Let the offenders know that the gallows await them: Supreme Court directive to trial and High Courts

To stamp out the barbaric and feudal practice of ‘honour killings,' the Supreme Court on Monday directed the trial/High Courts to award the death sentence to the convicted in such crimes.

Delivering the judgment, a Bench of Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha said: “In our opinion, honour killings, for whatever reason, come within the category of rarest of rare cases deserving death punishment. It is time to stamp out these barbaric, feudal practices which are a slur on our nation. This is necessary as a deterrent for such outrageous, uncivilised behaviour. All persons who are planning to perpetrate ‘honour' killings should know that the gallows await them.”

Writing the judgment, Justice Katju said: “‘Honour' killings have become commonplace in many parts of the country, particularly in Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan. Often young couples who fall in love have to seek shelter in the police lines or protection homes, to avoid the wrath of kangaroo courts. There is nothing ‘honourable' in ‘honour' killings, and they are nothing but barbaric and brutal murders by bigoted, persons with feudal minds.”

The Bench said: “Many people feel that they are dishonoured by the behaviour of the young man/woman, who is related to them or belonging to their caste because he/she is marrying against their wish or having an affair with someone, and hence they take the law into their own hands and kill, or physically assault, such person[s] or commit some other atrocities on them. This is wholly illegal. If someone is not happy with the behaviour of his daughter or other person, who is his relation or of his caste, the maximum he can do is to cut off social relations with her/him, but he cannot take the law into his own hands by committing violence or giving threats of violence.”

In the instant appeal, the prosecution case was that the motive of the appellant, Bhagwan Dass, in murdering his daughter was that, after the marriage, she was living in adultery with one Sriniwas, who was the son of the maternal aunt of the appellant. The appellant felt humiliated by this and, to uphold the family honour, he murdered his daughter. The trial court convicted the appellant and sentenced him to undergo life imprisonment, and this was confirmed by the Delhi High Court. The present appeal by Bhagwan Dass is directed against this judgment.

The Bench dismissed the appeal and confirmed the life sentence in this case, and directed that in future all trial courts and High Courts should treat honour killings as rarest of rare cases and award the death sentence. A copy of the judgment should be sent to the registrars general/registrars of all High Courts, who should circulate the same to all judges of the courts.

“The registrars general/registrars of the High Courts will also circulate copies of the same to all the sessions judges/additional sessions judges in the State/Union Territories. Copies of the judgment shall also be sent to all the Chief Secretaries/Home Secretaries/Directors General of Police of all States/Union Territories in the country. The Home Secretaries and Directors General of Police will circulate the same to all S.S.Ps/S.Ps in the States/Union Territories for information.”