EDITORIAL IN THE NEW YORK TIMES
There is much to admire in India today, including its vibrant democracy and economy and its rich traditions. It should also lead the way in protecting and empowering women by ending so-called honor killings.
Jim Yardley recently reported in The Times on the case of Nirupama Pathak, a 22-year-old journalism graduate student from northern India who was found dead in her bedroom in April. Police arrested her mother on suspicion of murder; the family insisted Ms. Pathak had killed herself after confessing that she was pregnant.
The legal process must move forward, but what is clear is that Ms. Pathak’s family — members of the Brahmin caste, the highest Hindu caste — fiercely disapproved of her engagement to a young man she had met at school who was from a middle-upper caste. When she told her family of her plans to marry, The Times reported, she was accused of defiling her Hindu religion.
Her family gave police conflicting stories about how Ms. Pathak died. First, it was said that she had died from electrocution. Then the claim was that she had hanged herself. The autopsy showed that she had suffocated.
Responding to an apparent resurgence in “honor killings,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ordered a cabinet-level commission this month to consider tougher penalties in such cases. In June, India’s Supreme Court asked seven states and the national government to report on what is being done to address the problem. Mr. Singh and the court need to follow through.
Honor killings are widely reported in the Middle East and South Asia, but in recent years they also have taken place in Italy, Sweden, Brazil and Britain. According to Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, there are 5,000 instances annually when women and girls are shot, stoned, burned, buried alive, strangled, smothered and knifed to death by fathers, brothers, sons, uncles, even mothers in the name of preserving family “honor.” Ms. Pillay has rejected arguments that such family violence is outside the conceptual framework of international human rights.
There is a reason these religious and cultural beliefs are allowed to persist. Politicians don’t have the courage to call it what it is: murder.