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Defining ‘honour' killing, a challenge to GoM

Smita Gupta

NEW DELHI: The tricky issue of defining ‘honour' killings and getting the States on board, as law and order is a State subject, will engage the Group of Ministers (GoM) at its preliminary meeting here on August 6 to discuss how to end the pernicious practice.

In the draft bill under consideration, the expressions ‘dishonour' and ‘perceived to have brought dishonour' have been defined as “acts of any person adopting a dress code which is unacceptable to his or her family or caste or clan or community or caste panchayat,” “choosing to marry within or outside the gotra or caste or clan or community against the wishes of his or her family or caste or clan or community or caste panchayat,” and “engaging in certain sexual relations which are unacceptable to his or her family or caste or clan or community or caste panchayat.”

Key role for States

Any change in the law — in this case a proposed amendment to the Indian Penal Code, the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, and the Special Marriages Act, 1954 — will need to involve the States. Indeed, at the July 8 Cabinet meeting, where the decision to set up the GOM was taken, it was also decided to write to the States, as they will have to implement any new law.

Difficult proviso

Government sources told The Hindu that one of the suggestions made in the draft bill would be both contentious and difficult to implement: This is the proviso that “all members of a body or group of the caste or clan or community or caste panchayat, ordering the commission of an act by which death is caused, shall be deemed guilty of having committed such an act by virtue of their association with such caste panchayat or body or group of the caste or clan or community.”

While law enforcement officers say this proviso — that is holding all members of a khap panchayat guilty of murder — will be difficult to implement, it will be a political hot potato in States like Haryana, where there has been a rash of ‘honour' killings, as many political parties and leaders there derive their strength from khap panchayats.

Indeed, at the July 8 Cabinet meeting, there were differences, with Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal, Sports Minister M.S. Gill and Surface Transport Minister Kamal Nath pointing out the difficulties in making all members of a khap panchayat accountable for one crime.

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