Stub out honour crimes with new outlook, stringent laws

Honour killing: 19-year-old TN girl murdered by father
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Hate crimes, including honour killing, are often reported from across India though the country boasts of economic progress and advances in space technology. We kill each other in the name of religion and caste as we cannot accept diversities. A 2018 Amnesty India report cited more than 200 hate crimes in the country.

Honour killing is often committed by a kin out of the belief that the victim has brought shame by breaching the basic principles of family, religion, community or caste. One's own community members too may resort to murder for the same reasons. Honour crimes are acts of vengeance and often women are victims owing to society's patriarchal views.

The latest statistics reflects the willingness of people to report such cases, but many go under-reported. Until recently, there were no proper data on honour crimes. Most often, such incidents are reported as accidents or suicides. Honour-based violence is not limited to killing, but also includes acid attacks, mutilations, shooting, burning etc.

To fight this evil, we must find out its roots. Traditional interpretations of honour always present an image of male superiority in patriarchal culture and subordination of women. Crucially, female chastity equated honour.

Cambridge English Dictionary defines honour as ‘the quality that combines respect, pride and honesty; or to feel you must do something because it is morally right, even if you do not want to do it.’ Well, it is something that revolves around concept of morality. It is a complicated issue in our multi-cultural society. What may be morally right for me may be morally unacceptable to you! The versions of morality differ among communities.

However, a common root of several honour crimes against women is the mentality to establish unquestionable control over them and marginalised groups. In India, the caste system too promotes honour-based crime. In western countries, rivalry between the religions formed the foundation of such incidents in the past. When honour forms the basis of culture, it is quite difficult to make a transition from that position to the culture of law. In India, honour killings get the nod of caste councils like Khap Panchayats.

Honour-based violence is an onslaught on women's rights too because\ when a man violates the "principles of morality" or even commits rape he loses nothing in the eyes of society. But, a woman is judged unfairly if she falls in love with a man of another caste or religion, or has friendships with people of other communities. In contemporary times, women who are economically independent are denigrated by conservative male members of the family.

Attacking family members because they turned out to be transgenders or homosexuals is also another instance of honour-based violence.

It t is vital to take a look at how law has reacted to this inhuman practice. The Manoj-Babli honour killing case is historical as it resulted in the conviction of Khap Panchayats. It is a landmark judgment as it made a bid to rein in these infamous assemblies, which acted with impunity as parallel judicial bodies for years.

The way out

Ironically, there is no specific law to deal with honour-based violence. Law-enforcers find it very hard to trace out evidences too. Special complaint cells and units must be opened at district levels and police officers must be made to compulsorily lodge FIRs in such cases. In regions where caste rivalry is intense, special courts can be constituted to deal with this matter. Separate counselling centres must be opened to provide emotional support to victims. Social policy analysts should focus on establishing policy instruments that will go a long way in reducing the rigidity of caste system.

Mere advancing of learning or awareness programmes is not a solution. A new language, a new approach should come up. The picture of ideal woman being obedient, house-wife and all-sacrificing should be brought down. An ideal woman is the one who can fight for her rights.

Above all, the legislature must bring on a stringent legislation to combat honour-based violence. Special attention should be directed towards mainstreaming honour crimes into criminology. We need to reiterate to the world that “Every woman has the right to be treated with dignity and respect.”