been recorded. Punjab Police has compiled a statistic that shows that between 2008 and 2010 the state has seen 34 cases of honor killing. Haryana is another state that has earned some notoriety for its honor killings, primarily among the upper castes such as Jats and Rajputs.


In Bihar, Bhagalpur has been in the news for its incidents of honor killing. Recently a 16 year old girl named Imrana, who hailed from Bhojpur, was set afire inside her house. The victim had been calling out for help for 20 minutes before help arrived. She was immediately admitted to a nearby hospital where she succumbed to her injuries. During May 2008 a man named Jayvirsingh Bhadodiya fired at Vandana, his duaghter and also hit her on the head with an axe. Several such incidents have also been reported from in and around Delhi, especially during June 2010.


During March 2010 the district court of Karnal, Haryana passed a landmark judgment whereby 5 people who had been involved in honor killing in Kaithal were ordered to be executed. The khap chief who had ordered the killings was also sentenced to life imprisonment. The victims in this case were Manoj Banwala, a 23 year old man, and Babli, a 19 year old girl. The reason for their death was that they had eloped and married during June 2007. Prior to their death they had been provided police protection but were still kidnapped and their damaged bodies were found 7 days later in a canal. This verdict is regarded as a landmark judgment of sorts.


The National Commission for Women


The National Commission for Women established in 1990 a statutory body in order to deal with honor killings that were prevalent among the ethnic groups of northern India. This body has studied the various legal, constitutional and other provisions in addition to the challenges that are faced by women. In fact the organization’s activism has played a major role in reducing the number of honor killings in the rural areas of north India.


As per Pakistani activists such as Eman M. Ahmed and Hina Jilani, women in India are better placed, legally, when it comes to protection against criminal activities such as honor killings. In fact they have argued that in countries where the position of women is compromised by such social evils the Indian law should be used a model.


During June 2010, the Supreme Court was performing a scrutiny of the growing number of honor killings in India and issued a notice each to Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan as well as the national government to take steps so that honor killings could be stopped. The Indian Government has also made several efforts over the years to take preventive steps against honor killing and pass laws that could act as deterrents.


Present day instances


However, all these efforts have not been successful it seems. These incidents have been repeated in 2012 and 2013 in states such as Rajasthan and Haryana. Even in the murder case of Arushi Talwar one of the main motives was preserving the honor of the family. The fact is that we speak of traditions of love and tolerance yet we are the last to practice it. If educated people can believe in such methods one can only imagine the plight of people in the rural areas. With that said, one understands that the administration knows what the situation is – the only question is when will affirmative steps be taken that will make such acts of crime a thing of past?