In­dia records huge spike in ‘honor killings’ in 2015

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

NEW DELHI: In­dia has reg­is­tered nearly an 800 per­cent spike in the num­ber of so-called honor killings re­ported last year, lead­ing state of­fi­cials and women’s rights groups to urge in­ves­ti­ga­tions into how such crimes per­sist. In­dian po­lice reg­is­tered 251 cases of honor killing in 2015, com­pared with just 28 a year ear­lier when In­dia be­gan count­ing them sep­a­rately from mur­der, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment this week by Ju­nior Home Min­is­ter Han­sraj G Ahir to In­dia’s Par­lia­ment.

The surge could partly re­flect more will­ing­ness by peo­ple to re­port such crimes, which many still con­sider just pun­ish­ment for women and men who defy com­mu­nal cus­toms by mar­ry­ing out­side of their re­li­gion, clan or caste. Of­ten, the per­pe­tra­tors are rel­a­tives seek­ing to pun­ish young cou­ples for bring­ing “shame” to the fam­ily.

Women’s rights ac­tivists say the gov­ern­ment must pass leg­is­la­tion to rec­og­nize the crime as unique in or­der to tar­get per­pe­tra­tors for prose­cu­tion. “These fig­ures show that the gov­ern­ment has to take this as a pri­or­ity,” said Sudha Sun­darara­man, head of the All In­dia Demo­cratic Women’s As­so­ci­a­tion. Though po­lice are now asked to count honor killing sep­a­rately, the lack of a sep­a­rate law defin­ing such crimes means that some of­fi­cers still record them in the larger mur­der cat­e­gory and do not in­ves­ti­gate the cases fur­ther, she said.

Honor killings are still com­mon enough among Hin­dus and Mus­lims to reg­u­larly make news­pa­per head­lines in a coun­try where most mar­riages are ar­ranged by fam­i­lies. Most cases are re­ported in north­ern states such as Ut­tar Pradesh and Haryana, where caste coun­cils wield enor­mous power in vil­lage life. The high­est num­ber of honor killings recorded last year was in Ut­tar Pradesh, where po­lice counted 131 killings com­pared with just two cases in 2014, Ahir said, cit­ing data from the Na­tional Crime Records Bureau.

Num­bers doubted

State po­lice of­fi­cers were skep­ti­cal. Such a jump “is as­tro­nom­i­cal” and needs to be looked into, Deputy In­spec­tor Gen­eral D K Chaud­hary said. Women’s ac­tivists say that’s miss­ing the point, and that hav­ing 279 honor killings recorded over two years still vastly un­der­es­ti­mates the ac­tual num­bers. One 2011 study suggested about 900 peo­ple are mur­dered in honor killings ever year in In­dia. The study by the All In­dia Demo­cratic Women’s As­so­ci­a­tion was based on sur­veys con­ducted na­tion­wide. “There is se­vere un­der-re­port­ing of such honor crimes. Fam­i­lies are of­ten ashamed to re­port such crimes,” said Annie Raja of the Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of In­dian Women.

Raja said the sit­u­a­tion had wors­ened in the last few years, not­ing an in­creas­ing trend in vil­lage coun­cils run by un­elected el­ders pro­mot­ing con­ser­va­tive, anti-women val­ues in the name of pre­serv­ing In­dian cul­ture and tra­di­tion.

Some ob­servers also noted that so­cial changes were cre­at­ing fric­tion in com­mu­ni­ties, as more women step away from tra­di­tional home-mak­ing roles to join the work force. That makes them more likely to want to de­lay mar­riage, while also in­creas­ing the chance of find­ing part­ners out­side of their com­mu­nity.

“There has been a back­lash of con­ser­vatism,” Raja said. “Young peo­ple are fac­ing vi­o­lence and at­tacks from their fam­i­lies if they fall in love.” An­a­lysts say that even as politi­cians push for bet­ter health care and ed­u­ca­tion for girls, they have been un­will­ing to act against vil­lage coun­cils that in­flu­ence large num­bers of vot­ers. “In­dian so­ci­ety is un­will­ing to ac­cept the choices made by young women when it comes to their mar­riage,” said Ran­jana Ku­mari of the Cen­tre for So­cial Re­search, a New Delhi-based think tank. “Peo­ple also have to learn to re­spect women.”

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