This article was written by Digvijay Kumar a student of National Law University Delhi
The practice of honor killing find its roots from the idea that the honor of men lies in their women and can be violated by their conduct. During Vedic (2500 BC to 1000 BC) periods there were no restrictions on the women and damsels. But this freedom of theirs was curtailed with the passage of time especially around 2nd century AD when the Smriti writers enforced the basic theme of women being unfit for independence. With the inception of these ideas a new notion of honor for women took shape and the preservation of women body and sexuality became dynamics of personal honor or dishonor.
This new notion of honor started putting restriction on the freedom of the women and these ideas started forming the essential element of the socialization process. The women and their sexuality started being treated as the property of the men. This new concept of honor created a lot of problem and curtailed the freedom of the women in the society. The girls were to be brought up only in a certain particular way and their sexuality was supposed to be preserved. To ensure all this, strict behavioral patterns and codes of conducted were formulated which the girls had to abide by throughout their life. Any violation of these norms and conduct were seen as bringing down the honor to the family and the society and hence such violations were controlled through harsh sanctions.
Now the idea of honor in the present society has been modified. From just preserving the sexuality of women and viewing them as the honor of men, it is being intersected with the caste system and the few other ideas like the idea of clan and gotra. Now people view inter-caste marriages as bringing down the honor of the family and the community as well. Most of the society are reluctant to accept the western concept of marriage like the love marriage and whoever does this are seen as violating the norms and bringing down the reputation of the society.
Marriage provides the structural link between kinship and caste. A caste gains its strength from the kinship linkages provided by the marriage. So the marriage is strictly monitored by the elder member of the family who choose the partner based on several factors like caste purity, caste status, power and hierarchy. So any deviance from this is considered to bring down the honor of not only the family but also the caste and the community. Therefore, the act of choosing a partner on their own by anyone is considered as an act which brings dishonor to the family and the society.
Most of the honor killing cases are related to marriage. Here again in some cases there is some sort of gender discrimination. For instance, when a boy successfully marry a girl violating all the norms then he is considered as the heroic figure. Whereas the case is very opposite in case the girl successfully marry a boy violating the norms of the society. She is said to have brought shame and blacken the face of everyone in the family. This is how because of gender inequality family members are more hostile when the girl of the family violates such norms of the society.
The elders of the society turns very hostile in case someone wants to have inter caste marriage. Even in this case mostly the upper caste has the advantage. So if an upper caste women have an affair with the lower caste men then the society and the family view it as bringing down the honor of the not only family but also to the caste. But if an upper caste men marry a lower caste women then it’s never viewed as bringing down the honor of the family because the society thinks that such woman and their family has no honor to loose. Instead these lower caste women are accused of inciting the upper caste men. So this way the idea of what constitutes honor is strictly dependent on the caste system.
What if these norms and conducts are violated? Whenever any norms and conducts of the society are violated, it is said to bring down the honor of the family, caste and the community. People think that this fixes a black mark on the family and hence they view it as highly disparaging. So they think only way through which they can wash this black spot is to kill the person whoever is involved in it. This is how they choose to kill the person violating the norms and the conduct of the society.
According to United Nations estimates around 5000 people were victimized in 2000 of the honor killing. In India mostly the honor killing is practiced in northern region and statistics estimated roughly 900 cases of honor killing in the northern India. Despite having CEDAW (Convention of Discrimination against Women) honor killing is being practiced rampantly and the victims are not just women but also those who choose for different sexual preferences like gay and the transgender. Such practices have a very adverse impact on the society.
These days most of the honor killing cases are related to the marriage especially when it is inter-caste or inter-religion. Now, article 21 of constitution of India ensures right to life which also includes the right to marry. So this right to marry is not merely about the marriage, rather it is the right to marry according to the choice. As in there has to be freedom of choice. Although in Lata Singh v State of Uttar Pradesh the Supreme Court observed that, “ This is a free and democratic country, and once a person becomes a major he or she can marry whosoever he/she likes.”, but practically in India the idea of choice is not individual and depends largely on the society. So whenever anyone becomes the victims of the crimes of honor, all these rights of that person is violated.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) guarantee a large number of rights related to the freedom of choice. Article deal of UDHR deals with the notion of free will in case of marriage. Apart from that there are several other rights related to the matrimony. The preamble of UDHR reaffirms the “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women”, and it also ensures the freedom from fear and want. Right to life, liberty and security is ensured by article 3 of UDHR and article 5 prohibits torture and inhuman treatment and/or punishment. Article 8 guarantee effective remedial procedures in national judiciary system for acts that violate the fundamental rights guaranteed by the national constitution. Arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home or correspondence including attacks on honor and reputation is ensured by article 12. The incidents of honor killing happen to violate all these rights.
Therefore, the practice of honor killing has very adverse impact on the society. It violates a large number of rights of the victims ranging from the right to live to freedom of choice. Also in most of the case the victims are women which further imbalances the male-female sex ratio. So honor killing affect the society very badly and this practice must be eliminated from the society as soon as possible.
- Pratibha Jain, Sangeeta Sharma, Honor, Gender and the Legend of Meera Bai, Economic and Political Weekly
- Prem Chowdhry, Enforcing Cultural Codes: Gender and Violence in Northern India, Economic and Political Weekly
- Sneha Annavarapu, Human Rights, Honor Killings and the Indian Law, Economic and Political Weekly