Where is India’s ‘landmark judgment’ on honour killing today?
In the spring of 2005, at the exotic valley of Karora village in Northern Haryana, when the sun had bid farewell and the full-moon accompanying with cluster of stars appeared in the darkness of the sphere, Manoj had fallen for Babli; a free-fall into the abyss, in love with Babli.
On his first encounter with his lady love, he acted rude, for he had been a stoic his entire life; his friends had tagged him as ‘stone-hearted’. To Manoj, she was just another woman, but as time passed and seasons cycled, the cupid’s amour stroked Manoj’s young heart. It didn’t take too much time for Babli to concede Manoj’s request, amidst they had to encounter agony, grief, pain, distress and a load of sacrifices.
A year later, the young couple began to feel their souls in each other; they decided to court their love for life. Just as a means of formality, they had to turn to their elders for approval. However, the approval never seemed like it’s coming. Babli pleaded her father, but the old man was adamantly rigid on caste.
Manoj belonged to a caste, which was relatively lower than Babli’s. Desperate in love, the couples decided to elope. They did, but only a hundred miles away, where Manoj’s friends helped with their registration process.
However, a week later, Babli’s brother Suresh found their whereabouts and pressured her to leave her husband, threatening them of murder. Little did he know that threatening to kill would leave an impact on the landlords, mafia dons and politicians, but not for those in love. Babli bravely defied her brother’s vengeance.
Furthermore, as this societal stigma spread in the neighbourhood, Babli’s father Charan Das ordered his son Suresh to fulfil his wicked commands and save the honour of the family. Not tough enough to handle the ‘shame’ caused by Babli, her brother Suresh set forth to redeem the lost ‘honour’.
On June 9, 2007, Manoj and Babli were found dead near a canal, the scene appeared terrifying as the couple were brutally slaughtered to death. The investigating authorities established that it’s a cold blooded murder.
The electronic media in India for the first time, awakened to the enigma surrounding the motive behind the killing of the newly wedded couple; to their astonishment and largely to the world’s, they discovered an incredibly disturbing cause by the name of ‘honour killing’, meaning license to kill for the ‘shame’ caused by the couple, as a pretext for preserving the family ‘honour’.
Unfortunately, in this case, the brutal act was carried out by Babli’s family members; her Brother Suresh, her cousin and her uncle received direct instructions from her beloved father Charan Das.
On the first hearing, Charan Das openly justified his decision, on the grounds of rituals, that were practiced for centuries. To encourage his position, the self-proclaimed Panchayath, the vicious ‘Khap’, openly lauded the assassins. Moreover, they protested against the civil bodies and human rights activists for interfering in traditional matters.
The local legal bodies initially dismissed the case for lack of proof. But the extent of cruelty on the part of the alleged was enough to evoke considerable media attention. Even though the Haryana politicians sought interference, hoping to submerge the case, the voices of sanity resisted with thrust. Three years later, on March 2010, after raging outcry from the civil society, human rights activists and the media, the accused were sentenced for capital punishment.
The Indian media hailed it as a ‘landmark judgment’, a modest leap of victory over the infamous assemblies, which acted for numerous years with impunity as parallel judicial bodies. Soon after the judgment, in a parliament session, Home Minister P Chidambaram proposed a bill that included, “public stripping of women and extermination of young couples from villages and any act which is humiliating to be punished with severity”, resulting in, “making Khap dictated honour killings a distinct offence, so that all those who participate in the decision are liable to attract the death sentence”.
Moreover, the Amnesty International defines the concept of honour killing as
“The regime of honour is unforgiving; women on whom suspicion has fallen are not given an opportunity to defend themselves, and family members have no socially acceptable alternative but to remove the stain on their ‘honour’ by attacking the woman.”
Over the years, this form of killing has taken centre stage in third world countries. The Human Rights Watch reported that counties like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Mexico, Columbia, Iran, Indonesia, Sudan, Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have a high degree of oppression towards women, in the form of rape, torture, sexual harassment, verbal abuse, domestic violence, repressive societal norms, ‘honour’ suicides, public flogging and stripping, forced marriages and stoning to death.
It is estimated that nearly 10,000 people have been hacked to death in Pakistan in last 10 years, for the alleged crime of causing shame. Salman Rushdie’s upsettingly brilliant psycho-profile of Pakistan, in his 1983 novel, Shame, rightly laid emphasis on the crucial part played by sexual repression in those regions. This was before the Talibanisation of Afghanistan and of much of Pakistan too, which is popularly called ‘Karo-Kari’.
Author and journalist, Christopher Hitchens summarises the situation in backward belts of Pakistan as,
“Here is a society where rape is not a crime. It is a punishment. Women can be sentenced to be raped, by tribal and religious kangaroo courts, if even a rumor of their immodesty brings shame on their menfolk. In such an obscenely distorted context, the counterpart term to shame which is the noble word ‘honor’ becomes most commonly associated with the word “killing.” Moral courage consists of the willingness to butcher your own daughter.”
The story of India doesn’t appear bright either, reports say around thousands of people are losing their lives each year owing to this heinous crime and the country is in dire need to introduce stringent legislation. A website has exclusively been dedicated to raise the outlined issue and halt this barbaric crime once and for all. It uses beautiful phrases such as “No Honour in Killing” and “Don’t try to be God if you are not one”.
On that note, there is possibly nothing more one can offer to cure this draconian ailment. The other worrying trend, that most human rights organisations virtually suspect, is the flow of such thoughts into the veins of the educated urban societies. Critically, the pressing need of the hour lies on counselling the youth, raising public awareness, schooling on reason and rationalism as well as devise stricter laws.
Women are arguably the worst victims of social dogmas such as modesty, shame and honour. These evils peaked in the dark ages in Europe, the horrifying stories of ‘witch hunts’ and ‘burning of adulterers’ would haunt us forever. In this age, despite revolutionary advancement in science and social lifestyle, a woman’s life is under serious threat in some socially failed parts of the world; women under Taliban, Saudi courts and ISIS are forced to surrender to the brutality of obscurantist male folk, have to endure caning, for alleged ‘immodest’ behaviour.
A French government study shows that women constitute for a negligible number in acts of crime and terror; shockingly over 99% of suicide bombers and militants in the world comprise of men. It is important for the world media and the civil society groups to introspect and ask themselves if they are decimating the ideas formulated in ‘misogynistic’ societies. Only when modernity defeats orthodoxy and frees its women from chains of social repression, history would adjudge our times as civilised.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.