End barbarism

In spite of claims by governments of strong action in cases of honour killings, and widespread exposure and criticism in the media, these killings take place regularly in some parts of the country.

A few days ago, a young couple was tortured and killed in public view by the girl’s parents in Haryana’s Rohtak district, and their bodies were left beheaded and half-burnt. While the killings were shocking, the khap panchayats (community councils), which sanction and demand such punishments, were not only unrepentant but were even offensive. The sarv khap panchayat which was held in Rohtak later wanted the Hindu Marriage Act to be amended to ban inter-caste and same gotra marriages. These retrograde bodies have actually become bolder in the last few years and this is because of the submissive politics played by political parties and state governments.
The khap panchayats are illegal and unconstitutional but they have a big influence over local communities. Political parties and governments are not prepared to oppose them because they control votes. One Haryana minister even defended honour killings. The Supreme Court has called them crimes of the rarest of the rare kind but actually successful prosecution and punishment of the guilty is a rare occurrence. The Central government proposed a separate law to deal with honour killings as there is no specific law covering them. Even a Group of Ministers was set up to evolve a consensus on the law. But the move was scuttled mainly by the governments of the three states—Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh – where honour killings are rampant.

There is again talk of the law and the need to punish not only the perpetrators of killings but also members of the khap panchayats which support them. But it is doubtful if such a law which, as it was conceived, would require the accused to prove their innocence if they are charged with honour killings, would be enacted. Haryana and Rajasthan have always disingenuously  maintained that the administrative orders they have issued are enough to deal with the problem. There is the need for pressure from the Centre, society and the media to make these governments take effective action to prevent these inhuman actions and to punish those guilty of them. It is also necessary to create greater awareness among the communities in which honour killings find acceptance.

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