People's Democracy

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


No. 31

August 01, 2010


Honour Killings: No More Crimes, No More Murders


                                                                     Sudha Sundararaman


IN the midst of a heavy downpour which drenched the women coming into the Constitution Club Hall in New Delhi, the strains of a haryanvi song could be heard loud and clear:


“We do not accept these panchayats, based on caste and gothra, who want couples to tie rakhi to each other, we call on our sisters in one united voice-let us together resist this injustice..”


The occasion was a seminar organised by the All India Democratic Women’s Association and the Indian School of Women’s Studies and Development against the menace of  ‘Killings and Crimes in the Name of Honour’ on July 20, 2010.


The meeting began on a sombre note with AIDWA general secretary, Sudha Sundararaman exhorting the audience to spend a moment recalling the ghastly murder of Sanjeeta by her parents ( which was reported that very day) because she dared to marry a dalit colleague against their wishes.  The girl had been called back under the assurance that the parents would conduct the marriage in a proper manner. She was subsequently murdered, and the body pieces charred to ashes and ploughed into the field. It was in the context of such barbaric assaults on youngsters choosing to marry according to their wishes, and the absence of an appropriate legislation to tackle the various dimensions of this growing crime that the seminar was being held, she said. She welcomed the participants, and called for united action to prevent the occurrence of further atrocities in the name of ‘honour’.




The seminar was presided over by Ashalata, national assistant secretary and Sehba Farooqi, general secretary, Delhi JMS.


The chief guest, former Supreme Court chief justice and NHRC chairman justice K G Balakrishnan gave the inaugural address and pointed out that these crimes were cold blooded murders being executed by the parents and relatives who had brought up the children with so much love and care. He underlined the importance of stringent legal action against the perpetrators, and the need for a larger intervention by all sections of society, including men. He congratulated AIDWA for its relentless campaign on this issue, and released an AIDWA publication ‘In the Name of ‘Honour’: Let us Love and Live’ presented to him by Brinda Karat (MP).


The chairperson of the National Commission for Women, Girija Vyas was equally distressed by the gruesome nature of the crimes and the increasing number of such instances coming to public notice. She remarked how three incidents were reported that very day. She explained the efforts being undertaken by the NCW to assess the extent of occurrence, and said that over the last two months the NCW had either received or taken suo moto notice of over 50 such incidents, wherein couples have either been attacked, or were in grave danger or wanted protection and shelter. She appreciated AIDWA’s timely role in drafting a legislation to address the crime, and invited various women’s organisations for discussion with the NCW regarding the laws required to deal with these crimes. She drew a parallel with the anti-sati agitation wherein a wide cross-section of progressive opinion across the political divide united to bring about suitable legislation.


Rajya Sabha MP, Brinda Karat presented a comprehensive overview of the issue, and the interlinkages between caste, patriarchy and opportunistic politics which defined this crime in the current context. She appreciated the militant role of the Haryana unit of JMS who were leading the struggle despite threats from conservative forces. She stressed that women’s liberation, (or any kind of social change for that matter) was not possible without striking at the caste system.  The “upper caste” girl marrying the dalit boy is still an impermissible relationship, and is opposed by the conservative forces, who seek to keep women imprisoned within the cultural barriers of caste. She highlighted how, during a visit to a village called Dhaula on the outskirts of Delhi, the AIDWA delegation found that the role of certain castes in fomenting conflict with regard to intercaste marriages was more pronounced, even if the parents of the couple were not so aggressively opposed to the relationship. She also pointed out that the demand for change in the Hindu Marriage Act does not take into account the diversity of cultural norms in our country, due to which any such imposition of restrictions would be an abrogation of the rights of another section of society.


Brinda Karat questioned the compromises that were being made by the modern day politicians with retrograde, and feudal forces and criminal practices in the interest of their vote bank politics. She asserted that political parties have to function within the constitutional framework. She emphasised the need for a comprehensive law against ‘honour’ killings and the range of associated crimes, on which there had been a discussion in the Rajya Sabha as well.  She pointed out the limitations in the amendments proposed by the governmentt, and said that the clause penalising all members of the community, whether present or not, would damage the cause of justice.




Manjeet Rathee, AIDWA CEC member introduced the victims and their family members who had come from Haryana for this seminar. The participants spoke about their experiences and struggles. These included the brave Chandrapati, mother of Manoj in the Manoj-Babli case, who waged a relentless battle in the courts for three years, facing social boycott and physical threats, without giving up. She thanked AIDWA  and the lawyer Lal Bahadur, who had fought her case with determination. The lawyer explained how money, muscle, and political power were sought to be used to change the course of the case. He stressed the importance of plugging legal loopholes and supported the proposal for a new law on this issue and made suggestions for a new law.


Shilpa and Ravinder, a couple whose marriage was arranged by the family, but who were intimidated and asked to declare themselves brother-sister within three months of marriage in spite of having no ‘gotra’ connection, also narrated their suffering for no fault of their own. Shilpa asked for livelihood security and protection. Jogender, the brother of Ved Pal Maan who was murdered under police protection when he went to get his wife from the village spoke of the difficulty of getting justice. He expressed his desire and determination for this fight in spite of facing victimisation.




Kirti Singh, AIDWA legal convenor, and Supreme Court lawyer, presented the initial draft of a proposed law against ‘honour’ crimes and killings. She spoke about the need to define ‘honour’ crimes and the need to make private parties culpable for the violation of fundamental rights with regard to such crimes. She also explained the need for including different types of harassment for punishment as well as the need to shift the onus of proof on the accused. She proposed punishment for public support for ‘honour’ crimes and prohibitory orders against bodies that give illegal fatwas. She also said that any couple who wishes to elope and get married should have the right to report their intent both verbally as well as in writing to any government officer, which in turn, should prevent the police from registering cases of kidnapping, abduction etc for harassing the couples. She also called for simplification of the Special Marriages Act.


Jagmati Sangwan, AIDWA leader from Haryana, gave an impassioned speech decrying the part played by khap panchayats in vitiating the democratic fabric of society. These self proclaimed panchayats do not agitate against illegal activities like purchase of wives, female foeticide, etc, but were intolerant towards young citizens who are on the correct side of the law. They cannot tolerate any change which would challenge their hegemony. She said that many young girls are being killed and disposed of just on the mere suspicion that they may have committed a transgression. But this crime is still invisible. The instances coming into the limelight are but the tip of the iceberg. Using the name of ‘tradition’, they are carrying out a blatantly false propaganda against intra-gotra marriages. But in reality, intra-gotra marriages are extremely rare. The “gothra” is being used as a tool of caste consolidation, which then links up to political mobilisation. She called for a more principled approach in politics, where, politicians are prepared to bear some burden or cost for social reform.


In a scathing attack on the compromising position taken by the state agencies meant to protect the rights of women and marginalised sections, Jagmati underlined how the SCW chairperson of Haryana had given a certificate to DGP Rathore that he was a woman friendly officer. She emphasised that if government bodies that are supposed to uphold the law are firm in their intent and ally with progressive organisations, such social evils can be fought.


Representatives from many national women’s organisations, and democratic organisations participated in the meetings. Primila Loomba from NFIW, Jyotsna Chatterjee from JWP, Dr Mary John from CWDS, also spoke extending support for a separate law, and expressed solidarity in the campaign to safeguard constitutional rights. Prof DK Choudhary, who had been part of the democratic struggle for many years, narrated his experience of resistance within the khap panchayats and extended support to AIDWA’s struggle.


The seminar concluded with a vote of thanks by Sudha Sundararaman, who appealed that the publication brought out by AIDWA documenting the experiences over the past decade, and putting forth the many dimensions of the issue should be widely disseminated. She reiterated AIDWA’s commitment to safeguarding the constitutional rights of people, and resolved to strengthen the struggle against casteist and reactionary forces.