Killing in the name of honour is a major problem. An honour killing is also called a “customary killing” and is defined as the murder of a family member or clan member by one or more fellow family members where the murderers (and potentially the wider community) believe the victim to have brought dishonour upon the family, clan, or community. Most of the honour killings are ordered by so-called panchayats or informal courts comprising members of a particular caste, which decide all matters concerning the honour. While most such crimes go unrecorded, the honour killings are on the rise in India. There are several instances of groom or bride being killed by family members for marrying someone from so-called same gotra or from other caste. It is sad to notice that more girls are becoming victims in these incidents than boys. These are socially sanctioned or approved through the village or caste panchayats.
It is to be noted that honour killing is a global issue, with violence and killing in the name of honour being recorded in several countries. According to a United Nations report, the number of honour killings worldwide is as high as 5,000 or more. But it is important to note that in India the largest number of such cases has occurred in northern states–Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. At least 900 so-called honour killings take place in these three Indian states every year, according to a research released recently. To make the scenario gloomier, a large number go unreported as families try to pass them off as natural deaths. Most of the incidents have been reported at the panchayats took place in these three states. These killings result from the perception that defence of honour justifies killing a person whose behaviour, such as engaging in relations with the opposite sex, dishonours their clan or family. These killings result from the perception by certain groups that it is the only resolution to the problem of a disobedient family member straying away from the rules of their culture, which are thousands of years old. This practice also stems from a belief that women, like livestock and land, are the property of men, and that it is a man’s role to ensure a stable family structure.
In the contemporary scenario, one of the primary reasons for the increased visibility of such crimes is the trend of more and more girls joining educational institutions, meeting others from different backgrounds and castes and establishing relationships beyond the confines of caste and community. Such individuals, both boys and girls, are being targeted so that none dares breach the barriers of castes and communities. Significantly, in the majority of cases it is the economically and socially dominant castes that organise, instigate and abet such acts of retribution. It is in this backdrop that the Supreme Court of India recently asked the Centre and eight state governments to submit reports on the steps taken to prevent this barbaric practice. The court’s decision, which has come in the wake of a petition filed by an NGO that seeks a broad and comprehensive strategy to combat honour crimes, could be just what is required to make those in power come down hard against those responsible for them. But it makes one wonder why this kind of thing happens in the twenty-first century, and how long it will take India to join the group of civilised nations. But the elite of India are far too preoccupied with getting superpower status rather than attending to their social problems.