People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 27

July 04, 2010


“There is No Honour in Killing”

ON June 25, Delhi state units of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), Students Federation of India (SFI), Delhi Teachers Front (DTF), Jana Natya Manch (JANAM) and Jan Sanskriti (JS) staged held a dharna at Jantar Mantar from 11 am to 2 pm. Over 200 persons participated in the dharna demanding a comprehensive law against ‘honour’ killings. The gathering was addressed by representatives of all these organisations. Addressing the gathering, Brinda Karat, Rajya Sabha member, highlighted the social, political and legal aspects of ‘honour’ killings, and demanded that the UPA government should formulate a comprehensive law against ‘honour’ killings covering all aspects of such crimes including public humiliation, sexual assault, etc, rather than adopting a piecemeal approach that does not cover the entire gamut of issues involved in this crime.

On this occasion, the protesting organisations submitted the following memorandum to the home minister of the union government.

The recent spate of ‘honour’ killings in Delhi and other parts of the country have outraged all democratic minded people of our country. The right of any individual to choose their life partner is a basic democratic right. This right is guaranteed by the norms of any democratic, civilised society as well as by the Indian constitution. However, the brutality, barbarism and impunity with which young couples are being murdered in the name of caste, community and family ‘honour’ is a matter of great shame and reflects serious lacunae in the criminal justice system as well as the lack of decisive political will on part of the government towards curbing such incidents.   

The recent spate of ‘honour’ killings in Delhi, which has outraged the nation, is just the tip of the iceberg. The Asha Saini-Yogesh Kumar Jatav murders or the Kuldeep-Monica-Shobha murders have come to light either because aggrieved members of the family lodged complaints with the police or the cases came under media scrutiny. Asha Saini and Yogesh were bound, beaten, stabbed and electrocuted to death by Asha’s father Suraj Kumar Saini and uncle Om Prakash. Her mother, Maya, aunt Khushboo and cousin Sanjeev were also involved. The killings of Monica and her husband Kuldeep, four years after marriage, along with sister Shobha, by Monica’s brothers Ankit Gujjar and Mandeep Nagar, with their friend Nakul Khari were clearly premeditated murders. They were shot to death. Monica’s cousin Khushboo, who recently married outside her caste, also faces threats. Monica’s uncle, Dharmaveer Nagar, who has been seen openly justifying the murders, has been correctly arrested for making provocative statements amounting to incitement of violence. Similar stern steps are also necessary against all such elements including representatives of the khap panchyats elsewhere in the country.

The real test in these cases, however, will be the strength of investigation and prosecution against the culprits. It must be ensured that watertight cases are prepared in both these cases against the accused and the Police do not file weak charge sheets in the courts, allowing the accused to either escape scot-free or evade deserving punishments. The perpetrators of these brutal and pre-meditated murders, those involved in the conspiracy to murder as well as those providing logistical and other support and justification must be awarded exemplary punishments without delay. Yogesh’s sister, Renu, must also get full protection from the state, since complainants are often coerced, threatened and intimidated.    

While dealing with such offences, the government must not lose sight of the gender component of these crimes. It is not a coincidence that ‘honour’ crimes are generally perpetrated by the woman’s family, as is evident from the recent cases in Delhi as well as other instances like Nirupama Pathak, Nitish Katara, etc. Numerous instances of such murders do not even reach the purview of the criminal justice system. Several young girls are killed by family members at the mere whiff of possible interest in a boy of another caste or community. These deaths are passed off as natural deaths. Provisions need to be made to monitor any sudden death, particularly of young girls, to deter such crimes. Moreover, other forms of violence to prevent or nullify ‘own-choice’ or ‘love’ marriages need to be brought within the purview of suitable and related laws. These include public humiliation, threats, physical assault, sexual assault, forced marriages, denial of property share, etc. Consenting families are also coerced or victimised through various extra-constitutional means like social boycott, economic victimisation, forced removal from place of residence, etc.

In our experience, the Delhi Police often plays a negative role in instances where young couples escape from hostile family members in order to get married. The police are proactive in registering complaints of kidnapping on the charge of family members. Couples are often traced, exposed to the hostile pressures of their families or restored to the custody of their respective families. If the families of either party play a supportive role, intimidation and threat are used by the police to pressurise the consenting family to produce the couple. Efforts are made to prevent or nullify marriages. Even in event of marriage, if the girl succumbs under pressure or is unaware of her rights, cases of rape are registered against the boy. The threat of registering such cases is also used to exert pressure to withdraw from the relationship. At a time when the Supreme Court has issued notices to the centre as well as several state governments regarding measures undertaken to prevent ‘honour’ killings, any reply that does not uncover the truth behind cases of kidnapping registered by the police will be incomplete and evasive.

The provisions for couples desiring security are also extremely problematic. Only a DCP level officer can evaluate the perception of threat and sanction police protection. It is extremely difficult for ordinary citizens to obtain such a security cover. Otherwise, a couple has to approach the courts, which in turn can order police protection. Instances where such protection is provided are rare. The case of Gurleen and her mother-in-law who were hacked to death in Tarn Taran while under the protection of the Punjab and Harayana High Court exposes the callous approach towards such protection. Kuldeep and Monica had also applied for police protection, but ultimately in vain. Instances, where families conspire against couples for months and years after marriage are coming to light. They demonstrate the futility of adopting a mechanical approach towards security. Provision of security in combination with a proactive approach wherein family members, relatives and self-appointed custodians of ‘honour’ like khap panchayats are made culpable for a combination of disciplinary action in event of any harm to a couple will produce better results.

It is a matter of common knowledge that the Special Marriages Act of 1954 allows for civil marriages between consenting adults. However, the provisions of this Act amount to nothing less than discouraging own choice marriages. Provisions like a minimum waiting period of one month, proof of birth, proof of at least 30 days of residence in the concerned district, copy of ration card for proof of permanent residence or authentication by SHO or a gazetted officer, public notice as well as notice of information served to family members, etc make this Act very difficult to employ in case of marriages that are opposed by family members. The provisions of this Act undoubtedly need to be simplified to facilitate own choice marriages. Well publicised and easily accessible bodies need to be made so that couples opting for own choice marriages can easily inform the government about their intentions and avoid unjust police action and harassment. Safe shelters and other support also need to be provided to such couples. All this requires the formulation of a comprehensive law against ‘honour’ killings in our country.

The most alarming aspect of this entire sorry state of affairs is the impunity with which family members, panchayats or community members are justifying and glorifying such murders. Their confidence is emanating from the tentative and unprincipled approach shown by the government towards such crimes. Statements in support of khap panchayats by Haryana CM or MPs like Navin Jindal are only providing strength to such elements. Paying lip service against honour killings while endorsing the very bodies that are taking a lead in perpetrating such crimes smacks of not only opportunism but also sheer disregard towards the law of the land. Such acts by elected members also merit strict action. They cannot be explained away as mere compulsions of electoral politics. Our parliamentary democracy is guided by the principles enshrined in the Indian constitution. Political mobilisations that are based on undermining and challenging those very principles must be firmly dealt with. It is disappointing that no such resolve has been visible on part of the government yet. 

It is clear that more and more young citizens of our country are opting for own choice marriages. No one should be allowed to violate this basic democratic right in the name of tradition or ‘honour’. Families, relatives and extra constitutional bodies that are taking the law into their own hands need to be disciplined. The union government must take a lead in ensuring that all practices that violate democratic rights enshrined in the constitution are confronted without fail. Any other approach would only prove that the government is willing to turn a blind eye to gross criminal practices while maintaining a façade of modernity, democracy and progress.

Through their memorandum, the concerned organisations of Delhi demanded that the above-mentioned exemplary and comprehensive measures must be taken against ‘honour’ killings without delay.