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“Honor Killings”: An Analysis with Video

Every few days a teenage girl or young woman is killed somewhere in India, by her family or community, for the apparently terrible crime of falling in love.
Many of these extra-judicial murders (or “honor-killings”) are sanctioned by community based councils, called the Khap Panchayats. Even though the Khap Panchayats are unofficial, they operate outside the realm of India’s system of law and order, and are tyrannical in the power they exercise over local communities, including the police!
Here is an excerpt (from India Today) from the conversations of an under-cover journalist, pretending to be villager,  talking to a policeman regarding a girl from his village who apparently has run away with her lover.

Police: If we get them, we will hand over the girl to you. You can get her married. And if that doesn’t please her enough, then do what you suggested. But I won’t suggest that. It is a sin. But if it is a big problem then kill her and dump her there itself.
Reporter: I think that is what we will have to do.
Police: In case you are doing this then dump her in the jungle or some where behind the bushes but far away from where you stay.
Reporter: Yes we will manage it far from home, what else.
Police: Cut her into pieces and then throw her in some river. **** will all flow far away.

Jagmati Sangwan , President of  The All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), (the Haryana wing), that has been fighting “honor killings” says:

Khaps can tell a married couple with a two-year-old baby that their marriage has violated the gotra (marriage) laws and they must now tie rakhis and become siblings. If the couples don’t comply, their families are ostracised. This was common in Haryana. Families got thrown out of the village, fined for Rs 21,000, hit with shoes, tonsured and urinated upon. Even against these, there should be laws. There are layers to the problem. There are many cases involving adolescent girls. There is nothing to help them. But if they ever slip up or the families even suspect anything, they’re killed.

What is the real reason for this kind of tyrannical power that communities assume about justice and their right to kill individuals?

It appears the real reason is to uphold power hierarchies of gender, class, religion and caste.   This is a an unscrupulous means of retaining power by those in positions of power!  The murdered victims almost always are the individuals ranked lower in society — girls and women, and men from the lower castes or economic classes.  Jagmati explains:

In that age-bracket, girls, not boys, are killed regularly. Schoolteachers in our group report disappearance of students. Questioned, families say things like the girl had stomach ache and died. There’s such strong acceptance of these actions that no one complains.

In case of inter-caste marriages, if the boy is from a lower caste and landless, both will be killed. This isn’t an honour issue at all. We have a hierarchical society and its leaders want the divisions to remain. If the youth exercise their right to choose their partners, it has the potential to destroy caste structures.  That’s the real threat; the cause of the murders. Those who understand these implications have, till now, controlled all social and economic structures and resources. Now they are threatened and political outfits depend on them for votes. They don’t want that kids use this right to ‘choice marriage’ because social and economic structures will collapse.

How does the other side, the communities that have condoned “honor” killings think?  What do they think of people who kill for “honor”?  Do they see them as criminals?  Do they see the murdered girls as victims? Would they kill someone in their own family for the sake of “honor” ?

Below is a video by Neha Sehgal of Wave India (a digital platform where Indian women explore issues through video blogs), in which she interviews villagers to get their perspectives on the practice of “honor killings”.

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