Shafiq R Khan

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Sati-like law needed to curb honour killings, say experts

Khap mahapanchayat, the apex body of khaps or traditional Jat caste councils in Haryana, western UP and parts of rural Delhi, decided in Kurukshetra on Tuesday to support the six people convicted of honour killing by a Karnal court last month. It even sought an amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act banning marriages within a gotra or mythical patrilineal lineage.
But the congregation of khaps that believe in the medieval practice of inflicting extreme cruelty on those who defy their Taliban-like edicts can’t be approved as a lawful assembly. Also, the mahapanchayat’s edict that murders committed over intra-gotra marriages would have the village panchayats’ support isn’t short of abetting the grave offence of homicide.
The law doesn’t ban such marriages and the constitutional intent is visible in articles 14, 19 and 21 that prohibit discrimination and call for equality and right to life.
The only parallel that can be drawn to the practice of honour killings is the banned sati system, in which a married woman was forced to jump into the funeral pyre of her husband.
Twenty-one years ago, Roop Rani, a young bride, was forced to jump into her husband’s pyre in full view of a large number of people at an annual fair organised in a Rajasthan village to promote the sati system.
Since then, no woman has had to die only because she is a widow. A new law banning the barbaric practice of sati was enacted on the intervention of the Supreme Court (SC).
Legal experts believe a similar law is needed to ban honour killings as well.
“Surely, the Indian Penal Code needs sharper teeth to deal with the perpetrators of gotra-based killings…. Those who promote it or help a killer in executing the grave crime must be tried for the same offence,” noted lawyer KTS Tulsi, a former additional solicitor general, asserted.
If a court has shown leniency to a man who killed his sister’s husband because he belonged to a “lower” caste, it shouldn’t forget that edicts such as the one issued at the Kurukshetra assembly are an aggravating circumstance, he said, indirectly referring to a recent SC ruling.
In that case, the victim’s wife Sushma Tiwari had sought review of the SC ruling. Demanding death for her brother, she said caste could not be made a mitigating factor —it is wrong and illegal under our constitution and various laws, such as the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
“In fact, these feelings of caste hatred are themselves criminal,” Sushma said.
Former DGP of Haryana MS Malik, who heads the federation of Jat institutions, was also vocal against the “edict passed at the Kurukhestra conclave”.
“Nobody should be allowed to hijack law,” he said.
Scholars and social groups demanded that the Haryana government declare khaps illegal.
DR Chaudhary, an expert on Haryana’s history, said, “It is outlandish and outrageous the way diktats are issued by khaps.”
He said the panchayats flourished in medieval times, but now “they have outlived their utility as other democratic institutions have come in place to take care of law and order”.
Chaudhary demanded that “the kangaroo courts held in Taliban-style to dole out barbarous punishments” should be banned with immediate effect.
Pramod Kumar, director of Institute for Development and Communication, Chandigarh, said in addition to legal steps, the government should mobilise public opinion against khaps and render them defunct.
He said it was largely for society to neutralise khaps and make them obsolete because they were an “undemocratic institution that enforces its decisions dictatorially”. (DNAINDIA dot com)

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