This post is written by Sujoy Dhar of Team Samhita.
Honour killing is a great Indian paradox in the times when a new permissiveness sweeps the society.
As the sexual minority celebrates the landmark Delhi High Court verdict of July last year that decriminalized homosexuality, couples belonging to the sexual majority fall prey to an inhuman, criminal practice for marrying or having an affair with individuals in different caste or religion or same gotra (lineage).
While the governments in the states and at the centre hemmed and hawed in taking firm action against the perpetrators of the crime, a non-government organization is working quietly to compile case studies, research on the issue and fight legally the menace.
The brutal killings of recent months hogged the limelight, but few came to know that the Supreme Court direction to the government to explain what it is doing to stop the killings followed in response to a petition filed by Shakti Vahini, an NGO based in New Delhi.
Shakti Vahini is working for the cause of women and child rights for quite some time now. It operates in Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Chandigarh, Bihar, North East and Jharkhand.
Shakti Vahini works very closely with government bodies and UN agencies.
It has been actively working in the field of human trafficking and protection of rights of women and children besides their involvement in sensitization of the policemen.
Presently Shakti Vahini has been involved in a research on honour killings in Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh on behalf of The National Commission for Women.
According Mr Nishi Kant, Programme Director at Shakti Vahini, the so–called ‘honour’-based violence occurs in communities where the concepts of honour and shame are fundamentally bound up with the expected behaviours of families and individuals, particularly those of women.
“The most extreme form is ‘honour’ killing, but in other circumstances, the victim can be subjected to long-term low level physical abuse and bullying as a punishment for ‘bringing dishonour’ to the family. Such crimes include torture, mutilation, rape, forced marriage, imprisonment within the home, and even murder,” says Mr Kant.
“These crimes are intended to ‘protect the family honour’ by preventing and punishing women’s violations of community norms for behaviour, particularly sexual behaviour,” he says
“Women who have been abducted, arrested, or raped are often blamed for shaming their families and may also be targeted for ‘honour killing’. Reasons for these murders can be as trivial as talking to a man, or as innocent as suffering rape. These crimes are often collective and premeditated,” he says.
In the recent times the cases have been on the rise and in current scenario when the State has remained a mute spectator, a fear psychosis grips the young couples who are married and some of them intending to get married against families’ wishes.
“When we moved court we were representing a class of person whose rights have been violated or may be violated. The intense fear among the victims to take on the feudalistic forces has prevented them from coming out in open litigation. It was therefore a kind of our duty to file the petition since we were working in the field of women empowerment and rights,” said Mr Nishi Kant.
In the last one year Shakti Vahini has been studying the cases on honour killings. In its research it has met victimized family, the accused and the Khap Panchayats (caste councils).
Shakti Vahini in partnership with Human Rights Law Network – Chandigarh Unit had organized a national level consultation on the issue in March 2010 where social scientists, activists and victims had shared their views.
It brought together lawyers and activists from Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Jammu and Kashmir, the states where the incidence of honour killings are at their highest.
“We had also as part of our research organized panel discussions on honour killings in Rohtak in Haryana on 28th March 2010 in which many of the Khap leaders- whose panchayats decree the deaths- had participated,” he says.
With the law enforcement agencies impaired by lack of political will to punish such feudal forces, who are also vote banks for mainstream political parties, perhaps India needs more Shakti Vahini’s to take the bull of honour killing by its retrograde horns.
Visit Shakti Vahini’s website for details.