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A Legal Study On Honour Killings As A Crime In Society


An honor killing or a shame killing, is the murder of a member of a family, due to the perpetrators' belief that the victim has brought shame or dishonor upon the family, or has violated the principles of a community or a religion with an honor culture. Typical reasons include divorcing or separating from their spouse, refusing to enter an arranged, child or forced marriage, being in a relationship or having associations with social groups outside the family that is strongly disapproved by one's family, having premarital or extramarital sex, becoming the victim of rape or sexual assault, dressing in clothing, jewelry, and accessories which are deemed inappropriate, and engaging in non-heterosexual relations.



Some experts argue that the existing laws are sufficient to deter honour killing if implemented properly while others feel that more stringent and specific provisions are required to tackle the menace of honour killings.

Existing Penalties under Indian Penal Code
  • Sections 299-304: Penalises any person guilty of murder and culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The punishment for murder is a life sentence or death and a fine. The punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder is life imprisonment or imprisonment for up to 10 years and a fine.

  • Section 307: Penalises attempt to murder with imprisonment for up to 10 years and a fine. If a person is hurt, the penalty can extend to life imprisonment.

  • Section 308: Penalises attempt to commit culpable homicide by imprisonment for up to 3 years or with a fine or with both. If it causes hurt, the person shall be imprisoned for up to 7 years or fined, or both.

  • Section 120A and B: Penalises any person who is a party to a criminal conspiracy.

  • Sections 107-116: Penalises persons for abetment of offences including murder and culpable homicide.

  • Section 34 and 35: Penalises criminal acts are done by several persons in furtherance of common intention.


Forced Suicide

A forced suicide may be a substitute for an honor killing. In this case, the family members do not directly kill the victim themselves but force him or her to commit suicide, in order to avoid punishment. Such suicides are reported to be common in southeastern Turkey. It was reported that in 2001, 565 women lost their lives in honor-related crimes in Ilam, Iran, of which 375 were reportedly staged as self-immolation. In 2008, self-immolation "occurred in all the areas of Kurdish settlement (in Iran), where it was more common than in other parts of Iran". It is claimed that in Iraqi Kurdistan many deaths are reported as "female suicides" in order to conceal honor-related crimes.


Constitutional Violation

Honour killing violates few provisions in the Constitution, thus, contrary to the basic rights of people. Such rights are Article 14 (Right to Equality), Article 15(1) and (3) (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth), Article 17(Abolition of Untouchability), Article 19(1) (freedom to speech and expression) and Article 21(right to life and personal liberty).


Indian Majority Act, 1859

The right to marry is a constitutional right granted by Article 21 and under Section 3 of the Indian Majority Act, 1857, a person who is a citizen of India attains the age of majority after completion of 18 years. A person who is major, wanting to get married to a person of another caste or inter-community marriage is not prohibited by law and any honour killings initiated on this ground is unlawful and to be initiated severe measures (Surjit Kumar v. State of Uttar Pradesh & Ors, 2002 (456) ACC 79).



Special Marriage Act, 1954

The objective of this Act is to provide a special form of marriage for citizens of India as well as for Indians residing in foreign nations. The marriage is performed irrespective of caste, religion, or faith of the intending parties to a marriage. But the customary practice of honour killing is done contrary to this perspective amounts to a violation of this Act. Since the registration process is a long one and there are chances of the couple being subjected to violence during such period.


Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Act, 2006

This Act provides for the protection of human rights of every individual and constitution of Commissions and Courts for securing the respective objective. In spite of such legislation, still there is a prevalence of honour killing practices leading to a grave violation of human rights.



Murder and Honour killing

Since there is no separate law for honour killing, cases are initiated under the provisions of murder and homicide. But there are major differences between homicide and honour killing. They are:


  • Offences under homicide may be motivated by monetary gains or some strategic benefit while honour killings are for restoring the honour of the family.

  • In homicide, the perpetrator can be a stranger but in honour killing, the perpetrator is a close relative to the victim.

  • In honour killing, there is a stronger external pressure of the community.

  • Perpetrators in honour killing do not have sole motivation. Therefore, the guilt burden should not be solely on the trigger puller but rather on every person that was responsible for incitement and abetment of offence.

Arguments Favouring New Law
  • Making the crime of honour killing a separate offence would help bring more clarity for law enforcement agencies.

  • One of the proposals is to amend the Indian Evidence Act to put the burden of proof on the accused. Thus, the khap panchayat or the family members would be responsible for proving their innocence.

  • There would be joint liability under the proposed new law. The khap panchayat (or any group ordering honour killings) and the person who carries out the killing would be jointly liable for punishment.

Arguments Against New Law
  • The existing penalty for the offence of murder is sufficient if they are implemented strictly and effectively.

  • A new set of laws would not deter honour killings because the basic issue is social sanction for acts committed to curtail same gotra marriage, inter-caste marriage, inter-religion marriage.

  • Need for creating awareness among traditional communities through education.

  • Holding khap panchayats collectively accountable can be detrimental to members who do not support such killing. Also, it could be misused for vindictive agendas.


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