Murderous custom

The spate of honour killings that have been recently reported from Haryana, Punjab, western UP and Rajasthan show the continuing hold of a malevolent tradition on people’s minds and the inability of the society and the law enforcement agencies to counter it. A number of young men and women have been killed or punished in other ways by members of their own families or traditional village panchayats, called khaps, for getting married against the wishes of the family or in defiance of traditional norms. Even those who fall in love have been punished and couples who eloped to avoid social sanction have been hunted down and made to pay for their ‘mistakes’. A young man was killed in Amritsar last week by relatives of the girl he was in love with. Four cases of killing of couples were reported from Haryana in the last three weeks. In all the cases, the role of khap panchayats is suspected. The state’s average is said to be six or seven cases a month. Many cases go unreported too.

Couples are punished if they marry outside their castes, belong to the same gotra or even to the same village, because such marriages are taboo. Khaps wield enormous power and influence and are outside the pale of law. They dispense justice in terms of medieval and obscurantist social canons. Village social groups and families maintain a sense of false honour handed down from the past and do not accept the free will and right of choice of individual members of society. There is a need to put an end to the barbaric custom which militates against citizens’ rights, rule of law and civilised norms of social life and conduct.

The police and politicians are often found to be colluding with the wrong-doers or at least refusing to act against them. Cases are not sincerely pursued by the police and punishment is rare. Politicians want to keep the khap panchayats, which have control over votes, in good humour. It is difficult to curb the practice unless the law is enforced strictly. There is no need for a separate law, because, as Union Home Minister P Chidambaram stated, honour killings can be treated as murder and legally dealt with accordingly. He has suggested some measures, including sensitisation of the police. It is not only the police but the entire society that needs to be sensitised and educated.

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