Being a country that still has not shirked off social divisions based on religion and caste completely, India has been facing the problem of honour killing for quite some time. Honour killing is an act where the members of a family murder their kin because of an act that the family thinks is against its honour. It is prudent to note that any act, which is against the wishes of the family, can be a cause for honour killing. For example, if a girl from one religion/ caste marries a boy from another religion/caste (as the case may be) or if a girl loses her virginity before marriage, then such acts can be causes for honour killing, as the family might think that such an act is against its ‘honour’. Honour killing is a part of a larger evil, which is generally referred to as ‘honour crime’, which includes other crimes done in the name of preserving honour.
Honour killing is not only fuelled by a narrow mindset, but also by Khap Panchayats, which are informal rural bodies comprising of people who try to administer justice in the territory of which they exercise jurisdiction. What makes Khap Panchayats dangerous is that they give decisions based on aspects like caste and religion. Khap Panchayats themselves have sanctioned the honour killing of several couples and people. Nevertheless, these Khap Panchayats have been declared illegal by the Supreme Court in the case of Arumugam Servai vs. State of Tamil Nadu.
Further, there is no specific legislation on honour killing. The provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (which do not specifically deal with honour killing) are applicable. However, the Supreme Court of India issued directives to tackle honour killing in the case of Shakti Vahini vs. Union of India (hereinafter referred to as ‘Shakti Vahini’). The case will be dealt with at a later stage of this article.
The culmination of narrow mindsets and Khap Panchayats has resulted in a lot of honour killings in India. As many as 288 cases of honour killing were reported between 2014 and 2016. According to the data of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 28 honour killing cases were reported in 2014, 192 in 2015 and 68 in the year 2016. However, there are chances that the number of actual honour killing cases is much higher as it is difficult to find out the motive behind attacks on young people, and people consider it as a matter of ‘shame’ to report them.
THE CONSTITUTION’S STANCE ON THE RIGHT TO MARRY
Many cases of honour killing are due to young people eloping with ones who do not belong to the same caste/religion/gotra/geographical area. However, this belief is directly in conflict with the Indian Constitution and how the Supreme Court has interpreted it. In a suo motu writ petition (where the Supreme Court took cognizance of the matter on its own), the Supreme Court of India elucidated that the right to marry anyone (as long as both are majors) is an inherent part of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which talks about right to life and personal liberty. It has also been held by the Supreme Court that the right to marry is also a part of Article 19, which overrides ‘class honour’ or ‘group thinking’. Therefore, marriage is a matter of choice, and no person can try and take action against it, especially by way of force or any other unlawful act.
THE SHAKTI VAHINI CASE, AND THE DIRECTIVES TO TACKLE HONOUR KILLING
In Shakti Vahini, the Supreme Court heard the matter and delivered an elaborate judgment where it issued directives to stop honour killing. The directives have been divided into 3 distinct parts- preventive measures, remedial measures and punitive measures.
Under preventive measures, the directive mandates that state governments must find districts where honour killings have happened and where Khap panchayats have functioned. Upon doing so, the police are supposed to prevent the convening of any Khap Panchayats. If the Deputy Superintendent believes that any harm might be caused to a couple by a Khap panchayat, then he can approach a district magistrate to impose a curfew in that area under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. The directive also mandates the establishment of national level machinery that would include all the stakeholders.
Under remedial measures, the police are supposed to help any couple who might be in danger by taking them to a safer place or by allowing them to reside at a safe home (a residence for that very purpose). Upon ensuring that the couple is safe, the matter must be taken up by a District Magistrate. Under punitive measures, the directive mandates that cases of honour killing/ violence must be deal with only by fast-track courts which shall dispose them within 6 months.
IS THERE A NEED FOR A SPECIFIC LAW TO DEAL WITH HONOUR KILLING?
There has been a consensus that a special law must be enacted to deal with honour killing. The Law Commission of India, taking note of the increasing menace of honour killing, proposed a bill entitled ‘The Prohibition of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances in the Name of Honour and Tradition Bill’ in 2012. A bill with the same name but different provisions was tabled in 2015 by Member of Parliament, Mr Ravindra Kumar Jena. However, the bill was not passed and made into law.
However, the State of Rajasthan passed an act that specially deals with honour killing in 2019. The Rajasthan State Assembly passed The Rajasthan Prohibition of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances in the Name of Honour and Tradition Bill, 2019. The act severely punishes the congregation of Khap Panchayats for condemning any marriage with imprisonment that can be anytime between 6 months and 5 years and with a fine which can extend to 5 lakhs. Further, it punishes honour killing with death/ life imprisonment. This legislation, which might seem to be very severe, is a step that must be taken on a national level to curb the problem of honour killing.
Honour killing, apart from the act(s) of the perpetrators, also displays the narrow mindset that persists in India. The directive of the Supreme Court has not been effective as cases of honour killing are still prevalent. Moreover, it is for the short run, but in the long run, a law must be enacted to handle the problem. The union of India itself had mentioned to the Supreme Court in Shakti Vahini that it would be enacting legislation, and that the directive could be for the time-being. The law enacted by the State of Rajasthan is the right step, and the parliament can take a cue from it. Aggressive legislation can help not only preventing people from committing such an atrocious act, but can also help in changing the mindset of people, which is the need of the hour.
 Singh, Vineet. (2015). Khap Panchayats : Honor Killings in India, available at:-https://www.researchgate.net/publication/297346507_Khap_Panchayats_Honor_Killings_in_India
 As noted by the Supreme Court of India in Shakti Vahini vs. Union of India, (2018) 7 SCC 192.
 (2011) 6 SCC 405.
 (2018) 7 SCC 192.
 Supra, note 6.
 Suo Motu Writ Petition (Criminal) No. 24 of 2014.
 Asha Ranjan vs State Of Bihar, 2017 4 SCC 397.
 Prevention of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances (in the name of Honour and Tradition): A Suggested Legal Framework (Report no. 242 of the Law Commission of India as submitted in August 2021), available at- https://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/report242.pdf and https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/india-needs-separate-law-tackle-honour-crimes-activists-demand-govt-listening-62382.