Placard carried by protesters in India
DOHA(IPS): According to statistics from the United Nations, one in five cases a year of honour killings internationally comes from India. Of the 5000 cases reported internationally, 1000 are from India. Non-governmental organisations put the number at four times this figure. They claim it is around 20,000 cases globally every year.
While traditionally occurring in villages and smaller towns in India, honour killings have been on the rise and are reported sporadically in the media. The double murder of a 14-year-old school girl and a 50-year-old domestic in a New Delhi suburb with its honour killing subtext has received unprecedented attention, and is perhaps urban India’s most hyped alleged honour killing.
Although the Talwars, the parents of the girl, were charged with the murders of their daughter Aarushi and their domestic help Hemraj, the ‘motive’ for the murders was attributed to honour killing. Special Central Bureau Judge Shyam Lal, while convicting the parents earlier this week, said the dentist couple had found their daughter and the help in an “objectionable position”.
The judgement, based on circumstantial evidence, has however left many unconvinced. But irrespective of what the truth is, the Aarushi case has shone the spotlight on honour killings.
“The social moorings of this case and its ramifications on India’s middle class could not have been lost on anyone,” observed Anubha Bhonsle, an anchor for CNN-IBN, in one of her programmes.
However, if the judiciary, through this verdict, is trying to drive home the message that there will be zero tolerance for honour killings regardless of how powerful the perpetrators are, the question that will come up is whether the courts will apply the same rigour in some of the most gruesome cases of honour killings taking place in rural India, far from the gaze of television cameras.
Some grisly cases that have been reported in the media in recent times from different regions in the country include that of 23-year-old Dharmender Barak and 18-year-old Nidhi Barak, who paid a heavy price for defying their families and falling in love.
The couple, from a village in Rohtak district in the northern state of Haryana, were tortured, mutilated and killed in public view by the girl’s father and their relatives when they tried to elope. A friend the couple had confided in leaked their plans to the girl’s parents, who lured them back with assurances, only to allegedly kill them in the cruelest manner. The police are treating the double murder as an honour crime.
In September 2013, the Haryana police arrested a police sub-inspector in connection with the killing of a 19-year-old girl from Panipat. Meenakshi had eloped with her boyfriend and the cop had tracked her down and handed her over to her family, who then allegedly murdered her.
On Oct. 24, 2013, in another case from Haryana, a 15-year-old Muslim girl from Muzaffarnagar was banished to her uncle’s house to prevent her from seeing the boy she was in love with. Her uncle allegedly murdered her and buried her in Panchkula District.
While cases of honour killings continue to pile up, convictions are few and far between.
In July 2013, Arun Bandu Irkal from Yerwada in the western state of Maharashtra was served with a life sentence. In 2002, the accused had reportedly stabbed his 17-year-old daughter Yashodha 48 times with a pair of scissors for having an affair with a boy from another caste. She did not survive the attack.
The accused surrendered, then skipped bail and was finally re-arrested in 2011. The court convicted him this year for murdering his daughter. The court said “honour” was the motive behind the murder.
On Nov. 1, 2013, in Bhopal in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, a lower court announced a life term for 10 men in a case of honour killing. The men were accused of killing Amar Singh, the elder brother of Sawar Singh, who had allegedly eloped with Hema, the wife of Balbir Singh, one of the accused men.
The men went to Amar Singh’s house, questioned him about the couple’s whereabouts and then poured kerosene on him and set him on fire. He died of the burns.
All these cases have led to a new discourse on legislation. Does India acutely need separate legislation on honour killings? A proposal to that effect has been made by a study carried out for the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) on gender laws.
Voices have also been raised to rein in the ‘khap panchayats’ or self-elected village councils made up of male village elders who perpetuate values that, in turn, covertly endorse these killings in the name of saving “the family’s honour”.
Like the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the khaps have attained notoriety by issuing diktats on dress code for women and demanding a ban on the use of cell phones by young girls and women.
In both rural and middle-class urban India, the onus for upholding family morality falls on the women in the family – the daughter, daughter-in-law, wife and mother. By daring to choose a life partner other than the one selected for her by her family, or by committing adultery, she violates the family’s honour. Both she and her lover can face death as a consequence.
Recently, a group of khap panchayats filed a document before the country’s highest court saying they had been wrongly charged for encouraging honour killings in rural India. Earlier, a women’s rights group, Shakti Vahini, had petitioned the Supreme Court to instruct the government to be more proactive when honour killings are carried out.
They blamed the khap panchayats for endorsing patriarchy, which they said reinforced the subjugation of women in society and the resultant honour killings.
The court summoned 67 representatives of the khap panchayats to explain their role in honour killings. The representatives submitted a written reply, saying the responsibility for such killings did not lie with them but with the families who failed to prevent their daughters and sisters and wives from interacting with men, which resulted in shame and ostracism by the community.
They argued that women who feared their male relatives never committed such acts and therefore never had to face such consequences. In short, the khap panchayat representatives overtly defended honour killings.
But the problem of honour killings goes well beyond the shores of rural and urban India. They are common in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Bangladesh also has honour killings or assaults in the form of ‘acid attacks’.
Acid attacks, torture, abductions and mutilations all come under this category of crime.
The problem is that in most countries, there is confusion about the definition of what constitutes an honour killing. This confusion often results in the victim failing to get justice. Many families report these killings as suicides and escape punishment under the law, according to international human rights and women’s groups.
According to U.N. statistics, the United Kingdom has 12 cases of honour killings every year, the majority of them among the Asian diaspora. Will countries abroad also have to legislate on honour killings if South Asian and West Asian men carry their patriarchy to foreign shores and murder women who break so-called “cultural norms”?
This year’s Emmy award for best documentary went to a film on honour killings in the UK. Banaz: A Love Story, directed by Deeyah Khan, is about the honour killing in south London of 20-year-old Banaz Mahmod who was murdered by her family in 2006.
Mahmod’s Iraqi Kurd father and relatives felt she had brought shame to her family and community by leaving her husband, who was abusive and an alleged rapist. Mahmod had fallen in love with another man and ended up paying with her life. She was raped, strangled to death and her body was put in a suitcase.
Her father and uncle now face life sentences in UK jails. Two other men, who had to be extradited from Iraq by Scotland Yard, are also serving prison terms, for 20 years. By making these arrests and convictions test cases, the judiciary and law enforcement authorities hope they can deter families from such criminal acts against their female family members.
A case was recently reported where, after a long battle with the Australian immigration and refugee authorities, a couple, a Sikh and a backward caste Hindu who had married secretly in India in 2007, were granted asylum in the country. The couple had said their lives would be in danger if they had to return to India as they feared honour killing for having defied the caste system.
Even as the dust settles on the verdict for the Talwars in Delhi, it will be a while before Indian society really begins to digest the cancer of patriarchy manifested through honour killings. Like all social evils, unless society shuns these practices, the police and judiciary alone cannot save women who want to break free from arranged and abusive marriages.
(INTER PRESS SERVICE)days: ‘Policies’ the Modi govt and BJP won’t talk about
by Chandrakant Naidu Aug 30, 2014
The Modi regime would have a lot to gloat about when it completes 100 days in power. It indeed has been a busy government. After the policy paralysis there’s now a glut of policies. There is a look-East policy on foreign affairs, a look North-East policy – especially Mizoram–for the hostile governors who won’t vacate the Raj Bhavans for the old faithful waiting to be rehabilitated; and, there is a policy for some old not-so faithful that are beyond rehabilitation. The Raj Bhawan revolving doors are in service overtime.
Most of what the government has done so far in terms of policy – a big part of it is certainly praise-worthy – would be part of what it chooses to dish out for public consumption, but here are a few policies – we have seen ample of these so far – it would love to brush under the carpet. As usual, it has been the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo at work. So here we go.
Waste management policy
It wasn’t easy to bring about a paradigm shift in favour of the new generation in a geriatric party. Even his critics see merit in the strategy of the duo and its execution. Atal Behari Vajpayee is neither an admirer of Modi nor is he in the physical or mental frame to resist him. But, the party can still milk the goodwill his name evokes. So, he has been archived in the advisory council or Margadarshak Mandal. The other two, Murli Manohar Joshi and LK Advani have to be accommodated for some semblance of political propriety. Old party hands and the media are lampooning the Margadarshak Mandal as Mookadarshak Mandal (mute spectators’ council). The prime minister and the immediate past president are there to keep company and stave off criticism over insensitivity to party elders.
But, is there any provision for an advisory council in the party constitution? Has the party notified a change in the constitution if it stealthily affected overnight? The irony is that the members of hallowed advisory council were neither consulted nor informed about such a move. The man who spurred the party into action through the rath yatra in 1990 and then stood by Narendra Modi, when most others had cast their weight against him after the Gujarat riots in 2002, learnt of his official marginalisation through the media and not from the party. Modi and Amit Shah, who have taken upon themselves to carry out dirty jobs for the RSS, may have acted characteristically. But, why is no one sympathising with Advani and Joshi?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in this file photo. PTI
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in this file photo. PTI
Follow the UPA policy
Those irked by the outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s perennial mute mode can find him doing some talking through the new government’s “follow the UPA policy” which began with the rail fare hike and continues with the sustenance of Aadhar and Jan Dhan scheme. The Yojana Bhawan was already anticipating some changes under the UPA as even P Chidambaram had advocated downsizing of the Planning Commission. The so-called populist schemes stay and there are going to be addition of a few more. Never mind the plagiarism being wrapped in new packages and sold with orchestrated accompaniments for the hype. Modi administration had now seen the wisdom of UPA government’s initiative in trying to reach a land boundary agreement with Bangladesh which the BJP had opposed last year.
Nothing wrong about such plagiarism though, the only problem is the BJP had bitterly denounced and obstructed all these when in opposition. Modi, as the chief campaigner of the party in the general elections, had made it a point to mock the UPA over all its policies.
Reward the polarisers policy
The brash move to provide Z plus security to Sangeet Som, who was involved in the Muzaffarnagar riots and whose case is pending before the High Court, was clearly in keeping with the new reward the polarisers policy. It is not the hapless public that needs to be guarded against communal hate-mongers, it is the latter who need to be protected with a strong security cover, the BJP seems to believe. It’s not that other parties in power did not reward similar worthies with sarkari protection earlier, the only difference is the BJP has been taking a holier-than-thou position on the matter all the time.
Yogi Adityanath, the other polarising agent from Gorakhpur, will be the party’s key campaigner for by-elections in Uttar Pradesh. Of the 11 seats up for by-elections, four are in western UP, which was torn apart by deadly riots a year ago. Political rivals see in Adityanath’s appointment and in the change in the BJP’s tenor in UP, an attempt to polarise voters ahead of the by-elections. Adityanath is dead serious on making ‘love jihad’ an election issue. The undated video purportedly showing him vowing to convert 100 Muslim girls to Hinduism for every Hindu girl converted to Islam is quite possibly a deliberate ploy to raise the communal heat in Uttar Pradesh. Even senior BJP leader and Union minister Kalraj Mishra has extended tacit support to taking this up as a poll issue.
Turn a blind eye policy
The murderers of the Pune techie and their organisation, Hindu Rashtra Sena, have been conveniently forgotten on every speech the prime minister made on moderation and communal harmony. He has also chosen to overlook the groups that celebrated the death of UR Ananthamurthy shortly after he had offered condolences. Hindutva forces have become brazen about propagating their illiberal, regressive worldview. The government has chosen to be silent about the growing communalisation of the society, as if it is not its responsibility to protect the liberal fabric of the society.
Against this backdrop, a constitution bench of the Supreme Court on Wednesday left it to the discretion of the Prime Minister to decide on whether to retain or sack the tainted minister his cabinet. Of the 186 members of the parliament facing criminal charges precisely half belong to the ruling party. There are 14 ministers facing criminal charges led by water resources minister Uma Bharti who faces 13 criminal cases including two related to murder and six to riots. The judges on the constitution bench said though there was no bar on the prime minister recommending any person to be a minister, being a custodian of constitutional morality and trust, he is expected not to make tainted people ministers.
Of course, these are ‘policies’ the government won’t talk about. But rest assured, these are going to debated much more than what Modi does on the economic front in the coming days.