Honour killing: India's continuing shame

The number of love marriages might have increased in India's cities but the reality remains different in many of its villages
Spriha Srivastava
1 December 2009

Just a couple of days back I was reading about an incident where a village girl was burnt alive by her neighbours because she had a relationship with a boy from a different caste. In another case, a boy’s hands and legs were chopped off by the residents for marrying a girl from their village. These are just two examples from a bagful of many more cases that occur every day.

The number of love marriages might have gone up in the metros in India but the reality remains different in the villages in many other states. Honour killing, where men or women are killed by their kin or other members of their caste, is still very rampant in many parts of India. But the question is: why this heinous crime is committed?

Women's activist groups say that such killings happen in order to save the honour of the caste, community or family. Caste still remains one of the most important factors governing the lives of many people in some parts of India. The huge number of honour killings that sometimes go unrecorded happen because of inter-caste marriages. They revolve around issues such as runaway marriages or relationships between people of different castes. In many cases the groom or the bride has been killed for marrying someone from a lower caste.

India's social system is based on a caste hierarchy but over the years people living in the cities have come out of the rigid caste framework. There has been an increase in the number of inter-caste marriages between couples in the cities. In fact the government helps those above the age of eighteen in such matters. But somehow the laws never seem to reach the villages, and they continue to function on their own belief system. The problem in the villages is the strong presence of a panchayat or informal court that consists of members of the same caste and decides all matters relating to their community. This informal 'court' passes judgement on issues of marital discord and land disputes, water disputes and so on. Many times, villagers give more importance to judgements passed by this self-appointed court than the judgements passed by the local legalcourt, often referred to as 'legal panchayat'.

In many villages, the leader of the self-appointed court has so much power that the police are kept away from village politics. On many occasions parents kill and dump the bodies of their children in the name of honour and the police are not even informed. This is why there are so many unrecorded deaths. In an interview with a newspaper, a villager from one such village mentioned that they are happy to solve their own problems by not involving the police or government in it.


It is very unfortunate that the caste system in India has turned into a social evil for many. I wonder how many young people have lost their lives in the name of honour. And there are many more who are at the gunpoint of this rigid belief system. It is a false notion that honour killing only involves the killing of women. Men are equally victims of this practice, especially when it affects the reputation of a particular caste and community. Many grooms have been killed by the father or the brother of the bride.

Shameful as it may sound, such things still exist in many parts of the country. When I look at India as a whole I see two different worlds. First, those living in the city, who are progressing not only economically and technologically, but also in terms of their ideas and outlook towards their lives. Then, those in the villages who are still bound by the rigid beliefs of the caste system that existed hundreds of years ago and refuse to move ahead. Where will these two worlds meet?

I am not against the traditional belief systems that exist in India. But what baffles me is the fact that so many innocent lives are lost in the name of this belief. It hampers the growth of a human mind and forces it to live within the illusionary world that it has created for itmself. There is a strong need for government intervention. The government needs to enforce strict measures to stop honour killings. There should be a ban on all decisions made by these self appointed courts in the villages. They have proved fatal for many innocent lives. India is world’s largest democracy and in a country where people have the right to voice their opinions freely, to be young and to marry the person of your choice shouldn’t be fatal anymore.

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