When I was growing up in India, parents arranged the marriages between young men and women. The girl was "shown" to her prospective groom and his family, either overtly or covertly, at the market, at her college, or even in her own home as she served tea to the visiting family.
If the girl was found to be acceptable, the two families would study the horoscopes of the bride and groom-to-be, to see if they had compatible stars. Caste, kin, and status were also part of this equation, since the point of marriage was more about the merger of two families, and less about the romantic union between a man and a woman.
The bride or groom who dared to question the arrangement would be subject to great pressure from relatives or kin. But violence or killing was not the norm.
Today, that has changed dramatically.
Parents and relatives carry out honor killings with the support of village elders, and this older generation is caught in a time warp of caste and creed, unwilling to set the younger generation free of their control.
The country is divided between modern and traditional India, and the clash between the two has led to an act of defiance, and what we call " honor killings."
Let's say a son brings home a wife from a different caste, someone who comes without a dowry. In rural India, where traditions still hold sway, this is a blasphemy of sorts that calls for the most severe and brutal punishment—violence, even death. Daughters who elope and dare to choose their own husbands are also considered dishonorable. For the older generation in rural villages, the idea that women are independent and free to decide for themselves is unthinkable.
The person who decides to marry outside his or her caste, or dares to choose his or her own partner, dishonors the entire community. The only way to restore that tainted honor is to kill the offending couple—an act that serves as a warning to others: Don't question or defy the khaps, the group of elders who traditionally rule the village.
Parents and relatives carry out the honor killings with the support of these village councils, and the older generation is caught in a time warp of caste and creed, unwilling to set the younger generation free of their control.
This is, in part, a battle over money—the dowry matters, partly as compensation for the cost incurred by educating the sons—but it is also about security. If children rebel, and refuse to live with their parents, who will look after the older generation?
Between tradition and modernity, between suffocating control and fear of its loss, between relevance and irrelevance, there is now an all-out war. Members of the urban media and educated civil society want to rein in the rural village councils, but the caste-based khaps are hell-bent on retaining their position.
Power was handed down to the khap panchayats from the British before independence—it suited the colonial power to have the villages handle their own affairs rather than clog up the courts. But times have changed, and members of the educated civil society in India find them repellent, as they defy the law or take it into their own hands.
And so there is this battle between old and new India, and if the self-appointed representatives of the old order prevail, the progress of women in India will be set back several decades.
The politicians, for their part, are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place as the khaps constitute solid voting blocs, necessary for the politicians to retain power.
The Special Marriage Act in India supports couples who choose to marry outside of caste, religion, or against the wishes of their families. Yet more is required. A law is being considered that would allow the shortening of the 30-day notice period required to get married. The law would also make honor killings a specific offense, so that data can be gathered, allowing authorities to assess the magnitude of the problem.
Hopefully, India will expeditiously put in place legal processes to tackle this menace that affects India's 40 million youth.
But the police force should not wait for a new law to be put on the books. They should summon the courage required to deliver justice. Indian police must make it a priority to arrest the killers, without consideration for politics or voting blocs.
Watch Kiran Bedi talkabout how she got control of the notorious Tihar prison.
Kiran Bedi is India's first and highest ranking woman officer. She has had more than 35 years experience on the police force, and has worked with the United Nations as the Police Advisor to the Secretary General in the Department of Peace Keeping Operations. Recipient of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award, also known as the Asian Nobel Prize, Dr. Bedi has authored several books and has been the hosted popular radio and television shows. She has also been a National and an Asian Tennis champion.
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Honor killing in India
Recently, there has been a spate of honor killings in the country and this has led the government to decide what laws should be put in place to stop this heinous crime. More than 1,000 young people in India have been done to death every year owing to 'Honor Killings' linked to forced marriages and the country needs to introduce stringent legislation to deal firmly with these heinous crimes. Supreme Court has said the government must explain what it is doing to prevent "honor killings". Taking note of the rise in "honor crimes", the Supreme Court demanded responses from the federal government and state governments of Punjab, Haryana, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Honor killing is the murder of any family member or social group member by other people due to the belief of perpetrators who feel that the murdered persons actions have brought dishonor upon the family or group. The loose term "honor killing" applies to killing of both males and females in cultures that practice it. Human Right's definition for Honor Killing is:
Honor crimes are acts of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonor upon the family. A woman can be targeted by (individuals within) her family for a variety of reasons, including: refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce—even from an abusive husband—or (allegedly) committing adultery. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that "dishonors" her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life
The most watched scenes of honor killing in our country are reflecting that this is a death that is awarded to a man or woman of the family for marrying against the parent's wishes, having extramarital and premarital relationships, marrying within the same gotra (Brahmins use gotra for deciding marriages) or outside one's caste or marrying a cousin from a different caste. In fact we have had a tradition of honor killing. This tradition was first viewed in its most horrible form during the Partition of the country in between the years 1947 and 1950 when many women were forcefully killed so that family honor could be preserved. During the Partition, there were a lot of forced marriages which were causing women from India to marry men from Pakistan and vice-versa. And then there was a search to hunt down these women who were forced to marry a person from another country and another religion and when they returned 'home' they were killed so that the family honor could be preserved and they were not declared social outcastes from their region. At that time, the influence of religion and social control was much greater and hence there were at least a couple of honor killings a day, if not more. The partition years can be seen to be the beginning of the tradition of honor killing on a large scale. It's worth mentioning here that Honor Killing is not specifically related to India only. This is a practice that continues to be prevailing in North and South America, Africa, Turkey and many other countries. But the thing that has to be kept in mind is that the number of incidents relating to this crime is very low and there is a very strict punishment for committing this crime in other countries. The misconception about honor killing is that this is a practice that is limited to the rural areas. The truth is that it is spread over such a large geographical area that we cannot isolate honor killings to rural areas only, though one has to admit that majority of the killings take place in the rural areas.
But it has also been seen recently that even the metropolitan cities like Delhi and Tamil Nadu are not safe from this crime because 5 honor killings were reported from Delhi and in Tamil Nadu; a daughter and son in law were killed due to marriage into the same gotra. Sociologists believe that the reason why honor killings continue to take place is because of the continued rigidity of the caste system. Hence the fear of losing their caste status through which they gain many benefits makes them commit this heinous crime. The other reason why honor killings are taking place is because the mentality of people has not changed and they just cannot accept that marriages can take place in the same gotra or outside one's caste. The root of the cause for the increase in the number of honor killings is because the formal governance has not been able to reach the rural areas and as a result. Thus, this practice continues though it should have been removed by now.
We need to do something to prevent such a thing from happening. Firstly, the mentality of the people has to change. And when we say that the mentality has to change, we mean to say that parents should accept their children's wishes regarding marriage as it is they who have to lead a life with their life partners and if they are not satisfied with their life partner then they will lead a horrible married life which might even end in suicide. Secondly, we need to have stricter laws to tackle these kinds of killings as this is a crime which cannot be pardoned because. Humans do not have the right to write down death sentences of innocent fellow humans.