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Shame,not honour

We need a standalone law to deal with honour killings

Written by Syeda Hameed | Published: May 16, 2012 3:21:50 am

We need a standalone law to deal with honour killings

A beleaguered father walks up to a police officer to file a complaint about his missing daughter. What he is met with has shocked the nation. It has made headlines,attracted condemnation from notable institutions,raised demands for an immediate resignation — and rightly so. The suggestion of the DIG of Saharanpur,Satish Mathur,to Kaserwa village resident Shaukeen Mohammad,to shoot his minor daughter or commit suicide instead of trying to bring her back,is outrageous. It is reflective of a deeply institutionalised patriarchy that colours the khaki with hatred and prejudice,making gender-based stereotypes,discrimination and violence a subtext of every thought and action on the field.

Unfortunately,I am not new to this story. I have seen and experienced it in person. There is a village called Sudaka in the Mewat district of Haryana,where an 18-year-old,Maimun,was forced to marry her cousin Aijaz from another village by her own family. This was done to protect their “izzat” (honour),which was compromised by Maimun’s runaway marriage with Idris,a man from her own village. For daring to assert her choice,Aijaz and his cronies gangraped Maimun on her wedding night. They slashed her with a knife from neck to navel and left her on the roadside to die.

Later,strangers found and nursed Maimun; it was there that Idris located her. Her parents filed a case against Idris,and the police gave a khap punishment to his parents. When Maimun and Idris came to the National Commission of Women,we were moved to tears when she opened her shirt to show us where the knife had torn her. We drove to Sudaka village in Taodo tehsil. There,we were confronted by a hostile mob of villagers,who dragged Maimun out of our government vehicle. The Haryana police stood around,not moving a muscle to prevent this. The NCW team returned empty-handed,having lost the girl to the crowd and with no justice delivered. I felt that we had actually handed over the lamb for slaughter. It has been 15 years; I have not been able to forget that incident,nor Maimun.

There have been a thousand such incidents across the country. I am reminded of the hundreds of incidents of killings,rapes and mass murders to protect honour that have been reported from across the social,regional,linguistic and religious pyramid that is India. I remember the brutal murders of Harpreet Kaur,daughter of Bibi Jagir Kaur,Nirupama Pathak,a JNU student and budding journalist,Vimla and Hari,murdered in New Friends Colony,Delhi and the countless victims of the khap across the northern Indian heartland.These examples are symbolic of the lack of a specific socio-cultural identity among those who kill in the name of honour. The problem is pervasive across class,caste,religion and region and is rooted in the millennia-old rigidity in gender,caste and community relations. This deep-running bias influences almost all our decisions,surfacing most stridently in the public and professional domains.

Its omnipresent,“morally acceptable” and socially “just” character baffles those who seek an end to it. Some say it can be overpowered only through extensive sensitisation of people about their rights and entitlements. Others say that awareness-generation is toothless in the face of oppression that has historical,traditional and political sanction,and only a zero tolerance policy by just and righteous protectors of the vulnerable will change the game. It is difficult to side with either or both of the viewpoints in India,where there is no law directed against honour killings,and where we have failed to demonstrate our country’s opposition to the menace through concerted policing and conviction of the guilty. The lack of standalone provisions in the Indian Penal Code that deal with acts of crime in the name of “honour” make taking action against its public glorification difficult. The scarcity of safe shelter homes for women and men in need of refuge and free movement of suspected offenders further facilitate the protection of the guilty. DIG Satish Mathur is not,therefore,alone in shocking the country. He is but a symptom; while we need to be unequivocal in ensuring that he,and others like him,are punished for their callous attitude to such a serious crime,we must also initiate a concerted effort to bring about both social and legal reform.

It is the apathy of the state and the lack of a standalone law,even after decades of honour killings,that deserves greater focus today. While we remind ourselves of instances where representatives of the state have condoned crimes against women and men in the name of honour,sided with traditional councils for petty political benefit and got away with it,we must also raise our voice in support of better institutional frameworks that enable protection of victims and conviction of the guilty. We owe it to the countless victims,to ourselves and to our Constitution to create an overarching law,but more importantly,a social support structure that would protect India’s young women and men,and give them a chance for self-realisation. We need to urge Parliament to pass the Prevention of Crimes in the Name of Honour and Tradition Bill,2010,and implement its premise of according “all persons,including young persons and women,with the right to control their own lives,a right to liberty and freedom of expression,and a right of association,movement and bodily integrity”.

I,for one,owe it to the memory of Maimun and I commit myself to fighting violence in the name of honour.

The writer is member,Planning Commission

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