Killing in the name of honour has shamed the country yet again. On Wednesday, a young couple in Rohtak, Haryana, was brutally murdered allegedly by the girl’s parents and relatives in full public view.
The woman was lynched, while the man’s arms and legs were smashed before he was beheaded. The reason: The family did not approve of their relationship.
The incident — certainly no one-off in the state — has predictably triggered a huge outcry, but what is difficult to fathom is the government’s inaction to curb this custom. It is almost as if its hands were tied.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that notwithstanding the 2011 Supreme Court directive that honour killings should be treated as the “rarest of rare crime and those perpetrating it should be sent to the gallows”, honour killing is not a classified crime in India even now.
Then, of course, there is the non-cooperative stance of the states.
Back in 2009, the government had first proposed to define honour killings as a distinct offence in the IPC. It had also wanted a separate law to check this, particularly after the United Nations had twice referred to this illegal activity thriving in many Asian countries.
“Caste panchayats (khaps) aid and abet honour killings. Principal actors in such panchayats need to be arrayed as accused and prosecuted for murder,” then home minister P Chidambaram had said in the Rajya Sabha in July 2009.
Soon after, the home and law ministries began work on bringing about changes in criminal laws by empowering the police to book members of khaps who ordered such killings along with those who actually committed the heinous crime.
But the proposal hit a roadblock following differences within the cabinet. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh then set up a group of ministers (GoM) in August 2010 to evolve consensus and also to take views of the states on the subject.
The government, however, was virtually forced to go slow on the issue as half the 28 states did not send in their views on the proposed changes in the criminal laws to curb honour killings, particularly widespread in Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
In fact, these three states admitted in the Supreme Court that they had not prepared any specific legal framework to handle this crime. “There is no specific legal framework to address the problem of honour killings, but top police officials have issued directions to treat such cases seriously,” the UP government told the apex court.
Rajasthan and Haryana cited administrative circulars issued by the state governments to address the issue, but conceded there was no state specific law against honour killings.
Faced with such apathy the government shelved its plan to bring a fresh law to curb honour killings and decided just to update the existing laws.
The GoM, headed by Chidambaram, now finance minister, is examining the latest report by the Law Commission of India, the government’s expert body on analysing legal issues.
The commission has recommended a two-year jail term for those members of khap panchayats who order honour killings.