On 16 June 2008 a 22 year-old-girl, in the border village Naushera Dhalla, Amritsar, was allegedly killed by her parents for having an affair with the boy of nearby village. Her last rites were clandestinely performed.
The day before, on 15 June 2008, Sarabjit Singh, from Gajjukhera village in Patiala district, surrendered to Punjab police confessing that he killed his sister and brother in law. He said that he was instigated by an anonymous letter which said that his sister was pregnant with the child of a lower cast man.
Two years back Satwinder Kaur, a Dalit from same village, married Suresh Kumar, a Khatri boy. The marriage led to tension in the village eventually to the gruesome murder of the couple.
Such are the tales of girls from rural Punjab who were killed by their own fathers and brothers in the name of ‘honour’. The gruesome killings point to the intolerance for inter-caste marriages in rural Punjab and the handicapped law . The state also has the distinction of having the lowest sex ratio in the country (798 girls for every 1000 boys, acc to census 2001).
‘honour killings’, quite literally, are the killing of women by their male family members, who thereby remove stains from the family honour. The woman may bring about that stain on the family in several ways: by refusing an arranged marriage, eloping with a lover or being the victim of sexual assault.
The Nation Crimes Bureau does not have any data on the number of such killings because ‘honour killings’ is not a separate category. According to a survey done by the Delhi based Indian Population Statistics Survey (IPSS) in 2007, 655 homicidal cases were registered as honour killings, in India. While in Punjab and Delhi, the figure stands at around 209. Most cases are reported from the northern states of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, although that is also attributed to a larger number of NGOs operating in these areas.
Pam Rajput, who retired as Director, Centre for Women’s Studies at the Punjab University, said that, “Firstly I object to the term ‘honour killing’, what is so honourable in a father brutally murdering his daughte to guard stale notions of chastity? Such cases should be refered to as dishonour killings. Shamefully men still consider their masculinity to be a result of the control they exert on their females. The notions of purity, virginity are related only to the body and mind of the women of the family, not men.”
Ranjan Lakhanpal, a Chandigarh based lawyer who has been filing PILs against many cases of honour killings, said that the actual number of honour killings is lot more than what is reported, “In the cases which we come to know of, the girl and the boy are murdered and their bodies, the evidence, is removed. There is no complainant and no witness. …. If at all a missing person is reported, ultimately the case is ‘unsolved’.”
In 2006, the Supreme Court condemned honour killings as “barbaric and shameful acts of murder committed by brutal, feudal-minded persons who deserve harsh punishment” but despite such statements, the Police does not go beyond filing a criminal case of murder and destroying evidence after murder under section of 302 and 201 of IPC against the accused.
One of the main reasons why honour killings are increasing is because people are getting away with it, Lakhanpal added that the scenario is bad in rural areas because there is a strong caste angle to the social life; the upper caste man who kills his daughter is not taken to task by the police constable, who is of the same caste.
According to Rajput, “At the core of such killings is a patriarchal society whose has the social sanction which sees these crimes as a necessity. The practice of honour killing thrives because it has strong notion of caste purity, which precedes logic and law. But it also thrives because of government’s sreluctance to acknowledge it as a serious issue.”
The Punjab and Haryana High Court passed a detailed jusdgment, on 15th Aug, meant on cases of runaway marriages to ensure the protection of life and liberty of runaway couples. It stated that threats to the couple, who might be harassed by the police or families, will be open to the police to initiate action, only if any substantive offence is found to have been committed.
According to Lakhanpal, “It is not that justice is not done because we don’t have a clear law, the solution lies in educating the masses. Not just the villagers who indulge in such killings but also the judges who refuse protection to couples because of their personal bias and Police officers who wait for the cremation to be over so that the case can be conveniently left unsolved forever.”