By Naina Sharma
As a child I used to live in a bubble about a surname being something we chose for ourselves just to make our names sound fancy. Never did I know that this very surname which we attach to our identity is a symbol of severance- a symbol, which over the years has created not only divided opinions but led to violence, disputes, murders and more. Last week, three of my mornings started with waking up to the news notifications of murders in 2 different parts of the country. One thing which remained common in these killings was the cause disguised as a death for the sake of ‘Honour’.
A young woman in Telangana, Tummala Swati, 20, dies as she married Amboji Naresh who belonged to a different caste. A choice not approved by the girl’s parents on grounds of caste ultimately led to the demise of the young lady. The very next day, a pregnant woman’s husband gets killed in Jaipur, post one and a half years of marriage. Not to my surprise, the woman blamed her parents for having murdered her husband over dissent on the marriage since the parents were Jats from Rajasthan and Mr. Nayyar belonged to Kerala.
INDIA: A LAND WHERE CASTE DEFINES HONOUR
Deeply plagued by a historic hierarchy of castes divided into 4 major slabs, research suggests that more than 1,000 young people (mostly the ones who opt for inter-caste marriages) in India are doned to death annually in the name of ‘honour’. Research statistics by National Crime Record Bureau indicates an enormous spike in the incidents of honour killing across the country. Every year there is a more than 700% hike in murders committed for honour. While the figure was 28 in 2014, it has jumped to 251 in 2015.
Strongly supported by a tradition of In-Caste Marriages and Caste based hierarchy, staunch followers of the Indian traditions define honour through the realms of caste. A layman would describe caste as a social tag. But a stringent follower of caste system would define it as a symbol of pride. For them, it means insensitive categorization. For example, an illiterate Brahmin would be a better candidate for marrying a girl as compared to an excessively educated OBC. We must not ignore this sick mentality as it continues to plague the country. The deaths owing to ‘honour killings’ are now 60% greater than deaths due to terrorism if compared over the past few years. The most prominent states which witness this evil frequently are Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh where UP alone has a count of 900 honour killings annually. The fact that more than 90% of the couples opt for or are rather forced to go for arranged marriage (based on castes) suggests that there are just 10% families which favour inter caste weddings. Thanks to the matrimonial columns which have extensively promoted within castre weddings, inter- caste marriages have seemingly attained the status of being a social crime.
FORCED MARRIAGES: A SUBSTITUTE TO ‘HONOUR’ KILLING?
The maximum cases of honour killing have been reported in the most populated state of the country, Uttar Pradesh. However, what is devastating is that forced marriages are considered as an alternative solution to avoid honour killing. So, in most cases there does exist a choice on the part of the victim to either get married forcefully or lose their lives. In a country which is the largest democracy of the world, the will of most of the people is sacrificed in the name of deep old tradition of caste system.
However, there are intertwined complexities as forced marriages are convoluted with honour killings. On one hand, marriage is forced on an individual to save honour, and on the other hand, women can be killed as well for rejecting a marriage fixed against her consent and rather willing to marry a partner who is unacceptable to her family.
POLITICAL AND JUDICIAL STANCE
The Indian Law has a perplexed stance on honour killings. At present,honour killing falls under the Section 302 of IPC. Most of the honour killing cases are not broadly tried as murder. For the same reason, many a times questions have been raised in the parliament over the current laws related to honour killing. Recently (post honour killings in UP and Telangana), it was Jharna Das Baidya, CPI(M) member from Tripura who wished to question if falling in love was a “big crime” in India. She further stated that the northeast hardly witnessed such incidents which is an evidence of education being an important factor in curbing the crime. Baidya urged the government to bring a specific law that deals with stringent provisions in case of honour killing offenders.
If one looks at the Supreme Court rulings of the past, the problem shouldn’t have aggravated to the current level in the first place. In the year 2006 itself, the SC ruled that,”inter caste marriages lay in the national interest as they would destroy the caste system”. The SC also believes that there is nothing honourable in the acts of honour killing and that they depict feudal mindedness which must be subject to severe punishment. With shame killings being an epidemic equal to other crimes in the country,there lies a dire need to give special status to the examination of honour killings where the cause preceding the murder must be taken up as the actual murder instead.
I come from a family where not just inter- caste but inter- religion weddings have also taken place for a simple reason that our pride lies in the human and not in his/her caste. For a country which is secular and has a constitution which describes no discrimination on the basis of caste,creed or religion in Article 14,our honour must then lie in freedom, happiness, individual accomplishments and not in barbaric vigilante will euphemised by the the ethnological taboo around caste.