Study Finds Rise in Reported Cases of Honour Killings, but No Legislative or Social Remedy in Hand

A report by the Dalit Human Rights Defenders Network, which studied cases of caste-based honour killings from seven states, points out that the actual extent of this crime is impossible to identify in the absence of a special law.

Mumbai: So-called “honour killings” are more prevalent across India than what is reported in the official statistics and by mainstream media. Besides being underreported, these crimes are also often categorised under the existing provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) as murders, injuries, and kidnappings, making it difficult to identify and study the real cause and nature of these crimes.

A recently published report by the Dalit Human Rights Defenders Network (DHRDNet), in collaboration with the National Council for Women Leaders (NCWL), gets into the granular details of caste-based honour killings from seven states – Haryana, Gujarat, Bihar, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.

The case details, collected painstakingly by human rights and anti-caste defenders, working closely with the families of victims on ground, show that there is a discernible rise in the reported cases of “honour killings” in India without legislative or social remedy in hand.

The report looks at 24 cases between 2012 and 2021 and in almost all the cases, the victims/survivors have faced extreme violence from members of the family who opposed the relationship or marriage.

While the study includes only those cases where family members have come together and perpetrated violence after coming to know of the consensual relationship or marriage, two peculiar cases of love relationships between Dalit women and dominant caste men have been left out of the study.

In these two cases, the study says, the dominant caste men allegedly lured women belonging to the Dalit community into a relationship and, when pressured for marriage, gathered the family and friends to murder them. One of these incidents occurred in Uttar Pradesh and another in Tamil Nadu. “These two [cases] have been left out of this report as they are clearly caste-based sexual violence and not entirely ‘honour’ crimes,” the study observes.

The majority of the honour violence victims are members of Scheduled Caste communities. As many as 20 Dalit men were either killed or grievously injured by families of their partners, invariably belonging to a dominant caste.

The report finds that in many cases, it is not only one individual who is attacked but also family members. In one case from Haryana, the report finds the entire family – belonging to a Scheduled Caste community – was brutally murdered.

In another case in Tamil Nadu, a couple in an inter-caste relationship eloped and went into hiding. Since the couple could not be found, the girl’s family retaliated by kidnapping the boy’s sister and killing her. The man comes from a Scheduled Caste background, and the woman belongs to the Thevar caste.

Also read: The Ugly Reality of Caste Violence and Discrimination in Urban India

The laws against caste-based violence

This report is an analysis of cases of ‘caste-based honour crimes’ for which fact-finding and interventions were done by DHRDNet in seven states of India, as earlier mentioned.

The analysis reveals that caste plays an important factor concerning the perpetuation of violence against women and men in the case of choice-based inter-caste heterosexual relationships.

Honour can be considered as the public or group recognition of moral worth and is imposed and sanctioned by an external social system based on adherence to set norms, codes or behaviours accepted or encouraged.

The report is an outcome of a collation of cases of reported honour crimes in which the DHRDNet have engaged on the ground and tried to create an enabling and supportive environment for the victims/survivors in their fight for justice.

India has no dedicated legislation for honour-based crimes. These cases, although of a peculiar nature, are investigated under the existing provisions of the IPC, and when the victim belongs to either a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe community, the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act is applied.

But there are at least five instances when the victims of the honour crime belonged to the Other Backward Classes or nomadic communities. In these cases, the police could only invoke the IPC sections.

In 2012, the Law Commission of India recommended that a separate law be enacted specifically for honour-based crimes. As part of the report, the Prohibition of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances Bill was drafted and proposed specific legal actions, including the criminalisation of intimidation of a couple.

However, “no MP presented this Bill in parliament,” the report points out, pushing the law commission’s work into cold storage.

In 2018, the Supreme Court in Shakti Vahini vs Union of India recognised honour killing as a serious issue and enumerated preventive, remedial and punitive measures placing accountability and responsibility upon the state and the police administration to curb honour-based crimes. The apex court also observed that khap panchayats have no authority to issue diktats or implement laws.

The only state to have so far shown some seriousness in addressing this menace is Rajasthan. In 2019, Rajasthan introduced a Bill in the state legislature modelled on the 2012 Law Commission Report. It was passed in the Rajasthan assembly in August 2019. However, it has not become an Act as it is was not signed off by the governor.

Among the human rights defenders who worked on the ground include lawyers Savita Ali, Seraj Ahmed and Imteyaz Ansari in Bihar; Preeti Vaghela, Dineshbhai Priyadarshi, Piyushbhai Sarvaiya, Nimisha Parmar and Govindbhai Parmar in Gujarat; Sonia Khatri and Manjur Khatri in Haryana; Bhanu Pratap in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh; Prachi Salve and Prabhakar Sonavane in Maharashtra; Dharmadurai, Mutthu, Ramachandran and Arumugan in Tamil Nadu; and Shobhana Smriti, Seema Gautam, Poonam in Uttar Pradesh.

The report has been authored by Shewli Kumar from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and Tamil Nadu-based lawyer Iswarya Subbiah.

Separate law needed

It strongly proposes a need for separate legislation to tackle the problem. Right now, it says, the actual extent of this crime is impossible to identify in the absence of a special law.

The National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) records statistics related to crimes in India every year. It is only since 2014 that the NCRB has been recording crimes registered under the heading ‘honour killing’, which are unreliable and partial, the study says.

“As there is no law, most cases get registered under murder or other provisions of the IPC. Very few cases are properly registered as honour killings. Data should be studiously collected on crimes in the name of honour. An exclusive database must be maintained at the district, state and national levels,” the study recommends.

The organisations feel the government needs to commit to the abolition of caste-based discrimination and violence and caste-based patriarchy as “national goals” with “the specificity of caste-class and gender-based violence against women, men, boys and girls being acknowledged, and that its abolition be incorporated into law and policy”.

The organisations also draw attention to the Special Marriage Act and recommend that the procedure for the registration of marriages must be simplified and made quicker in order to avoid hassles and harassment from external sources. “The time gap between the date of giving notice of marriage and the registration should be removed and the entire process of registration of marriage should be expedited,” one of the recommendations reads.