India: Supreme court calls for 'stamping out honour killing'

Publication Date: 
April 20, 2011

India's Supreme Court has told states to "ruthlessly stamp out" the so-called honour killings. The court also warned that senior officials who failed to act against the offenders would be prosecuted. In recent times, there have been many cases where people have been ostracised or killed for defying age-old notions of tradition and family honour.

Often these crimes are endorsed, or even encouraged, by village-based caste councils.

Many of the victims are young couples who marry outside of their caste or within their sub-caste.

The Supreme Court also criticised the village caste councils - known in north India as "khap panchayats" and as "katta panchayats" in the southern state of Tamil Nadu - as "kangaroo courts".

"There is nothing honourable in honour killing or other atrocities and, in fact, it is nothing but barbaric and shameful murder," judges Markandeya Katju and Gyan Sudha Mishra said.

"We have heard of khap panchayats which often decree or encourage honour killings or other atrocities in an institutionalised way on boys and girls of different castes and religion, who wish to get married or have been married, or interfere with the personal lives of people," they said.

"We are of the opinion that this is wholly illegal and has to be ruthlessly stamped out."

The court asked state governments to suspend district magistrates and senior police officers of an area if they failed to act against these council.

Correspondents say cases of "honour killings" are regularly reported from the states of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh which are deeply conservative and patriarchal regions.

In the last couple of years, many cases of brutal honour killings have been reported from the national capital, Delhi, too.

On Sunday, two widows were bludgeoned to death in a Haryana village by a man who accused them of being in a lesbian relationship.

The 23-year-old killer was the nephew of one of the women. He was on parole, having served a sentence for rape.

He said he had killed the women to protect his "family's honour". He has been arrested.