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Home > Women’s Rights > Governments Must Stop Condoning ‘Honour Killings’

Governments Must Stop Condoning ‘Honour Killings’

by Kavita Krishnan, 19 September 2009

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“Only whores choose their own partners.... Recently an educated couple married against the samaj’s (community’s) wishes in Jhajjar. We hail the panchayat’s decision to execute them...The government cannot protect this atyachar (immoral behaviour).... (The law of the land) is the root of all problems... That’s your Constitution, ours is different.’’ –- Mahendra Singh Tikait, farmers’ leader of Western UP

“Yahan izzatdar woh hain jo ladki ko marte hain (Those who kill their girls are respected here)” –- a teacher in rural Haryana

‘‘Khap leaders are keepers of Jat tradition” — Justice (retd) Devi Singh Teotia, a former judge of the Punjab & Haryana HC, active member of the Sarv Khap Panchayat, demanding legalising of the khaap panchayats

Mahendra Singh Tikait’s outrageous and offensive remarks once again raise the question: why do the khaap panchayats of Haryana and Western UP which open issue ‘death sentences’ for couples who defy their caste-diktats on love and marriage, enjoy impunity?

In the context of such executions, Congress MP from Rohtak Deepender Hooda (whom the Congress proudly counts among its contingent of ‘young MPs’) had expressed sympathy for the “sentiments and local customs of khaap panchayats.” Will the Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh tell us why leaders of their party endorse such “sentiments” that mock the constitution and openly call for lynching?

Tikait says women who choose their own partners are ‘whores’. The ‘dishonour’ of ‘whoring’, in his eyes, does not lie, it seems, in the act of buying (or selling) sexual services. After all, men in the same region openly buy their wives (as reproductive machines) from other states, because women are in short supply due to female foeticide. The ‘dishonour’ according to him lies primarily in women choosing their own partners. This choice threatens the structures of property and land, and with it, the very edifice of feudal power.

Tikait’s words are all the more unfortunate coming from a representative of the farmers’ movement. One caution, however. The Times of India story that carried Tikait’s statements, described the farmers’ leader in stereotypical terms as “squatting on his haunches...dhoti-clad...bare-chested...". The suggestion seems to be that it is only in the “backward” rural, lower-class hinterland that such views on women exist. The question is: isn’t Ashok Todi prosperous, ‘modern’ and upper class? What about US-educated Deepender Hooda? And are not men who are dhoti-clad, bare-chested and who squat on their haunches capable of being progressive? Tikait may offer a juicier sound-byte and make an easier target for the corporate media. We in the women’s movement, however, can’t lose sight of the fact that educated and well off fathers and brothers are quite as culpable in policing their daughters’ and sisters’ sexuality. Murders in the name of ’honour’ have land and property as a sub-text, and they do not happen only in ’uncivilised’ hinterlands but often enough in elite sections of cities. In Haryana, the dominant sub-castes sense a threat to their hegemony from newly emergent caste groups, urbanisation, as well as changing economic and social structures. The question of control over women’s sexuality provides an emotive tool to mobilise, unite, and retain the dominance of the caste group.

Home Minister P Chidambaram has rejected the need for a special law to deal with the Haryana killings, saying they should be dealt with as murders.

The killings and lynchings themselves may be murders. The question is: is it legal to justify and call for such killings, as the khaap panchayats do, as Tikait does? Does our existing law permit any individual or institution to issue diktats on adults’ choice of marriage partners, and declare ‘death sentences’ for those who defy these caste-imposed diktats? If it is indeed illegal to issue such diktats and death sentences, why does neither Home Ministry nor the State Government of Haryana take any action against those who issue them?

Sati and dowry killings are also murders, but we have specific laws to recognise them. Can murders which are openly justified – even by leaders from Chidambaram’s own party, as well as their allies like Tikait – in the name of social tradition be dealt with in the same way as ordinary murders?

If the Central Government and State Governments refuse to invoke existing laws to punish those who openly flout the Constitution and call for such killings; if the existing laws do not even allow the National Crime Records Bureau to document or assess the actual numbers of such killings (since they’re all lumped together as murders), then surely we need a specific law that

  • declares it illegal for any group or individual, be they khaap panchayats or Sangh outfits or parents like D P Yadav or Ashok Todi to coerce adults in matters of marriage;
  • spells out punishments for diktats and death sentences issued by khaap panchayats, and also for Tikait-type justifications of such ‘executions’;
  • that spells out punishments for concerned police and administration authorities who fail to protect couples and take preventive action against those who issue death sentences
  • that spells out punishments for parents who falsely accuse women of being ‘minors’ so as to separate them from husbands and have them locked up in Nari Niketans

Kavita Krishnan
- Secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA),