The rising graph of violence against women (and men who dare to step out of line) went up a notch again last week when a 23-year-old man and his 20-year-old girlfriend were murdered by the girl’s family in Rohtak, Haryana, in full public view.
Dharmender Barak and Nidhi Barak were murdered because they wanted to get married, a move opposed by their families since they belonged to the same ‘gotra’. While the killing is horrifying enough, what’s more shocking is the reaction of the families and their neighbours: most supported the murders. One of the village elders went to the extent of saying that the murders were necessary to stop the “disease” from spreading.
While there are no statistics on the number of honour killings, reports suggest that hundreds of people are killed every year for falling in love or marrying against their families’ wishes. In 2011, the Supreme Court said that honour killers should face the death penalty.
The Centre has asked the states to act against khap panchyats (local bodies representing clans, communities and castes), which sanction such honour killings, and have tried to work on a law to check the menace. While some states like Assam, Bihar, and Chhattisgarh have supported this move, states like Gujarat, Jharkhand, Maharashtra are non-committal. And the only state which is completely opposed to such a legislation is Haryana.
The khap panchayats with their hold over villages (read: votebanks) play an important role in the state’s poll math, and so no one was surprised to hear when ‘young and educated’ Rohtak MP and the chief minister’s son, Deepender Singh Hooda, parroted the old lines: the khap panchayats are not all that bad, the Indian Penal Code is strong enough to tackle such crimes and so there is no need for a separate law on such killings.
This reluctance on the part of certain states to work on a law against socially-sanctioned practices like honour killing is alarming.