Murders in the name of ‘Honour’ – Dr. Kavita Suri

Kashmir is faced with conflict situations for the past 26 years which has also impacted its social fabric. One of the consequences of prolonged violence in the valley has been a rise in crimes against women. Such crimes which include physical, sexual, psychological and economic abuse are one of the most widespread violations of human rights. “Honour killings or honour crimes” which, till now, were relatively an unknown phenomenon in J&K, are becoming a reality in the violence-torn state.

“Honour killings’ and ‘honour crimes’ are usually the crimes committed on the young couple intending to marry or having married against the wishes of the community or family members. An honor crime, or honour killing is also the homicide of a member of a family or social group by other members, due to the belief of the perpetrators that the victim has brought dishonor or shame upon the family or community. Victims of honor killings are killed for reasons such as refusing to enter an arranged marriage, being in a relationship that is disapproved by their relatives, having sex outside marriage, becoming the victim of rape, dressing in ways which are deemed inappropriate, or engaging in homosexual relations. Honour killings had been reported in Jordon, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, United Arab Republic, Turkey, Yemen and other Persian Gulf countries besides few western countries such as France, Germany and U.K.  mostly among migrant communities.

In India, “honour killings” are mostly reported from the States of Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and U.P. Marriages with members of other castes or the couple leaving the parental home to live together and marry provokes the harmful acts against the couple by the immediate family members. Marriages between the couple belonging to same Gotra (family name) have also often led to violent reaction from the family members or the community members. The Caste councils or Panchayats popularly known as ‘Khap Panchayats’ in Haryana enforce their diktats by assuming to themselves the role of social or community guardians.

In one of the first reported cases of ‘honour killing’ in Jammu and Kashmir, a man Mushtaq Ahmad Dar and his two sisters Nasreen and Misra murdered their youngest sibling Zubida, 18, over her conduct. The trio admitted to strangulating Zubaida to death in the fields at Shoolipora in Budgam district in 2012. Dar and his two sisters were not satisfied with the behaviour of Zubaida and so they hatched a conspiracy to kill her and took Zubaida to the fields, and later strangulated her to death with her scarf.

In January 2013, the J&K Police had arrested three absconding accused including Reyaz Ahmad Sheikh and Fayaz Ahmad Shah, residents of Malagund and Abdul Gani Pir of Shortmuqam involved in the honour killing of a girl Ameera Shah at Malagund Sever Lolab in Kupwara. In another incident, in June 2012, Usha Devi alias Neetu alias Kansoo, daughter of Swarn Singh of village Thatti Pathwad in Udhampur was killed by her brother Rajesh Singh alias Deepu who shot her dead with country made rifle at her home. Neetu had wished to marry her Billawar-based boy friend and but her brother Deepu had turned it down.

Another resident Abdul Rehman Hajjam of Sehpora, Dooru, Anantnag in Kashmir valley killed his daughter who wanted to marry against the wishes of her father. Ruby Jan, his daughter was earlier admitted to SMHS Hospital Srinagar with a deep stab wound in her abdomen. Her family told doctors that the unmarried women had fallen from a height and sustained injuries. Ruby succumbed to her injuries on the same day and her last rites were carried out hurriedly. However, Police Station Dooru, following the rumours that the deceased was stabbed by her own father, investigated the matter. During interrogation, Ruby’s father confessed having killed his daughter as he was against Ruby’s wishes of marrying a man of her choice.

All such crimes on the name of ‘honour’ are the worst form of human rights violations which are existing even in this era of globalization and modernity. In the absence of proper laws against honour crimes, women are suffering in all parts of the country. Women have the right to choose their life partners but the families and relatives are putting prohibitions on their marital choices which are a total negation of their rights.

To check honour crimes and domestic violence in Jammu and Kashmir, there is a need to create a coordinated community response. It can be in the form of a Community Task Force or developing community partners or involving the Faith Community. The families, elders, parents, young men, police, judiciary and lawmakers, infact the common man and the general public need to be gender sensitized on this issue. Honour crimes can be properly checked only if the police and judiciary consider it as the most heinous crimes and meet out stringent punishment.

There is a need for social change and need to address the root causes of violence against women. Educating and organizing community awareness programmes is must besides public-policy advocacy on the issue.  Massive campaigns, public debates and discussion, media coverage etc need to be organized so that honour crimes are checked and there is change in the attitudes of the parents, families, relatives regarding her marriages of their kids In fact, a three-tier effort is needed which should include individuals, society and the state. All of them need to coordinate, organize and implement relevant programs for the betterment of the women and children and both of these are correlated. Involvement of grassroots functionaries and non-governmental organizations in a big way would help shape a community approach to tackle the issues of honour crimes. The NGOs, whose presence is limited in Kashmir, also need to work more and take serious initiatives in this regard.

A wider social movement needs to be launched for making the women aware of their legal rights and in making them understand and accept that there exists no violation of the family honour or caste honour, if she educates herself, develops her personality, expresses her desire in making marital choices and chooses to work.

(The author is Director and Head, Department of Lifelong Learning, University of Jammu and can be reached at snowy132@gmail.com)

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