People's Democracy

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


No. 40

October 06, 2013








Dishonour Killings: Need to Deconstruct ‘Honour’ Concept


Inderjit Singh


THE recent cold-blooded murder of Nidhi, an adult girl, and Dharmender, an adult boy, on September 18, 2013, in Garnawathi village near Rohtak has once again generated a media debate over the unabated crimes like murders in the name of so called honour in Haryana and other parts of Northwest India. The latest episode of dishonour killing is as much talked about as was that of Manoj and Babli who were killed in village Karoda of Kaithal district in June 2007.




In the meantime there have of course been several other cases of ‘honour’ killing --- dozens of them reported and many more unreported. For instance, two girls were killed only within a week of the Garnawathi killing. One of the fateful victims was a girl who had reportedly eloped with a boy from Bapa village in Yamunanagar. She was traced, brought back, poisoned and then strangulated by her father and mother on September 22.


However, if the recent Garnawathi incident has evoked more anguish in particular, this is for the reason that worst kind of cruelty was perpetrated in the crime and, moreover, the perpetrators of the crime and certain other regressive forces (including many educated persons as well) publicly defended their misdeed with utmost audacity.


Another notable development in this context is the big spurt in the activities of some caste panchayats, and their prompt reactions. Today, these illegal bodies are desperately seeking to obviate the main issue --- that of right to life --- by mischievously repeating the demand for an amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 (HMA). According to their twisted logic, it is this act that is the reason for the ‘honour’ killings, as it leaves for the family members and parents with no other 'option' but to kill their kinsmen for their 'sin' of developing a relationship within the same gotra and/or the same village.


The khap panchayats have also been attributing the crimes against women to the attire they wear, like jeans etc, and some of these self-appointed custodians of cultural and moral values have also declared a ban on wearing jeans and using mobile phones. Some khap leaders even went to the extent of inspecting some girls schools in Jhajjar district on October 26 last year in order to make sure that their diktats were obediently and meekly enforced. One may note that this very kind of absurdity --- of blaming the victims themselves for these crimes --- was publicly displayed in the aftermath of December 16 gang rape and murder in Delhi.




One important factor, however, still remains missing in the entire debate though it has a definite bearing upon the issue of ‘honour’ killings. It is that of identity politics being nakedly resorted to by most of the so called mainstream political parties in Haryana and other states in the recent past. 


What has been going on during recent years is the caste consolidation as an electoral strategy, in a vulgar competitive mode by various political outfits and other opportunist forces. It was this factor of caste identity politics which was subsequently converted by the RSS-VHP into a communal flare-up and thus played a role in the Muzaffar Nagar carnage in UP recently. It is not just by chance that most of the self-styled caste bodies have been allotted large plots of prime lands at almost all district headquarters in Haryana by the successive governments in the name of dharamshalas. Interestingly, the size of such lands as well as their location depends on the social and political clout a particular caste enjoys. The agitation for reservation for the Jats and other castes is not that much motivated over the concern for the unemployed youth as it is aimed at caste consolidation for strengthening their social domination. The increasing instances of attacks on dalits and sexual assaults on women too are not unconnected to such pernicious political game that is at play these days.


The incidents of honour killings, sexual assaults on women and the persecution of dalits and minorities have some definite common links with the perpetuation of identity politics and these are thus logical fallouts of caste consolidation as a political agenda. It can be seen to be gaining more aggressive postures, particularly in regard to getting patronage from the ruling party of the day.


The regressive agenda of caste consolidation has paid more political dividends in recent years through the use of gotra as an emotional tool by caste panchayats. It is precisely due to the gotra factor that the caste or khap panchayats are deliberately posing same-gotra marriages as a major threat to the socio-cultural hierarchy giving dominance to a particular community. In the Garnawathi incident too, the issue of same-gotra and same-village marriages has been used as a shield in order to defend the ignominy of a most cruel act of murder.


But if one goes by their specious argument, why was Ved Pal Moan lynched in Singhwal village of Jind district on July 23, 2009, and that too in the presence of police force and a warrant officer of the High Court who too was injured? His marriage was neither within the gotra nor within the village. The khaps objected to his marriage on the plea that the boy and the girl were from the neighbouring villages which was unacceptable according to the custom.




Thus the demand of amendment of the HMA for prohibition of same-gotra and same-village marriages would amount to the imposition of a social custom being followed by a small community on those regions and communities which have been following different customs about marriage and other social matters. Moreover, one may say, a custom is not something eternal; it keeps constantly changing as various social strata, communities, families and individuals try to adapt to changing life conditions. Further, how can anyone force a prospective couple to marry according to the HMA only and not under the Special Marriage Act?


It is a matter of fact that in large parts of Haryana people of some communities do not prefer to marry within the gotra as they have the cultural notion of gotra brotherhood. Traditionally, boys and girls of a village community or those belonging to the same gotra are presumed to be brothers and sisters. It is another matter that cases of rapes within the gotra and within the village are not uncommon. But the caste panchayats, and often even the elected panchayats, not only tolerate such cases of rape but even they work overtime to prevent the aggrieved side from going to the police. They are mostly found defending the culprits while compelling the victims and their families to either reach a compromise at the level of police or even turn hostile during the trial in the court. Surprisingly, these desperate attempts to prevent the rape cases from being registered in the police are also made on the same plea --- in the name of saving the ‘honour’ of the village or caste.


The caste panchayats also know it well that the amendment they demand to the Hindu Marriage Act is not only unwarranted but totally impractical. While the present legislation is valid for the whole country, marriage customs are not uniform even in Haryana, what to speak of the entire country, insofar as the so called unacceptability of the same-gotra and same-village marriages is concerned.




No doubt a separate law is required today, but it must be against the crimes in the name of ‘honour.’ There is certainly a justification for such legislation as there is always a dearth of eye witnesses and other vital evidence needed for conviction of the accused who are often none other than the closest relatives of the deceased themselves. It is highly objectionable that the Haryana government is opposing the proposed draft legislation against ‘honour’ crimes mooted by the central law ministry and supported by women organisations, with the AIDWA having made an important contribution to it by submitting a comprehensive draft.


Thus the outcry from the khaps etc regarding amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act is nothing but a ploy to protect the patriarchal hegemony and the status quo with which are linked the deep rooted vested interests of the dominating strata. Raising the bogey of same-gotra marriages and posing it as a big threat is to shamelessly defend the gruesome murders being committed in the name of ‘honour.’


It is true that moral degeneration under the neo-liberal dispensation and its philosophy of blind consumerism is pervading fast in our society. But this can be countered only by alternative healthy and progressive social values and movements, and not by strengthening the caste and other regressive platforms. The false notion of family or community honour must be deconstructed with the help of notions of real honour which lie, among other things, in respecting women and putting an end to discrimination against dalits and minority communities. What is really needed is a powerful social movement in Haryana and other regions against social evils like casteism, female foeticide, dowry, alcoholism, drug addiction, vulgarisation of culture, and for equal rights of women in parental property and in the wider society.