Attaining a happy ending is yet a euphoria for inter-caste marriage couples in India. Hundreds of cases of barbaric slaughter of such couples come across every year in the country. This practice of honour killing still subsists even in the dire times of covid-19 pandemic, with the latest case being murder of a 24 year-old in Tamil Nadu by his father-in-law and brother-in-law for marrying an upper caste girl. Regardless of the fact that these offences are neither new nor on the decline in India, there exists no separate legislation against them. There is a thread of causes as to the need of a distinct legislation for acts of honour killing in order to tackle the situation better.
Violation of Constitutional and Legal Rights
The offence of honour killing is against multiple constitutional and legal rights in India. Article 14 - Equality before the law, Article 15(1) - Restriction of discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth, Article 19 - Protection of freedom of Speech, Article 21 - protection of life and personal liberty and Article 15(3) - Creating particular provisions for children and women are all violated by honour killings.
It also violates DPSP of Article 39 (f) which provides that giving children chances and facilities to grow in a safe way and circumstances of equality and dignity, as well as safeguarding children from violence and moral and financial abandonment, is the duty of the State.
Furthermore, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005 ensures a more thorough enforcement of the constitutionally guaranteed rights of female victims of domestic violence of any kind, as well as matters related to or incidental to it.
However certain provisions of the Special Marriage Act of 1954 such as banned marriages between sapinda, i.e., lineage through mother’s side for three generations and through father’s side for five generations, act as a barrier to freedom to marry. Another law regarding the ban of marriage in the same gotra has turned out to be obsolete although it still exists. This acts as a barrier in freedom to marriage since there is no complication of the same lineage marriage in the current situation as the lineages have diversified.
Penalties under Indian Penal Code
The Indian Penal Code prescribes certain penalties which revolve around the offence of honour killing and related aspects. The following are such penalties:
Sections 299–304: Penalizes anyone who commits murder or culpable homicide that does not amount to murder. Murder is punishable by life in jail or death, as well as a monetary fine. The penalty for non-murder culpable homicide is life in prison or up to ten years in jail, plus a fine.
Section 307: Penalties include up to ten years in prison and a monetary fine. If a person is hurt, the penalty can be as severe as life in jail.
Section 308: Attempting to commit culpable homicide is punishable by up to three years in jail, a fine, or both. If it involves injury, the person may be sentenced to up to 7 years in prison or fined, or both.
Sections 120A and 120B: Anyone who participates in a criminal conspiracy is subject to penalties.
Sections 107–116: People who aid and abet homicides, including murder and culpable homicide, are penalized.
Sections 34 and 35: Penalizes criminal activities committed by multiple people in furtherance of a common goal.
Need for a Separate Law
The varied and complex legislation as well as increasing offences of honour killing make it important to draw a separate and distinct legislation for a complexity-free stringent law and procedure to be followed. Making honour killing a separate crime will assist law enforcement agencies become more transparent.
In the recent landmark judgement of Shakti Vahini v. Union of India of 2018, it was ruled by Deepak Misra that Article 21 encompasses safeguarding human life along with freedom and basic human rights such as equality of status. The acts of honour killing by Panchayat or individuals are in contravention to the Article and hence are punishable likewise.
One option is to change the Indian Evidence Act such that the accused bears the burden of proof. As a result, the khap panchayat and family members, as the case may be, will have to prove their innocence enhancing the whole judicial system for honour killings.
There will be mutual liability under the current laws. The khap panchayat (or any other entity ordering honour killings) and the individual who carried out the killing would be jointly accountable for the act of murder.
Numerous suggestions have been provided by various authorities and individuals, in order to deal with the situation of honour killings, which includes separate legislations as well as amendments in the current ones:
Bill to Prevent Crimes in the Name of "Honour" and "Tradition," 2010 – The SC in the 2018 judgment decided that parents' or Khap Panchayats' intervention in an adult couple's marriage decision is unlawful. The current decision echoes the Supreme Court's 2010 ruling that the national government must take action against honour killings. The government's response was to reduce crime with the Honour and Tradition Act of 2010.
Enactment of a detailed, stand-alone legislation – Punishment of offenders, conspirators, and inciters on an equal footing. According to the Planning Commission of women and child rights in the 12th five-year plan, the existing measures in the IPC are insufficient to deal with honour killing. Thus, there is a need for a separate legislation in order to achieve the above mentioned criteria.
Any public adulation or idolization, as well as harassment and death in the name of honour, shall be prosecuted, according to the committee. Demand for a stand-alone statute to combat such heinous crimes.
Proposed amendments to the Indian Penal Code to curb in khap panchayats regarding caste-based discrimination and killings.
The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 shall be amended to regarding illegality of same gotra marriage.
In the recent instance, the "Rajasthan Prohibition of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances in the Name of Honour and Tradition Bill" of 2019 was passed by a unanimous vote. The Parliamentary Affairs Minister tabled the bill in the House. In response to the bill debate, the minister stated that the IPC and CrPc sections were insufficient to deal with these scenarios, hence the bill was moved. It was put in place to help people overcome their restricted mindsets. Over the previous few years, he claimed, 71 examples of illegal diktat awarded by ‘Khap Panchayats' had been filed in the state, as well as ten incidents of honour killings involving four men and eight women. Thus, such separate legislation is a necessity for curbing the situation.
It can be concluded that the government has taken a few appropriate steps for the prevention of honour killings gradually through amendments in various laws which has resulted in significant progress. Judiciary has also pronounced such judgements like Shakti Vahini V Union of India in which it has stated that "liberty in the practical sense refers to the right to choose". Feudal mentality must vanish into the shadows, opening the way for liberation. The right to enjoy freedom must be constantly and vigorously protected in order for it to grow in strength and grandeur.
However the current legislative system is not appropriate and sufficient. Thus, there is a need for a separate legislation to handle the situation. A separate legislation like the Rajasthan Government's 2019 Bill against honour killings is a strong example of the measures and changes that need to be taken in order to curb the offences of honour killing.