(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
July 18, 2010
‘Reference to GoM can Only Delay Action’
In response to the central government’s decision to refer the issue of “honour crimes” to a Group of Ministers (GoM), CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat, MP, wrote the following letter to the prime minister on July 9, 2010.
I AM writing to you in connection with the decision of the government to refer the issue of legislation for “honour crimes” to a Group of Ministers. Such a decision will undoubtedly further delay the entire process. It is a great disappointment to all democratic minded citizens in this country who are appalled at the retrograde assaults and violent action against young adults who assert their constitutionally and legally protected rights for self choice marriage/ relationships. They had expected the central government not to procrastinate any further and to take steps to ensure an adequate legal framework to address this increasing crime and to bring some relief to affected couples. The country is not unaware that in some of the states where this particular type of crime is taking place, there are political considerations at work to downplay the magnitude of the crime. There is an attempt by those in office in at least one of the states where such crimes have occurred to defend the highly retrograde actions of self-styled caste panchayats in the name of tradition. You will agree that to put vote bank politics over the requirements of those in office to uphold the rights granted by the constitution is abhorrent. Yet this is being done. Delays on the part of the central government to decide on a firm course of action in setting up a legal framework strengthen the perception that it is caused by the pressure of vote bank politics.
I would like to draw your attention to the short duration discussion on the issue of “crimes related to ‘honour’ ” in the Rajya Sabha almost exactly a year ago, on July 28, 2009, which I had raised. Parties cutting across political lines had supported the suggestion that there should be a separate law to deal with the range of so-called honour crimes. There are many dimensions to these crimes, including the absence of a definition of the ‘honour” crime, the role of caste panchayats, the role of the girl’s family because of which often there is no complainant in the case of the disappearance of a girl when she has actually been murdered which necessitates the mandatory role of State intervention, monitoring and investigation, the role of the law enforcement agencies acting in connivance with the perpetrators of the crime and so on. The crime includes murder but also many other crimes such as social and economic boycott, coercive dissolution of the marriage, levelling of fines on the family of the boy and their supporters, externment from the village, public humiliation, threats and harassment against relatives of the boy, etc.
Unfortunately, the union home minister who is clearly unaware of the logic, the reasons and the struggle of women’s organisations for such a legislation stated, “I think the demand for a special law is the one that has been made most eloquently. But I am afraid that it is a very simple demand in the sense that make a law, but the answer is not to make another law. Whatever law we make honour killing is murder… I would look into this whether we can define honour killing, but prima facie I am not sure whether that will take us very far.”
It is this flawed understanding of those charged with addressing the crime which is responsible for the misconceived piecemeal attempts for a legal framework that we see today. For a whole year after the issue was raised in parliament, the requisite legal initiatives were not taken. On the contrary, other suggestions made in the course of the debate such as simplification of the Special Marriages Act and changes in the Evidence Act which were to be complementary to the enactment of a separate law are suggested as the main legal framework. This is now to be the basis for discussions with state governments and the GoM. This will not be at all helpful. Women’s organizations, as for example the All India Democratic Women’s Association, have already worked on such a comprehensive law which the government may consider.
I request you to do justice to young couples who are victims of anti-democratic and casteist notions and beliefs which are strengthened by the absence of a comprehensive law to address the crimes they face in the name of honour.
What is required is a firm decision by the government for a separate law, the draft of which may be placed in parliament in the coming session.