Triple murder in India highlights increase in 'honour killings'

India's Supreme Court has called for authorities to act after a spate of so-called "honour killings"

India's Supreme Court has called for authorities to act after a spate of so-called "honour killings"



New custodians of age-old prejudices behind increase in ‘honour killings’ in India

Shobha and Monica were cousins. They walked to school together through the narrow, fly-ridden alleys of Wazirpur, a once rural village now overtaken by the sprawling suburbs of northern Delhi. They were often in each other’s homes, narrow apartments with little privacy. They sometimes met at the dairy, an ill-lit room stacked with steel churns and basins of curd where a friend, Deepak, 18, remembered Shobha as “pretty, fun, outgoing”.

Shobha, 20, had a rebellious streak. Sometimes, she even took the bus to McDonald’s or the mall in the upmarket neighbourhood just a mile or so away. Friends said she wanted to be a model.Monica, 24, was more serious. She had married a local boy, Kuldeep, four years ago and was, relatives said, happy with her new life.Shobha, Monica and Kuldeep were each shot twice in the head last Sunday evening. They had no reason to suspect their murderers. One was Shobha’s brother, Mandeep. The other was Monica’s brother, Ankit. The third was a local boy known to them both.

There are 1,000 “honour killings” a year in India, according to one recent study, but few reveal the underlying causes as the triple murder of Wazipur. Significantly, the Indian capital itself has seen an unprecedented spate of such incidents in recent weeks.All six of those involved in last weekend’s murders were living on frontiers: between Wazirpur, their working-class neighbourhood, and Ashok Vihar, the adjacent upmarket suburb; between the increasingly cosmopolitan Indian capital and its deeply conservative hinterland; between the crushing poverty of their parent’s childhoods and the relative wealth of their own.

It is a world in which caste, traditional authority and arranged marriage clashed with aspirations to Bollywood-style romance. The age of all those involved is significant, according to Professor Surinder Jodhka of Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

All were born around the time of the major changes that liberalised India’s economy in the early 1990s, sparking rapid growth.”They grew up in post-reform India.This is a new generation reaching the age of marriage,” Jodhjka told the Guardian.Monica and Kuldeep were on the point of crossing the gulf between the old India and the new. They lived in a rented flat and Kuldeep commuted to his job in a call centre.They had eloped too – the first from Wazirpur ever to do so. They had also ignored India’s system of prejudice and hierarchy as they came from different castes. Yet, their parents had accepted the match. “We were not against it,” said Jai Singh Naggar.

Unlike in many “honour killings” – such as that of a girl and her lower caste boyfriend beaten to death with iron rods in another Delhi neighbourhood earlier this month – older family members were not involved.Nor was there any direct sanction given by community elders. “We cannot stop them. What has to happen will happen. But we do not think it was a good thing to do,” said Mahinder Kahri, 64, head of the local council.

The murderers acted alone, albeit having grown up steeped in a culture of honour, patriarchal authority and violent retribution for transgression.The spark for the killing appears to have been the disappearance of Shobha’s sister with her own “boyfriend”. Shobha herself had previously run away with a man. She had come back home alone but the damage had been done.

“For years her brother had got no respect round here. Even his friends were taunting him. When Shobha did the same thing, he just felt he had to act,” Saurav, 18, told the Guardian.

Shobha’s brother thus sought out Ankit, the brother of Monica. He too was being taunted for the shame his sister’s unauthorised marriage brought the family. The two enlisted a mutual friend.

Prem Chowdhry, a respected historian and researcher, said it was unsurprising that young men had taken the lead role. In the neighbouring state of Haryana, foeticide of girls has led to a ratio of 800 women to every 1,000 men. Women also “marry up” – Monica’s husband came from the higher rajput class – leaving more than a third of lower caste men without wives, she said.”The social situation is very volatile. The marriage market is very tight and that causes huge problems. Youngsters react very strongly. If a woman makes an independent choice she has to pay the penalty,” Chowdhry said.

In Wazirpur yesterday, teenage boys were backing the murderers. “Whatever happened is for the best. There’s a limit to how much you can take. I’d do the same to my sister,” said Rohit, 17.After the killings, the three Wazirpur men fled in a borrowed car, first to Ghaziabad and then to the spiritual centre of Rishikesh, where they threw the home-made murder weapon into the waters of the Ganges. Hours later they were arrested.

Suspected honour killings shock New Delhi

By South Asia correspondent Sally Sara Posted Sun Jun 27, 2010 1:12pm AEST

A series of suspected honour killings has shocked residents in the Indian capital New Delhi. In one case, three members of the same family were killed. In another, a young couple were electrocuted and beaten to death.The country’s Supreme Court has issued an order to several state governments to take action to stop the brutal crimes.

Despite India’s galloping economic growth, some traditional beliefs are still strictly held.In some parts of northern India falling in love is one of the most dangerous things young couples can do.In many families, young adults are not allowed to marry outside their caste or within their sub-caste.When that rule is broken, fathers, brothers, uncles and even mothers can turn on their own children with unimaginable brutality.

This is the world of honour killings, where caste, status and property become more important than life itself.Pankaj Kumar Singh, a senior police investigator at Swaroop Nagar police station in New Delhi, was one of the first on the scene when young lovers Asha and Yogesh were found dead after being electrocuted and tortured.

“It was quite shocking for us,” he said.”Some of the neighbours, they tried to intervene, but they were stopped after the parents told them it was their private matter and they should not interfere.”A week later, three members of another family where killed in a suspected honour killing.Twenty-four-year-old Monica and her husband Kuldeep, who was from a lower caste, were tied up and beaten to death.

The body of another young woman from the same family, 22-year-old Shoba, was also found.Several of Monica’s relatives have been arrested for the triple murder.

‘Supported by the community’

An NGO called Shakti Vahini has lodged a request with the Supreme Court to ensure more action is taken against those responsible for suspected honour killings.”These are horrendous crimes which are all planned and are being supported by the community at large,” spokesman Ravi Kant said.”In many cases couples have been paraded naked, their heads have been shaved off. “They are humiliated. They are ex-communicated.” Members of India’s women’s movement are also horrified by what has been happening in Delhi and several states in northern India.

Ranjana Kumari, from the Centre for Social Research in New Delhi, says marriage outside of caste is still regarded as a bigger crime than murder in many some Indian communities. “I’m totally shocked and I’m appalled by the way it has been going on, and right here in Delhi – this is our national capital,” she said.”Most unfortunate and painful of the whole thing: it is the brother … the family members. “We cannot even imagine – it’s unthinkable – how it is happening.”

Horror killings — conflict between rigid tradition, modernity


New Delhi: With a spate of so-called ‘honour killings’ shocking the nation in recent weeks, human rights activists say the increase in such cases is a testimony to the growing conflict between rigid family tradition and modernity. They also feel the problem can be resolved by increasing awareness and bringing tougher legislations.

“While the younger generation wants to break the shackles of traditional family norms, the older generation wants to teach them a lesson for violating the rules they have been following since ages,” says Ravi Kant, president of Delhi-based NGO Shakti Vahini. “Our politicians are tyring hard to showcase India as an emerging superpower. But we have not made enough efforts to educate the rural masses who comprise 70 per cent of our population,” Kant, also a Supreme Court lawyer, said.

“Honour killing is like any other social problem which can be fought with awareness and stronger legislation. We need to convince people who give their social customs more priority than anything else that these young people are making their own choices and that is not against the rule of law,” he said.

A series of cases, where young men or women were murdered for marrying outside caste or within the same sub-caste or against the family’s wishes have come to the fore in recent times. Delhi had back-to-back cases in the past two weeks.

Only a few politicians have spoken against such crimes because caste can determine an election win or loss, felt Kant, whose organisation had filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) before the Supreme Court on this issue. Hearing the petition, the apex court had last week asked the Centre and eight state governments to submit reports on the steps taken to prevent such barbaric crimes.

According to the UN Population Fund, such crimes are being committed across the globe and mostly in the Asian continent since ages. It estimates that around 5,000 women are killed in this way every year worldwide, vast majority of them in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.  In March this year, a Haryana court sentenced five people to death for murdering a couple on the orders of a ‘khap panchayat’ — a traditional unofficial local council. Union Law Minister M Veerappa Moily has said that the government would soon come out with a law against honour killings and a draft has already been prepared.

Welcoming this, senior Supreme Court lawyer P N Lekhi said, “Offences like honour killing are social offences and strict laws are needed to combat them.”

Another Supreme Court lawyer Shanti Bhushan said, “Making the crime a separate offence would attract more attention from the authorities as well as common man.”

Of marriage and murder



Concerned about the spate of recent ‘honour killings,’ the Supreme Court of India has 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. Already, the central government has indicated it would bring in a new law that will make the punishment for honour killings, which are carried out mainly against young couples who marry outside their caste or within their gotra or agnate, extremely stringent. While those responsible for the crimes are relatives or members of the same caste as the victims, such killings often have the sanction of the khap panchayats, which exercise power over families belonging to the same gotra in neighbouring villages. The new law is likely to target khap panchayats, irrespective of whether they actually approved of the killing. Further, the government has suggested that unlike ordinary criminal law, which requires the prosecution to establish guilt, the new law will reverse the onus of proof, leaving those accused to prove their innocence.

Although Haryana has made the most news recently for honour killings, the practice is prevalent in parts of other north Indian States such as Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Bihar, and Jharkhand. The absence of a strong political will to crack down on the illegal diktats of khap panchayats — which, apart from licensing murder, levy fines on and order social boycotts of those who bring alleged ‘dishonour’ to the community — is directly related to the fear among politicians of alienating their caste constituencies. To make matters worse, instead of protecting the legal right of adult couples to marry or be together as they choose, the police often act at the behest of parents and relatives by pressing criminal charges (usually abduction and rape) in an attempt to sunder the relationship. Traditional notions of ‘honour’ and ‘dishonour’ do have sociological dimensions. But only cultural relativists will justify the obscurantist prohibition and vicious intolerance of same gotra marriages, especially after the Hindu Marriage Disabilities Removal Act 1946 removed the legal ‘disability’ against them. Nothing can justify the savage punishments being inflicted on young people for exercising free choice in marriage or personal relationships. While a lot of work needs to be done to change social attitudes, it is imperative to take tough legal measures to prevent vicious crimes in the name of caste, gotra, identity, and tradition.

Honour-killing: a sub-continental phenomenon


The Guardian, UK

At least 900 so-called honour killings take place in three Indian states – Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh – every year, according to research to be released published next week. A large number go unreported as families try to pass them off as natural deaths. Honour killing in the south and east of India is rare. The UN Population Fund estimates around 5,000 women die in this way every year worldwide, the vast majority in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

According to one recent study, – 172 incidents and 230 honour-killing victims worldwide – the average age of those killed is 23. In the UK, 10 to 12 women are killed for this reason every year. In March this year, a Haryana court sentenced five people to death for murdering a couple on the orders of a “khap panchayat”, a traditional unofficial local council. Among the guilty were the girl’s brother and cousins.

Last week, the Indian supreme court demanded an explanation of what steps national and state governments had taken to protect young couples. The government has promised new legislation in the next few weeks.

India must ask: where is the honour in killing?



Three men were arrested by Delhi police this week for “honour killings” days after the Supreme Court asked eight Indian states to stop these so-called “honour” killings, where family members, typically men, kill daughters and their husbands for apparently bringing dishonour to the family by marrying below their caste. The killings, in a posh neighbourhood in Delhi, brought the tragic and shameful story of honour killings closer home to Delhi residents, who had so far dismissed the rising instances of these killings as a feature of rural India, equating them to a more traditional and conservative India they claim not to inhabit.

Marriage and Customs
Marriage and Customs

The clash between tradition and modernity is not new and is not unique to India, where more than two-thirds of its population lives in rural areas, and where more than half the population is below the age of 25 years. Satellite television, education and rising numbers of working women have all been blamed for an erosion of family values and the Indian ethos, and the corruption of its youth. When did killing young women become a part of the Indian ethos? Why is punishment by death an admirable family value?

In a country where a majority of youngsters still have marriages “arranged” by their parents, caste and religion dominate matrimonial conversations.

Activists say despite growing modernisation — or perhaps, because of it — the number of honour killings has been rising steadily in the last few years, particularly in some northern and central Indian states, where village elders often order such killings.

Families don’t report these cases, and police are often loath to take action because they see them as little more than family disputes. And few politicians have spoken against them because caste can determine an election victory or loss. So it was left to the Supreme Court to take a stand; the law minister and the prime minister have spoken of a bill to end such crimes and to crack down on village courts that endorse these killings.

But until we acknowledge that these are indeed heinous crimes, we only bring dishonour to ourselves and fail our youth, particularly our women.

Honor Killings Still Terrorize India's Young Lovers


ABC NEWS INTERNATIONAL USA / Police Slow to Acknowledge Honor Killings

Laws exist to protect couples who choose a “love” marriage over an arranged one, but the rules are rarely enforced. Even with the recent cases in Delhi, when relatives even confessed to the murders, law enforcement is slow to categorize the murders as honor killings.

“These are murders like all murders and we are investigating them with an open mind and still have not concluded if there is an increase in honor killings in Delhi,” Rajan Bhagat, a Delhi police public relations officer, told ABC News.

Ravi Kant, president of Shakti Vahini, hopes the recently-filed petition will begin to change what he considers an unacceptable attitude towards honor killings by law enforcement and the government.

“In some cases, couples have approached the police for protection, but nothing is done,” Kant, a lawyer in India’s Supreme Court, told ABC News. Kant said there is also a “deafening silence by the politicians” who are too concerned about votes than protecting couples.

“The killing of couples and individuals in the name of honor is violation of the fundamental right of individuals to live with dignity and it is the duty of the state to protect them, ” Shakti Vahini stated in its Public Interest Litigation (PIL). A PIL is filed when something urgent needs intervention of the judiciary.

As India moves into its position as the world’s next “superpower” a younger, educated generation is finding itself at odds with the powerful traditional values held by their parents and grandparents. India may be considered the world’s technology center, but at its heart, family still plays a protective – but sometimes oppressive – role.