Haryana is known for its rapid modernization, thanks to its fast-growing retail capital, Gurgaon, but a spate of so-called honor killings in the northern state serves as a grim reminder of India’s deeply entrenched feudal system.
A building under construction in Gurgaon, India. The city is in the growing state of Haryana, where “honor killings” have continued despite its modernization.
Last week, a man in Sonepat, an area of Haryana, was accused of strangling his sister, who had eloped with a man she was in love with. The lover committed suicide a day later. On April 12, a couple was found dead in a field in Bhiwani, another Haryana town. The deceased were residents of the same village, belonged to the same subcaste and were neighbors.
Both incidents took place within two weeks of a landmark judgment by a Haryana court, sentencing five people to death and one person to life imprisonment for killing a couple who married against the local-government-dictated societal norms and within the same subcaste. The couple hailed from the same village in Haryana’s Kaithal district and had married against the wishes of the woman’s family. Soon after their marriage, the couple was kidnapped while they were traveling in a bus and then killed. Orthodox Indian village councils consider people from the same village and subcaste to be siblings, therefore, a marriage is unacceptable.
Panchayats, or village councils, are a system of self-governance that have long been prevalent in many rural parts of India. They are usually made up of elders who settle disputes and intervene between individuals and neighboring villages.
“Some panchayats in Haryana are 2,000 years old and more,” said Layak Kumar Dabas, director of Haryana’s crime records bureau. “There weren’t any police in the villages then, but there were the panchayats.”
Honor killings are rampant in states like Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, but officials say they often go unnoticed and unreported.
Families of the victims usually accept the diktat, or decree, of the panchayats who have long been their system of justice. “This panchayat system of social administration has been so ingrained in their mindsets that they think nothing of it when extreme judgments are passed and take it as the last word,” said Mr. Layak.
Societal shame is another factor that holds families back from reporting cases. Mr. Layak said being labeled as a person known to those punished by the panchayat is disgrace enough for villagers to recoil and keep quiet. The state saw four reported cases of honor killings in 2008 and five in 2009, but the numbers weren’t an accurate reflection, he added.
There is also no official way to record cases, A.K. Varma, chief statistics officer at the National Crime Records Bureau in New Delhi, said. “There is no separate section under the IPC for honor crimes and hence we do not keep specific records for it. They all come under general murder.”
That makes it difficult for human-rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to track honor killings. They rely on media reports and other local nonprofits for information, said Ramesh Gopalakrishnan, part of Amnesty International’s South Asia team.
“I recoil in shame when I read the newspapers,” Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said in the Rajya Sabha last year. “The vilest crimes are committed in the name of defending the honor of the family or women, and we should hang our heads in shame when such incidents take place in India in the 21st century.”
India is currently contemplating enacting new legislation to deal with honor killings, after Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati agreed that such killings should be made a separate offence. No decision has been taken yet.
Source: WSJ.com: India Real Time