They are nothing but barbaric and brutal murders by bigoted persons with feudal minds - So remarked a bench of Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra of the Supreme Court of India.
"All persons who are planning to perpetrate 'honour killing' should know that the gallows await them," said the bench, after upholding the conviction and sentence of one Bhagwan Dass, who killed his daughter for deserting her husband and eloping with an uncle.
The recent tough stand taken by the Supreme Court of India on the dishonourable honour killings has rekindled hope for lovers of justice, tolerance, and gender equality. The Supreme Court called these barbaric acts a slur on the nation, and warned that perpetrators of 'honour killings' could face death penalty, saying that the crime meets the "rarest-of-rare" criterion laid down by it to award capital punishment.
Young girls who dare to marry outside their caste or inside their clan, against their elders’ wishes, end up being tortured to death or forced to commit suicide. In few cases their male partners also meet the same fate. According to an analysis by NGO Shakti Vahini, in 90 per cent of the cases the perpetrators of the crime were from the girl's family, although sometimes men are also not safe from such bloody punishments for defying the strict family code.
A majority of these killings take place in the agrarian states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, where land ownership and caste together help in fuelling an honour culture by maintaining caste and gender hierarchies. The Khap Panchayats, or self styled clan councils, in these regions have gained notoriety for abetting the killings of young couples and social boycott of their families if they choose to marry of their own accord, within their sub caste or even outside their caste. Khap is a cluster of villages united by caste and geography, and all boys and girls within a khap are considered siblings. So strong is the clout of these kangaroo courts that rarely has anyone spoken against their misdeeds, let alone come forward to register a case against them. Their diktat is feared even by our political leaders who refrain from speaking out openly against them for fear of losing their vote bank in a caste ridden political system.
There are no official figures on honour killings, but some independent studies suggest that as many as around 900 were being committed every year in India. Haryana, one of India's wealthiest states with a largely farm-based economy, has the highest number of killings of young girls (sometimes men also) in the name of preserving family honour. It also has the highest rate of female foeticide.
These killings are nothing short of cold blooded murders in the name of saving family pride and are rampant in other socially backward countries too like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Turkey, Jordan.
United Nations Population Fund approximates that as many as 5,000 women are murdered in this manner each year around the world. But this is undoubtedly a low estimate, as this crime is heavily under reported and not brought to public notice.
That somebody could kill one’s own flesh and blood in the name of false family pride, is unthinkable in any civilized society. It is beyond one’s sanity to think that such barbaric outbursts of the so called family pride really exist in today’s world. Children killing their parents over property disputes are bad enough, but parents killing their adult off springs for defying family traditions are equally unpardonable. Traditions should nurture family ties and not asunder them. In fact, love marriages should be welcomed as a sign of mature moral responsibility, as well as a tool of fostering unity amongst different communities, rather than be looked down upon as a defiant act. But perhaps, these murders are not about parental fury, but about male supremacy. In most of the cases it is the male relatives of the girl who perpetrate the crime—the female elders usually remain mute spectators, under the glaring eyes of the patriarchs (although this does not lessen their guilt). Once again, it is men only who stoke female foeticide, with the wife having little say over her reproductive rights.
Another disturbing factor in most of these killings is that most of the victims were still in their teens. There is nothing wrong in love and marriage. But 18 years is surely not an appropriate age for it. It is an age to study and chart out a financially and emotionally independent future for oneself. In fact, according to a 2011 data sheet called 'The World's Women and Girls', released by the Washington-based Population Reference Bureau, 47% of women in India between the ages of 20 and 24 were married by 18 years. Most African countries fare better than India, and even Pakistan's score works out to 24%.That India marries off its daughters in such a hurry that they have little time to grow out of their teens is a fact that comes as a shock to a country which gloats over its growing economic prowess.
Professor Vibhuti Patel, Head of the Economics Department at SNDT University, Mumbai, points to the rather strange link between child marriage and the success of some of India’s welfare schemes such as the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA).
According to her, "SSA helps school girls till Class IV, after which there are a large number of dropouts. Thanks to the success of the ICDS, children in the age group of 0-6 are taken care of, with the result that adolescent girls, who mostly drop out of school after Class VII as they can’t cope up with math, science and English, don’t have to look after their younger siblings. In the absence of any programmes targeting adolescent girls in terms of vocational training or life-skill development by the state or by civil society groups, many parents are worried that these girls, who are now free of responsibility and have a lot of time on their hands, may end up in premarital relationships and turn unwed mothers. This is one of the major reasons why parents in several states, even progressive states like Gujarat and Maharashtra, marry off their daughters at an early age."
This could also be one of the reasons for the young eloping lovers to get into relationships at such an early age, with the girl having nothing worthwhile to do at home, other than boring household chores and biding her time to be married off. Romance adds some spice to her otherwise dull life, but sadly brings it to an end too.
It is high time that the government enacts stringent laws against honour killings and civil society helps in changing the rigid mindset of the patriarchs and feudal landlords. Unless we respect our women folk, we cannot claim to be a global power to reckon with. (CNS)
(The author is the Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS). She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA. She has worked earlier with State Planning Institute, UP. Email: email@example.com, website: www.citizen-news.org)