Call in India for stronger stand against honour killings | Connect Asia

Call in India for stronger stand against honour killings

Call in India for stronger stand against honour killings

Posted 23 May 2011, 13:26 AEST

Two women in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh have been arrested for murdering their daughters, in so-called honour killings.

The Muslim women allegedly strangled their daughters to death, after finding out they had eloped and married Hindu men. The incident followed last week's Indian Supreme Court ruling that people convicted of honour killings should face the death penalty, to try to deter the practice that one study says claims 1000 lives each year.

Reporter: Alma Mistry

Ranjana Kumari, Director, Centre for Social Research in New Delhi; Sanjoy Sachdev, Chairman, Love Commandos, India

MISTRY: Last week India's Supreme Court ruled that the perpetrators of honour killings should be given the death penalty, in an attempt to stamp out the practice. Days later in the town of Baghpat in Uttar Pradesh, two women aged 19 and 26, were murdered by their mothers. The Muslim girls were neighbours who had fallen in love with Hindu men and eloped. After returning home to make peace with their families, they were strangled to death.

Ranjana Kumari is the Director of the Centre for Social Research. She says the practice of honour killings have always been a part of life in caste sensitive India. But she says with India's modernisation, it has increased, as more young people want to choose their own partner.

KUMARI: When especially girls went against the family desire to marry within the same caste they would kill the girl and of of course the boy and this never became news because after all it was the parents or the family who went for such killings so nobody was complaining so this is really not as known a factor but last decade it has taken on a different level, you know many many killings have happened.

MISTRY: Ranjana Kumari blames the increase in honour killings on Khap Panchayats, which are groups of powerful elders who oversee customary and religious practices in Indian villages. The khaps are consulted by families to approve marriages and disputes in lieu of courts. In cases where people marry out of their caste, the councils have been known to call for their deaths, to pay for what is considered to be shameful behaviour.

KUMARI: This week I have dealt with a case where the boy and the girl are from western UP and they are running around for the past two years they have no place where they can live safely because they married and the boy and the girl are from the same village. Now this is from another customary practice that they talk about that if you're from the same village then you are considered to be brother and sister. Now this is insane because girls are hardly allowed to go out of their village so obviously they will meet someone from their same village.

MISTRY: Despite their influence, these village councils have no legal authority and were sharply criticised by the Supreme Court. Ms Kumari says until now there's been little debate about the power of the khaps because politicians rely on them.

KUMARI: Thye are very easy vote banks and in return of the patronage the politicians go and woo them so it's like mutually very convenient relationship.

MISTRY: For young Indian couples caught between rapid development and village and caste tradition, the choices are stark. After hearing about more and more cases of heinous murders, Delhi based Sanjoy Sachdev set up Love Commandos in July 2010. He says his organisation is the only one in India aimed at helping stricken lovers.

SACHDEV: Love Commandos assist lovebirds who are in distress like organising their marriages,extending them legal assistance, getting them protected, rescuing them and providing shelter. Whatever we can within our limited resources.

MISTRY: The Love Commandos use a telephone hotline and a network of thousands of volunteers to help couples who fear their families' judgment of their spouse.

SACHDEV: We have rescued many especially because who are kept in captivity or illegal detention by their parents or so. We took help from police, our commandos acted themselves, it depended on case to case, circumstances to circumstances, area to area.

MISTRY: The Love Commandos are part of an active campaign to stop honour killings. But Sanjoy Sachdev acknowledges the task ahead. He says in the recent case in Baghpat, the two victims went to local police to ensure they were protected. But the police referred them to a local magistrate.

SACHDEV: The police took them before a local magistrate who handed these two innocent girls to their mothers and who killed them.

MISTRY: He says the Supreme Court must ensure that a harsher stand towards honour killings is actually implemented in lower courts.

SACHDEV: In such cases some standardised guidelines should be set up for honour crime and I hope that day's not far. But I don't know how many precious lives would have gone by that time.

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