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Not ‘Honour’ Killings, but Murders to Exert Power

‘Honour’ killings aren’t about honour at all – they are murders carried out by the apparently powerful to maintain status quo of caste, power, and property.

According to the latest National Crime Records Bureau report, 71 crimes of “honour killing” were committed across the country in 2016. The fact that this official crime report now has a section for such so-called honour crimes is a feat in itself, because “honour killing” wasn’t recorded as a crime till 2014. The next feat will be when a law criminalising this category of crime finds a place in the Indian Penal Code.

Community Correspondent Reena, reported an honour killing crime that took place on August 8, 2018, in Haryana’s Rohtak. We could get into the nitty-gritty of the crime, but that would take away from the larger, and more important, picture. Despite police protection, Mamta,18, was shot dead outside the court where she had a hearing regarding the legitimacy of her birth certificate. Her family had filed a case to prove that she was a minor at the time of marriage in 2017. The woman, an adult, was killed by two gunmen from Uttar Pradesh allegedly hired by her family. Why? Because, she, a Jat, was gunned down for marrying a man of her choice, a Dalit. It was an inter-caste marriage – still mostly socially unacceptable in large swathes of India – this was the absurd cause of her murder.

Such killings are definitely more than just about honour, an abstract concept that has killed scores of young men and women who act of their own volition. Reena says these killings are about maintaining the caste status-quo and property, and of course, an attempt to keep a woman enchained.

First of all, a woman marrying of her own will is challenging patriarchy – “if she marries freely, then later she will ask for more, she will demand her rights,” says Reena. Second, inter-caste marriages distribute property outside of one’s caste. So, marrying within one’s own caste is a way to ensure property remains in the grip hold of a powerful few. Lastly, mixed-caste marriages challenge the apparently superior position of ‘upper’ caste communities, and marrying a person of your own caste is another means to guarantee that power remains where it is.

Perceptions go a long way in maintaining the status-quo of the powerful. Brutal killings are a means for the ‘upper’ caste to create and sustain an impenetrable aura of fear – killing your own kin is a message to stick to the fabric of society, no matter how retrograde, or risk losing your life.

These are not ‘honour’ killings – these are crimes committed by the apparently powerful who fear their power being snatched away from them through freely willed and determined actions.

Reena reported on another inter-caste marriage from Haryana earlier this year, a positive one this time. Surendra and Sapna got married in 2016 – for them it was not a “love marriage, but a choice marriage”, Sapna said. The word “choice” is so crucial – Mamta was killed, essentially, because she acted of her own choice.

Her husband and father-in-law are in jail currently, on charges of forgery of the birth certificate. The police have arrested Mamta’s parents and brother, and the two gunmen. There is some hope that justice will be meted out.

There is a somewhat lusterless silver lining in this otherwise unfortunate story – where Mamta’s parents even refused to claim her body upon death, she was claimed by the Nari Niketan in Karnal and cremated in Rohtak as her parents and the panchayat disallowed for her last rights to be held in her village of Gaddikheri. The All India Democratic Women’s Association has also approached the District Collector in Rohtak for some answers, in a struggle to weed out this category of murder in the garb of culture. Mamta’s murder was a huge leap backwards, but the struggle to end ‘honour’ killings is in full swing and that is surely a step in the right direction.

Video by Community Correspondent Reena

Article by Shreya Kalra, a member of the VV Editorial Team

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