India: Prosecute Rampant "Honor" Killings

The Indian government should urgently investigate and prosecute those responsible for the recent spurt in reported “honor” killings, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should also strengthen laws that protect against kinship, religion-based, and caste-based violence, and take appropriate action against local leaders who endorse or tolerate such crimes, Human Rights Watch said.

Murders to protect family or community “honor” have increased in recent months, in the northern states of Haryana, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh, where unofficial village councils, called khap panchayats, issue edicts condemning couples for marrying outside their caste or religion and condemn marriages within a kinship group (gotra ), considered incestuous even thou gh there is no biological connection. To enforce these decrees and break up such relationships, family members have threatened couples, filed false cases of abduction, and killed spouses to protect the family’s “honor.” Some local politicians and officials have been sympathetic to the councils’ edicts, implicitly supporting the violence.

“Officials who fail to condemn village council edicts that end in murder are effectively endorsing murder,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “Politicians and police need to send these councils a strong message to stop issuing edicts on marriages.”

There are no official figures on “honor” killings because they often go unreported or are passed off as suicide or natural deaths by the family members involved. However, a recent independent study found that at least 900 such murders occur every year in Haryana, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh states alone. There are no estimates of other injuries, unlawful confinement, or forced marriages suffered by women and girls, or by couples, in the name of “honor”.

Many affected couples elope, fearing reprisals from family members or the community. The wife’s relatives frequently then file abduction complaints, leading the police to arrest the husband, even if the woman denies being abducted. The woman is then forced to rejoin her family, where she may be confined, abused, and sometimes killed. In other cases, couples have been invited back home for rapprochement or tracked down, and then killed.

More vigilant media have recently been reporting such cases, sometimes resulting in even more extreme responses by community leaders, Human Rights Watch said.

On June 21, 2010, in Haryana, after the bodies of a young couple whose relationship had been condemned for violating kinship rules were found hanging from a tree, six family members were arrested for murder.

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