To be young and in love has proved fatal for many young girls and boys in parts of north India as an intolerant and bigoted society refuses to accept any violation of its rigid code of decorum, especially when it comes to women. The two teenage girls who were shot dead last week by a cousin in Noida for daring to run away to meet their boyfriends are the latest victims of honour killings, a euphemism for doing away with anyone seen as spoiling the family's reputation.
Many such killings are happening with regularity in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. These are socially sanctioned by caste panchayats and carried out by mobs with the connivance of family members. The usual remedy to such murders is to suggest that society must be prevailed upon to be more gender-sensitive and shed prejudices of caste and class. Efforts should be made to sensitize people on the need to do away with social biases. But equally, it should be made clear that there is no escape for those who take justice into their own hands.
So far, there is no specific law to deal with honour killings. The murders come under the general categories of homicide or manslaughter. When a mob has carried out such attacks, it becomes difficult to pinpoint a culprit. The collection of evidence becomes tricky and eyewitnesses are never forthcoming. Like the case of Sati and dowry where there are specific laws with maximum and minimum terms of punishment, honour killings, too, merit a second look under the law.
In many cases, the victims who run away with 'unsuitable' partners are lured back home after FIRs are filed by their families. The police cannot be unaware that in many cases they are coming back to certain death at the hands of their relatives and fellow villagers. Yet, pre-emptive action to protect them is never taken. Undoubtedly, the virus of caste and class that affects those carrying out such crimes affects the police in the area too. But that can be no excuse to sanction murder.
More than 1,000 young people in India have been done to death every year owing to 'Honour Killings' linked to forced marriages and the country needs to introduce stringent legislation to deal firmly with the heinous crime, two legal experts have claimed.
Participating in International Child Abduction, Relocation and Forced Marriages Conference organised by the London Metropolitan University here, Chandigarh-based legal experts Anil Malhotra and his brother Ranjit Malhotra have said that in traditional societies, honour killings are basically 'justified' as a sanction for 'dishonourable' behaviour.
In a joint paper, they said: "Forced marriages and honour killings are often intertwined. Marriage can be forced to save honour, and women can be murdered for rejecting a forced marriage and marrying a partner of their own choice who is not acceptable for the family of the girl.
They said in India, honour killings happen with regularity in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. Though there was no nationwide data on the prevalent of honour killings in India, they quoted figures compiled by the India Democratic Women's Association, according to which Haryana, Punjab and U P account for about 900 honour killings and another 100 to 300 in the rest of the country.
"The total figure for India would be about the same as estimated for Pakistan, which researchers suggest has the highest per capita incidence of honour killings in the world."
They said the ministries of home affairs and the law and justice are preparing to amend the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to define the act of "honour killing".
The demand for such a law was made repeatedly with the objective of stamping out this social evil.