Vrinda Sharma

Apex court terms them “barbaric and shameful”

CHANDIGARH: On June 16, 2008, a 22-year-old girl was allegedly killed by her parents in Naushera Dhalla village, Amritsar, for having an affair with a boy of a nearby village. Her last rites were clandestinely performed.

The day before, Sarabjit Singh, from Gajjukhera village in Patiala, surrendered to the Punjab police confessing that he killed his sister and brother-in-law. Two years ago, Satwinder Kaur, a Dalit from the same village, married Suresh Kumar, a Khatri boy. The couple was murdered.

Tragic tales

Such are the tales of girls from rural Punjab who were killed by their fathers and brothers in the name of ‘honour.’ These killings reflect the intolerance for inter-caste marriages in rural Punjab.

The State has the lowest sex ratio in the country (798 girls for every 1000 boys, according to 2001 census.)

A person can trigger honour killing by refusing an arranged marriage or eloping with a lover. In case of a woman, being the victim of sexual assault can be a pretext as well.The Nation Crimes Bureau does not have any data on the number of such killings as it is not a separate category.

According to a survey done by the Delhi-based Indian Population Statistics Survey (IPSS) in 2007, 655 homicidal cases were registered as honour killings across the country. The figure stands at 209 for Punjab and Delhi. Most cases are reported from Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, though it is also attributed to a larger number of NGOs operating in these areas.

Pam Rajput, who retired as Director, Centre for Women’s Studies at the Punjab University, said: “Firstly, I object to the term ‘honour killing.’ What is so honourable in a father brutally murdering his daughter to guard stale notions of chastity? Such cases should be referred to as ‘dishonour killings.’ The notions of purity and virginity are related to the body and mind of the women of the family, not men.”

Ranjan Lakhanpal, a Chandigarh-based lawyer who has been filing PILs against such killings, said the actual number of ‘honour killings’ is much more than what is reported.

“In most of these cases, there is no complainant and no witness. …. If at all a missing person’s case is reported, it remains unsolved.”

In 2006, the Supreme Court condemned ‘honour killings’ as “barbaric and shameful acts of murder committed by brutal, feudal-minded persons who deserve harsh punishment.” The police, however, do not go beyond filing a criminal case of murder and destroying evidence after murder under section of 302 and 201 of the IPC against the accused.

‘Honour killings’ are increasing because people get away with it, said Mr. Lakhanpal. The scenario is bad in rural areas because there is a strong caste angle to the social life; the upper caste man who kills his daughter is not taken to task by the police constable, who is of the same caste, he said.

According to Ms. Rajput, “A patriarchal society is at the core of such killings. It thrives because the notions of caste purity, which precedes logic and law, are attached to it. Government’s reluctance to acknowledge it as a serious issue is a major concern.”

“Not that we don’t have a clear law, the solution lies in educating the masses,” feels Mr. Lakhanpal.