Honour Killing In the Times of COVID-19: Increase In Caste-Based Violence in India

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In India, caste-based violence has increased over the years, and honour killing is one of them. Marriage is the purest form of union between a man and a woman, tied with the rope of love and affection. However, in India, religion, case, custom, and the so-called “norms” of the society dominate and influence marriage. There is an age-old belief that a person can only marry the person of the same caste. It persists in many sections of society. Also, it is much reinforced and propagated by Khap Panchayats.

The 242nd report of Law Commission of India suggested a new legal framework titled, ‘Prevention of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances (in the name of Honour and Tradition): A Suggested Legal Framework’ on August 2012. It emphasized on limiting the role of Khap Panchayats to only the problems concerning the disputes prevailing between families. In addition to it, the Khap Panchayats should not interfere with the liberty of individuals who chose to marry outside their caste. The Supreme court has also issued some guidelines to prevent Khap Panchayat from misusing its position. As per them, the police can prevent Khap Panchayat from assembling by using Section 144 of the Code of Criminal procedure.

Instances of Honour Killings in the Lockdown

When the whole world is stressing over combating COVID-19, there has been an increase in the number of honour killing cases. On 27 March, a man in the Tiruvannamalai district of Tamil Nadu was killed for getting married to a girl outside his caste. After coming back from Chennai, he tried to meet his wife. However, the woman’s family forcefully nullified their marriage by a local panchayat. This is the prime example of casteism still prevailing over the law. In other words, the marriage solemnized legally but ended forcefully. Further, in April, a girl of Hoshiarpur was sedated by her family members. Consequently, she died. This happened because her family suspected that she eloped with a boy. The instances do not end here.

On 22 May, a family killed a girl who was pregnant. Further, on 7 June, a pregnant woman was killed by her parents as the child was of a lower caste man. Later, in the same month, a 16-year-old minor girl was killed by her father as she was having an affair. The reason behind most of these cases is casteism. Sadly, people have not yet got rid of their rigid mindset of discriminating based on caste. To sum, the author argue that the people in the name of killing for the honour, are glorifying casteism instead.

Udmalpet Honour Killing Case: Lost Faith in Judiciary or Humanity?

In 2016, Shankar was brutally killed by the goons sent by his wife’s father as he married a girl of upper caste. Afterward, in 2017, 11 people were charged with his death and 6 were sentenced to death. On 22 June, Madras High Court set aside the death sentence and acquitted B Chinnaswamy, father of the woman. Moreover, the Court set aside all the charges including criminal conspiracy.

Ignorance of essential facts in the case

Despite it being a clear case of honour killing and caste violence, the Court acquitted the culprit from all the charges. There was clear evidence to prove that Kausalaya’s father was guilty but eventually the High Court ignore the same. On top of that, Kausalya, herself gave a statement against her parents, which played an important role in the conviction. She was even happy with the previous judgment too. The CCTV footage of the victim which shows that he was brutally beaten went viral. It clearly showed how he became the victim of a conspiracy. Moreover, earlier, the Supreme Court directed all the Trial Courts and High Courts to treat honour killings as the “rarest of rare” cases. As a result, the Court should award death sentence which will act as a deterrence for future crimes.

However, the Court did not take a note of these circumstances while pronouncing the judgment. Considering that the 2017 judgment was ironic, the Madras High Court’s judgment is a shocking state of affairs. It was the second case in India where the Court pronounced 6 death sentences at once. Due to the involvement of the family in such cases, generally, women tend to not speak against their parents. But, in this case, the woman herself testified against her father and addressed the media boldly. It is pertient to observe that B Chinnaswamy was received with shawls when he came out of the jail by his caste members. This is just an act of glorifying honour killing and caste violence. As of now, the government counsel is considering challenging the High Court order in the Supreme Court.

A Need for a Separate Law?

Today, there is a dire need to have a separate law for addressing honour killing. Primarily, making it a separate offense would bring more clarity for law enforcement agencies. No doubt that killing someone is an offense under IPC but making it a specific crime will give more clarity for interpretation. Not only this but making it a separate offense would also give clear and reliable data on the number of honour killings committed.

Furthermore, there is no statutory definition of honour killing. And the international definitions are not enough for these casteism inspired killings. In addition to it, it has no legal recognition. Therefore, there are no proper statistics available. Symptomatically, such crimes do not exist in the records of the National Crime Records Bureau. There is no specific law for it, so usually, police, lawyers, judges consider it a normal murder case. As a result, they fail to recognize the answer to the question ‘what precedes such a heinous act?’.

An effective investigation process

The police generally do not register such cases fearing the dominant community of the village. Even if they get registered, the dominant community gets it unregistered. The investigation, examinations, and collection of evidence should be in accordance with the motive of honour killing. Implementation of specific laws would provide directions to police to protect couples. In 2018, it was decided by the center to propose a law to make honour killing a cognizable offense. Also, the center proposed to make a special cell in each district for receiving complaints from couples.

Rajasthan’s new Bill: Indicating the need for a separate law

The Rajasthan Prohibition of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances in the Name of Honour and Tradition Bill, 2019 was passed in the Rajasthan Assembly. It provides for life imprisonment or the death penalty for killing couples for the sake of honour. It is the first state to have a special law for honour killing. Furthermore, it is a non-bailable offense.

The Author’s Recommendations

The author proposes that the Indian Evidence Act should put the burden of proof on the accused, and a stricter implementation should be there. Furthermore, joint liability should be there to even punish the Khap Panchayat members. There should also be a special cell in both urban and rural areas to receive such complaints by the couple. In addition to it, a state should submit monthly reports of honour killing cases. Most importantly, other states should take inspiration from the Rajasthan assembly and make honour killing a separate offense. Also, conducting awareness campaigns about the same could help in educating people.

Lastly, casteism is the evil cause of honour killing. The author further believes a piece of legislation or guidelines would not be very effective to decrease the rate of honour killing, but a change in the mentality would be more effective. Hence, people should change their mindset and stop caste discrimination.

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