Read the Riot Act, rein in khap panchayats, says Rights Watch

July 19, 2010 04:14 pm | Updated November 28, 2021 09:18 pm IST - New Delhi

“The Indian government should urgently investigate and prosecute those responsible for the recent spurt in reported ‘honour' killings,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Monday.

It should also strengthen laws against kinship-based, religion-based, and caste-based violence, and take appropriate action against local leaders who endorsed or tolerated such crimes.

Murders to protect family or community ‘honour' had increased in recent months in Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, where unofficial village councils — khap panchayats — issued edicts condemning couples for marrying outside their caste or religion and condemned marriages within a kinship group ( gotra ), considered incestuous even though there was no biological link. Some local politicians and officials were sympathetic to the councils' edicts, implicitly supporting the violence.

“Officials who fail to condemn village council edicts that end in murder are effectively endorsing murder,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for the global body. “Politicians and police need to send these councils a strong message to stop issuing edicts on marriages.”

There were no official figures for such killings as they often went unreported or were passed off as suicide or natural deaths by the family members involved. However, a recent independent study found that at least 900 such murders occurred every year in Haryana, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh alone. There were no estimates of other injuries, unlawful confinement, or forced marriages suffered by women and girls, or by couples, in the name of “honour.”

The vigilant media had recently been reporting such cases, sometimes resulting in even more extreme responses by community leaders, the Human Rights Watch said.

“The authorities in these cases give little or no regard to the wishes and concerns of the women at risk,” Ms. Ganguly said. “So the women are seldom able to pursue complaints or seek protection from those actually threatening their life and security.”

The government should press ahead with strengthening its laws and make community leaders liable for punishment “if their edicts incite the so-called honour killings,” Ms. Ganguly said.

However, legislative changes were only part of the solution, the Human Rights Watch said. The government should ensure that the police impartially investigated “honour” killings without bowing to political or other pressure from powerful local leaders.

The government should, through public campaigns and the media, promote the right of individuals of legally marriageable age to make their own choice without fear of violence or other abuse, the Human Rights Watch said. It should instruct the police to protect those in consensual relationships who feared family or community reprisals.

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.