In India and Pakistan, women are subjected to horrific crimes in the name of honour, Rupa Jha explains why it's time for cultural and legal change
In India, honour crime comprises 10% of all killings in the northern states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. While most of these crimes go unrecorded, independent sources warn that honour killings are on the rise in India.
In Muzaffarnagar, the worst affected district of Uttar Pradesh, 13 cases of honour killings were reported in the first nine months of 2003, up from ten in 2002. Some 35 couples were also declared missing during this period.
Most honour killings revolve around controversial marriages or relationships between those from different castes. There are several instances of a groom or bride being killed by irate relatives for marrying someone from a so-called lower caste.
Honour crimes occur where women or men are killed or tortured for the flimsiest of reasons, such as suspected infidelity, seeking divorce or marrying outside caste.
The realm of 'justice' for these so-called crimes can vary from a woman being gang-raped, or stripped in public, to having to prove her chastity by putting her hand in boiling oil.
'Justice' is meted out by the caste panchayats, or jirga, self-proclaimed bodies of village elders or the elite. It excludes women. Caste panchayats in India and Pakistan are informal power structures. They have no legal rights to punish people or to mete out justice, yet they rule the lives of people, especially women belonging to that caste or community.
This practice is most prevalent in feudal and patriarchal societies where caste divisions are strong and where land-owning classes continue to wield significant power in numerous areas.
A poignant example is that of Geeta Rani of Hoshiarpur, Punjab, whose husband, Jasveer, was killed by a group of people from his village. Geeta and Jasveer were from different castes, with Jasveer's killers belonging to Geeta?s caste.
"They cut off his hands and legs and then killed him for daring to marry one of 'their' women," recounts Geeta.
Most honour killings are committed by close relatives - fathers, brothers, sons or husbands of the women. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, those accused of honour killings between 1998 and 2002 involved 462 brothers, 395 husbands and 217 other relatives.
Central to such violence is the subordinate position of women and girls in all castes and communities. Women are viewed as the property of the family, the caste and the community. A woman's chastity is the "honour" of the community.
But this will not stop unless strict measures are taken to stem the rise of honour killings, including a ban on all decisions of caste panchayats that violate the Indian and Pakistani Constitution, which abolished castes and regards men and women as equals. It is also important that the law changes to allow courts to intervene in all crimes where violence is committed in the name of honour.
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