Even as the Cabinet has referred the issue of enacting a special law to deal with ‘honour killings' to a Group of Ministers, a report prepared by two legal experts specialising in child custody, marriage and adoption issues gives the shocking information that more than 1,000 young people in India are being killed every year due to this menace linked to forced marriages.

According to Chandigarh-based lawyers, Anil Malhotra and his brother Ranjit Malhotra, honour killings happen with regularity in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh and most of them are not reported for fear of ostracism from the local community.

“They happen not only within the Muslim community but also among Sikhs and Hindus. Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh account for about 900 ‘honour killings' and another 100 to 300 in the rest of the country.”

The report says: “Forced marriages and ‘honour killings' are often intertwined. Marriage can be forced to save honour, and women can be murdered for rejecting a forced marriage and marrying a partner of their own choice who is not acceptable for the family of the girl. In traditional societies, ‘honour killings' are basically ‘justified' as a sanction for ‘dishonourable' behaviour.

“Be it forced marriages or ‘honour killings,' the social dimensions and implications are the same. Forced and early marriages entrap women and young girls in relationships that deprive them of their basic human rights. Forced marriage constitutes a human rights violation in itself.

“Several reasons lead to the high frequency of forced marriages: Traditions prescribe that it is the parents who are responsible for the marriage of their children. Accepting the free choice of young men and women of their life partner is still the exception and not the rule. Parents are generally believed to have a better knowledge of what is good for their children which is the reason why the practice of arranged marriages is still prevalent throughout the country, whether in educated or non-educated layers of society. Marriage is not considered to be an individual affair, but a family affair; a union of families rather than of individuals. However, the step from an arranged marriage to a forced marriage is only a small one; the borders between the two forms are overlapping. Consent to a marriage was in older times not regarded necessary and is still not a condition precedent to a valid marriage.”

Referring to the Centre's proposal to amend the Indian Penal Code to define the act of ‘honour killing,' the report underlines the need for stringent legislation to deal firmly with the heinous crime. “The aim is to provide for deterrent punishment for caste and community panchayats which should be booked for aiding and abetting such killings and as accomplices to the murder,” it says.

The report was presented recently at a conference in London attended by international family law experts. It pointed out that U.K. had made forced marriages a civil liability under The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act, 2007.

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