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Murder’s murder

There have often been calls that separate legislation be enacted to tackle honour killings.

Written by The Indian Express |
December 12, 2009 4:03:10 am

There have often been calls that separate legislation be enacted to tackle honour killings. The argument is that such crimes derive from a larger,and explicitly intolerant,social context — for instance,in many parts of the country the issue of honour in matters relating to marriage is settled by community or so-called caste panchayats. This July,a calling attention motion was moved on this in Rajya Sabha. In response,Home Minister P. Chidambaram argued against a separate law,but kept faith with the larger sentiment. Saying “we should hang our heads in shame when such incidents take place in India in the 21st century,” he explained that in the end: “Whatever law we make,honour killing is murder. It would have to be tried as murder.”

Given the frequency with which cases of honour killings and excommunication by these community panchayats are coming to light,this debate will remain hot. It is in this context that a Supreme Court ruling this week on an honour killing bears closer scrutiny. The case concerns a man,Dilip Tiwari,convicted for the killing of his sister’s husband and two family members,who belonged to a “so-called lower caste”. Upon studying the case,the court reduced the sentence from death penalty to 25 years of imprisonment without any option of release.

There is,however,bound to be disquiet over certain observations made by the Division Bench. Consider: “The psyche of the offender in the background of a social issue like an inter-caste community marriage,thought wholly unjustified,would have to be considered in the peculiar circumstances.” As reported in this newspaper,the court said: “At times he (the brother) has to suffer taunts and snide remarks even from persons who really have no business to poke their nose into the affairs of the family. Dilip,therefore,must have been a prey of the so-called insult which his younger sister had imposed on the family.” For reasons all too obvious,this case should re-ignite the debate within government and in legislatures on crimes committed in the name of honour.

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