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Report No. 242

Prevention of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances (in the name of Honour and Tradition): A Suggested Legal Framework

1. Introduction

1.1 Pursuant to the discussion in the Parliament on a Calling Attention Motion and the assurance given by the then Union Home Minister that various aspects relating to "honour killings" will be got examined, a reference was made to the Law Commission of India by the Ministry of Law and Justice in September 2009. That is how the subject has been taken up for consideration. 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"2 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 2009 European Parliamentary Assembly noted the rising incidents of honour crimes with concern. In 2010, Britain saw a 47 % rise of honour-related crimes. Data from police agencies in the UK report 2283 cases in 2010 and most of the attacks were conducted in cities that had high immigrant populations.

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. A survey by Elen R. Sheelay3 revealed that 20% of Jordanites interviewed simply believe that Islam condones or even supports killing in the name of family honour which is a myth.

1. 42e7191fae543562c1256 ba7004e963c/$FILE/G0210428.pdf

2. c52002ae5a9/$FILE/N0246790.pdf

3. Quoted in Anver Emon's Article on Honour Killings.

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 family's 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 by assuming to themselves the role of social or community guardians.

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