February 8, 2023

Law Commission Report for alternative legal framework to curb Honour Killings

The concept of honour with which we are concerned has many facets. Sometimes, a young man can become the victim of honour killing or receive violent treatment at the hands of the family members of the girl when he has fallen in love or has entered into marriage. The collective behaves like a patriarchal monarch which treats the wives, sisters and daughters subordinate, even servile or self-sacrificing, persons moving in physical frame having no individual autonomy, desire and identity. The concept of status is accentuated by the male members of the community and a sense of masculine dominance becomes the sole governing factor of perceptive honour.

The law Commission

The law Commission in its 242nd Report namely, Prevention of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances (in the name of Honour and Tradition): A Suggested Legal Framework, discussed the cause of honour Killings in detail, and suggested a legal framework to curb honour killings

The relevant extracts of the Report read as follows: –

1.2 At the outset, it may be stated that the words honour killings and honour crimes are being used loosely as convenient expressions to describe the incidents of violence and harassment caused to the young couple intending to marry or having married against the wishes of the community or family members. They are used more as catch phrases and not as apt and accurate expressions.

1.3 The so-called honour killings or honour crimes are not peculiar to our country. It is an evil which haunts many other societies also. The belief that the victim has brought dishonour upon the family or the community is the root cause of such violent crimes. Such violent crimes are directed especially against women. Men also become targets of attack by members of family of a woman with whom they are perceived to have an inappropriate relationship. Changing cultural and economic status of women and the women going against their male dominated culture has been one of the causes of honour crimes.

In some western cultures, honour killings often arise from women seeking greater independence and choosing their own way of life. In some cultures, honour killings are considered less serious than other murders because they arise from long standing cultural traditions and are thus deemed appropriate or justifiable.

An adulterous behaviour of woman or pre-marital relationship or assertion of right to marry according to their choice, are widely known causes for honour killings in most of the countries. The report of the Special Rapporteur to U.N. 1 of the year 2002 concerning cultural practices in the family that are violent towards women indicated that honour killings had been reported in Jordon, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, United Arab Republic, Turkey, Yemen and other Persian Gulf countries and that they had also taken place in western countries such as France, Germany and U.K mostly within migrant communities.

The report Working towards the elimination of crimes against women committed in the name of honour submitted to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is quite revealing. Apart from the other countries named above, according to the UN Commission on Human Rights, there are honour killings in the nations of Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, India, Israel, Italy, Morocco, Sweden, Turkey and Uganda.

According to Mr. Widney Brown, Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch, the practice of honour killing goes across cultures and across religions. There are reports that in some communities, many are prepared to condone the killing of someone who have dishonoured their family.

The national legal Courts in some countries viz., Haiti, Jordon, Syria, Morocco and two Latin American countries do not penalize men killing female relatives found committing adultery or the husbands killing their wives in flagrante delicto.

1.4 As far as India is concerned, honour killings are mostly reported from the States of Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and U.P. Bhagalpur in Bihar is also one of the known places for honour killings. Even some incidents are reported from Delhi and Tamil Nadu. Marriages with members of other castes or the couple leaving the parental home to live together and marry provoke the harmful acts against the couple and immediate family members.

1.5 The Commission tried to ascertain the number of such incidents, the accused involved, the specific reasons, etc., so as to have an idea of the general crime scenario in such cases. The Government authorities of the States where incidents often occur have been addressed to furnish the information. The Director (SR) in the Ministry of Home Affairs, by her letter dated 26 May 2010, also requested the State Governments concerned to furnish the necessary information to the Commission. However, there has been no response despite reminder.

But, from the newspaper reports, and reports from various other sources, it is clear that the honour crimes occur in those States as a result of people marrying without their familys acceptance and for marrying outside their caste or religion.

Marriages between the couple belonging to same Gotra (family name) have also often led to violent reaction from the family members or the community members. The Caste councils or Panchayats popularly known as Khap Panchayats try to adopt the chosen course of moral vigilantism and enforce their diktats on Honour Killings assuming to themselves the role of social or community guardians.

Dimensions of the problem and the need for a separate law

Adverting to the dimensions of the problem and the need for a separate law, the Report states: –

2.3 The pernicious practice of Khap Panchayats and the like taking law into their own hands and pronouncing on the invalidity and impropriety of Sagotra and inter-caste marriages and handing over punishment to the couple and pressurizing the family members to execute their verdict by any means amounts to flagrant violation of rule of law and invasion of personal liberty of the persons affected.

2.4 Sagotra marriages are not prohibited by law, whatever may be the view in olden times. The Hindu Marriage Disabilities Removal Act, 1946 was enacted with a view to dispel any doubts in this regard. The Act expressly declared the validity of marriages between the Hindus belonging to the same gotra or pravara or different sub-divisions of same caste. The Hindu Marriage Act does not prohibit sagotra or inter- caste marriages.

2.5 The views of village elders or family elders cannot be forced on the willing couple and no one has a right to use force or impose far-reaching sanctions in the name of vindicating community honour or family honour. There are reports that drastic action including wrongful confinement, persistent harassment, mental torture, infliction of or threats of severe bodily harm is resorted to either by close relations or some third parties against the so-called erring couple either on the exhortations of some or all the Panchayatdars or with their connivance.

Several instances of murder of one or the other couple have been in the news. Social boycotts and other illegal sanctions affecting the young couple, the families and even a section of local inhabitants are quite often resorted to. All this is done in the name of tradition and honour. The cumulative effect of all such acts have public order dimensions also.

A Bill

The Law Commission had prepared a draft Bill and while adverting to the underlying idea of the provisions of the draft Bill, it has stated: –

2.8 The idea underlying the provisions in the draft Bill is that there must be a threshold bar against congregation or assembly for the purpose of objecting to and condemning the conduct of young persons of marriageable age marrying according to their choice, the ground of objection being that they belong to the same gotra or to different castes or communities.

The Panchayatdars or caste elders have no right to interfere with the life and liberty of such young couples whose marriages are permitted by law and they cannot create a situation whereby such couples are placed in a hostile environment in the village/locality concerned and exposed to the risk of safety. Such highhanded acts have a tendency to create social tensions and disharmony too.

No frame of mind or belief based on social hierarchy can claim immunity from social control and regulation, in so far as such beliefs manifest themselves as agents of enforcement of right and wrong. The very assembly for an unlawful purpose viz. disapproving the marriage which is otherwise within the bounds of law and taking consequential action should be treated as an offence as it has the potential to endanger the lives and liberties of individuals concerned.

The object of such an assembly is grounded on disregard for the life and liberty of others and such conduct shall be adequately tackled by penal law. This is without prejudice to the prosecution to be launched under the general penal law for the commission of offences including abetment and conspiracy.

2.9 Given the social milieu and powerful background of caste combines which bring to bear intense pressure on parents and relatives to go to any extent to punish the sinning couples so as to restore the community honour, it has become necessary to deal with this fundamental problem. Any attempt to effectively tackle this socio-cultural phenomenon, rooted in superstition and authoritarianism, must therefore address itself to various factors and dimensions, viz, the nature and magnitude of the problem, the adequacy of existing law, and the wisdom in using penal and other measures of sanction to curb the power and conduct of caste combines.

The law as it stands does not act either as a deterrence or as a sobering influence on the caste combinations and assemblies who regard themselves as being outside the pale of law. The socio-cultural outlook of the members of caste councils or Panchayats is such that they have minimal or scant regard for individual liberty and autonomy.

Autonomy of choices and liberty

Highlighting the aspect of autonomy of choices and liberty, the underlying object of the proposed Bill as has been stated by the Law Commission reads as under: –

4.1 The autonomy of every person in matters concerning oneself a free and willing creator of ones own choices and decisions, is now central to all thinking on community order and organization. Needless to emphasize that such autonomy with its manifold dimensions is a constitutionally protected value and is central to an open society and civilized order. Duly secured individual autonomy, exercised on informed understanding of the values integral to ones well being is deeply connected to a free social order. Coercion against individual autonomy will then become least necessary.

4.2 In moments and periods of social transition, the tensions between individual freedom and past social practices become focal points of the communitys ability to contemplate and provide for least hurting or painful solutions. The wisdom or wrongness of certain community perspectives and practices, their intrinsic impact on liberty, autonomy and self-worth, as well as the parents concern over impulsive and unreflective choices all these factors come to the fore-front of consideration.

4.3 The problem, however, is the menacing phenomena of repressive social practices in the name of honor triggering violent reaction from the influential members of community who are blind to individual autonomy.

Thus, the Report showed the devastating effect of the crime and the destructive impact on the right of choice of an individual and the control of the collective over the said freedom. The Commission has emphasized on the intense pressure of the powerful community and how they punish the sinning couples according to their socio-cultural perception and community honour and the action taken by them that results in extinction of the rights of individuals which are guaranteed under the Constitution.

It has eloquently canvassed about the autonomy of every person in matters concerning oneself and the expression of the right which is integral to the said individual.