Despite court rulings against honour killings, the legislature refuses to frame it as a socially sanctioned crime.
There was an incident in which a 22-year-old V. Shankar and his 19-year-old wife Kausalya were attacked by a five-member gang in broad daylight in Udumalpet, in Tamil Nadu’s Tirupur district. Dozens of bystanders remained spectators as Shankar was hacked to death, and a battered Kausalya too left in a pool of blood. The young woman survived the attack.
Rarely has Tamil Nadu witnessed a murder of such audacity, one recorded on CCTV. Shankar, a Dalit, and Kausalya, who hails from the OBC Thevar community, married eight months ago in defiance of her family’s objections. And the attack was confirmed as an “honour killing” a day later when her father surrendered.
In a television interview, Kausalya said she and her husband had been receiving threats from her family even after marriage. The matter was taken to the police but her account suggests that nothing much was done to ensure their safety.
This lax response clearly goes against the Supreme Court ruling in Lata Singh v. State of U.P. (2006) ordering “stern action” against all those threatening or carrying out threats against couples. “There is nothing honorable in such killings, and in fact they are nothing but barbaric and shameful acts of murder committed by brutal, feudal-minded persons who deserve harsh punishment,” the judgment said.
In fact, the apex court, in Bhagwan Dass v. Delhi in May 2011, deemed honour killings in the “rarest of rare” category of crimes that deserve the death penalty. Soon after, the Central government proposed that Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code be amended to include ‘honour killings’ within the definition of murder.
But rejecting this proposal, the Law Commission drafted the Prohibition of Unlawful Assembly (Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances) Bill, 2011 that sought to declare khap panchayats (katta panchayats in Tamil Nadu) unlawful.
Tamil Nadu was not among the 22 States and Union Territories which supported the recommendation to bring a bill to prevent ‘honour killings’.
The Udumalpet incident is only one in a series of ‘honour killings’ the State has witnessed in recent years, and it is mostly Dalits who have been at the receiving end of the violence.
Affirming superiority of caste is the basis of most ‘honour killings’ in the country. In north India, khaps, anachronistic institutions with no legal sanction, should have disappeared after the framing of the Constitution. Instead, because of a host of inter-related issues such as keeping property within the community and maintaining purity of caste, they exercise control by excommunicating members of a community for refusing to toe the line, sometimes even ordering the rape of women. They are mostly known now for opposing intra-gotra and inter-caste marriages.
In Lata Singh v. State of U.P., the Supreme Court had said:“… inter-caste marriages are in fact in the national interest as they will result in destroying the caste system.” This was a decade back, but rings truer today.
Emphasising the issue of choosing one’s own partner as a fundamental right, the All India Democratic Women’s Association had demanded enactment of a comprehensive law on honour crimes that goes beyond just the act of murder and focusses on aspects such as compensation to and rehabilitation of the affected family. That demand still hangs fire. To love cannot be a crime in a nation that is aiming to be a superpower.