Telangana Honour Killing: Understanding India's Bloodiest Tradition To Uphold Honour
Honour killings (Photo Credits: Flickr,Maarten Van Damme)

Two young lovers overcome the barriers of caste, class and religion and decide to live together, defying all odds. But the heart-warming story turns macabre in no time as one of them meets a grisly end at the hands of their lovers’ family. On September 14, 2018, a young expectant mother Amruthavarshini from Telangana saw her husband Pranay being struck down by the goons sent by her own father. Ankit Saxena a young boy was mercilessly killed in front of his parents by his wife Shehzadi’s parents in Delhi in February this year. In May, Kevin Joseph from Kerala was murdered at the behest of his in-laws after he eloped with their daughter Neenu. In 2017, Kaushalya and Sankar were ambushed by mercenaries who hacked the latter to death in Tamil Nadu. The names change, but the narrative doesn’t.

Honour killings stem from a warped notion of honour. These murders are an act of retribution carried out by the victims’ own kin and for two purposes – to satiate the ego of the “wronged” family and to warn others against the consequences of such transgressions. In the age of progress, world’s largest democracy is battling the vestigial remains of its feudal past. What do we need to know about them?

A Product of Male-Dominated Society

Amnesty International states: “The regime of honour is unforgiving: women on whom suspicion has fallen are not given an opportunity to defend themselves, and family members have no socially acceptable alternative but to remove the stain on their honour by attacking the woman.”

Honour killings are seen in male-dominated societies that place a lot of importance on female chastity in countries like India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and the Persian Gulf. Immigrant communities are known to carry out these killings even in countries like Canada, UK and USA.

India has a long history of honour killings. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, between 2014 and 2015 alone, the number of honour killings in India leapt by 798 per cent. States such as Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and Andhra are leading in such extra-judicial killings.

A Big Price To Pay For Disobedience

These societies are the If blood is indeed thicker than water, what warped sense of honour blinds family members to forget the love they once had for their child? Social scientists believe that there are multiple causes for honour killing, all of which are tied to notions of shame and pride. Dressing inappropriately, refusing to get married as per the family’s or community’s wishes, seeking a divorce, being a victim of rape, engaging in adulterous relationships or engaging in homosexual acts are some of the common causes.

Most of these crimes are orchestrated by the men in the family, either the father, brother, uncle or husband. And according to global statistical data, most of the victims are women. In some cases, minors are chosen to carry out the attack to minimise imprisonment time as a juvenile perpetrator. Father Chops Off His Daughter's Hand in Public For Marrying a Dalit.

The victims are usually women, though in the recent cases, more men than women have lost their lives in India. These victims are usually unemployed, illiterate or poor who have little or no power to seek legal help.

The murders are violent in nature to serve as a reminder for future offenders. Although existing studies are sparse, the role of certain psychopathic traits such as lack of empathy for women, failure to conform to law and a lack of remorse are observed in most of the perps.

According to a 2001 study by the Dicle University, the killings are also perpetrated by the educated. Sixty percent of the subjects surveyed showed that the criminals were either high school pass outs, university graduates or at least literate.

The Law On Honour Killing

Honour killings stand against the constitutional right of freedom of choice and the right to equality. They violate Articles 14, 15 (1) & (3), 17, 18, 19 and 21 of the Indian constitution.

To deal with cases of honour killings, the Indian Penal Code exercises section 302 to bring the perpetrators to justice. The khap panchayats which gives the decree and the accomplices who assist the killers are also booked under the same section.

The Indian Majority Act of 1875, the Special Marriage Act of 1954, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act, The Protection of Human Rights Act 2006 and the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005 all are invoked while fighting honour killing cases.

The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW 1979) to which India is a signatory to, can be used against institutionalised discrimination against individuals who chose to marry whomever the like. It prohibits informal decision-making bodies such as khap panchayats from issuing orders to kill or torture in the name of honour.

Honour killing has tainted India’s reputation worldwide, setting it back by a hundred years. But eradicating this social evil is not as easy as it seems. It requires the dismantling of toxic-masculine social institutions that put the onus of honour on women. Law alone cannot work, as it is evident from the statistics. Fighting it requires sensitising the society against the crime and viewing human lives as above notions of honour.

(Reference: Study on Honor Killing as a Crime in India-Cause and Solutions; Honour Killing: A National Outcry; Preliminary Examination of so-called "Honour Killings" in Canada)