All feudal societies have some markers. India has several: Caste wars, untouchability and honour killing. According to the data released by the government in Parliament on Tuesday, the country registered 251 honour killings in 2015 against 28 in 2014, recording a big spike in murders carried out by people professing to be acting in defence of their family’s reputation. But it was not known how many women died because the government didn’t provide a gender-wise break-up of the data for 2015.
The killings are reported under two sections — murder, which Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code deals with, and culpable homicide not amounting to murder, which falls under Section 304. Uttar Pradesh, which registered one case in 2014, topped the list the next year with 131 cases of murder with honour killing as the sole motive.
While the spike in honour killings is unfortunate, it reveals two things: Better reporting of cases and mindsets are finally changing in recognising the illegality of such actions, albeit slowly.
While a lot is said about the need to change mindsets, it is a slow process and there is no guarantee that such a thing will happen within a time frame. What needs to be done simultaneously is pass a law that specifically deals with honour killing and speedy justice for victims.
The problem today is that there are large numbers of cases of “honour” crime in which the culprits go unpunished and the slow justice-delivery system contributes to the growing impunity with which relatives and parents kill young people, who want to exercise their choice in relationships and marriage.
As India doesn’t have a specific law to deal with honour killing, law-enforcement agencies are forced to charge suspects under separate provisions of the IPC, depending on the scale of a crime. The government said in Parliament in 2014 that the Law Commission had recommended a law, the prohibition of interference with the freedom of matrimonial alliance Bill, to prevent honour killings and punish offenders. The Bill is still pending.
In an article published in a national daily, Left leader Brinda Karat did not mince words on why India still doesn’t have a law against honour killing: “If we do not have such a law, it is because vote-bank politics, that requires the appeasement of the most retrograde social forces such as those who lead the orthodox caste panchayats, supersedes the responsibility of those in government, or for that matter any who aspire to be in government, to protect the constitutional and democratic rights of citizens”. It’s time India’s politicians bit the bullet on honour killing.