The very term honour killing is an oxymoron, one which accepts that a murder motivated by a misplaced sense of pride is somehow in a different category from a common or garden killing.
The Supreme Court in its latest directive that such killings are barbaric and feudal and as such punishable by death is right in spirit. In most cases, ‘honour’ killings take place when a member of the family contracts what is seen as an unsuitable alliance with a person not approved of by the elders either because he or she if from another community or caste. The fragile honour of the family or community, if the ghastly khap panchayat verdicts in Haryana are anything to go by, is offended and the punishment is nothing less than death for the ‘deemed’ offender, most often a young man or woman whose only crime is to have fallen in love.
The apex court in right in terming these sort of killings as a slur on our nation, but there is no exalted category that honour killings can be bracketed under. They are murders of innocent persons whose only crime is that they went against the social grain dictated by people who have no legitimate authority to do so other than that they are community ‘elders’.
To put these cases in a category of their own would be to equate them with the sort of murders which take place in Pakistan under the guise of karo-kari, in which the honour of the family is besmirched, invariably by a young man or woman who chose their own partner without the sanction of those who ostensibly know better.
The fact that the police have opened shelters for young couples on the run from the wrath of families and communities should go some way in allowing young people to decide on the course of their own lives without the restraints placed on them by an oppressive and feudal social order. There is definitely some merit in the apex court prescribing the harshest of punishment for those carrying out these crimes, since it is often seen as a right for the family or community to mete out ‘justice’ to those who deviate from their norms.
The law on murder is applicable in all instances and no khap or community should be allowed to get away with citing outdated feudal norms. Real honour for any person or community comes from adhering to the rule of law, not from taking on the spurious role of judge, jury and all too often executioner.