Act Against ‘Honour’ Killings Now!
An Open Letter to P Chidambaram
(Circulated by the AIPWA)
Dear Home Minister,
We appreciate your strong statement in Parliament on July 28, 2009 against killing of couples by caste panchayats in Haryana. You said that you “hang your head in shame” at such killings in the 21st century. This is welcome.
But it is not enough.
You must be aware that the State Government of Haryana, ruled by your own party, the Congress, is abetting the khaap panchayats. Take the case of 21-year old Ved Pal Mor of Jind, Haryana, who was lynched to death on July 22. Are you aware that Ved Pal Mor was escorted to death by a posse of policemen and an officer of the Court, on whose orders and assurance he had gone to get his legally wedded wife from her village? Clearly, the police colluded with the killers and the khaap panchayat which ordered the killing. They mocked the Court, they mocked the law of the land, and killed an innocent youth who had trusted in the law to protect him.
You called for a struggle against “anachronistic attitudes and false values” expressed by the khaap panchayats. But Deepinder Hooda, who has himself enjoyed advanced education in the US, and is one of the proud pack of Congress’ ‘young MPs’ in Parliament, has said that the same values and “sentiments” of the khaap panchayats need to be “understood.” Clearly the Congress Government of Haryana is supporting the very values which you have opposed in Parliament! Why this doublespeak? Why is neither the State Government nor the Central Government taking any action against those who openly boast of lynching and murder?
Recently a prominent farmers’ leader who is also the head of a major khaap of Western UP, Mahendra Singh Tikait, has given outrageous statements in the media, branding women who choose their own partners as ‘whores’; hailing the “execution” of an “educated” couple by a khaap panchayat in Jhajjar and promising to likewise execute such couples in his own community; and dismissing the Constitution of India as “your law” as opposed to “our law” (the diktats of the khaaps). Is the Home Ministry powerless to take any action against such blatant abuse of women, incitement to murders and contempt for the law of the land expressed by an influential leader?
In Parliament you rejected the need for a special law to deal with the Haryana killings, saying they should be dealt with as murders. But sati and dowry killings are also murders, yet we have specific laws to recognise them. Can murders which are openly justified in the name of social tradition be dealt with in the same way as ordinary murders?
You admitted that “Since honour killing was not a crime classified separately under Indian laws, no data could be collected on them.” This is all the more reason why such killings, as well as their glorification or justification, should be classified as a distinct crime. To recognise its distinctness and specificity will be the first serious step towards fighting it.
Coercion and killings of young women and men for forming relationships or marriage of their own choice is rampant in many other parts of the country too – by the Sangh Parivar in Gujarat and Karnataka, as well as by powerful families like Ashok Todi and D P Yadav. All over the country, women’s remand homes are full of adult women who remain confined indefinitely because their parents have claimed them to be ‘minors’ since they have married against the wishes of the family. Recently, the notorious Pramod Muthalik openly held a meeting in Delhi, spelling out an agenda of attacking women on university campuses for wearing jeans or befriending men from minority communities. We wonder why the Delhi police (answerable to your Ministry) took no preventive or punitive action.
What is needed is a law that will specifically protect adults from coercion in matters of love, marriage, dress or lifestyle, and spell out the responsibilities of police and administrative authorities in this matter.
We strongly demand that the UPA Government enlist the cooperation of women’s groups in drafting a specific law that will
• declare it illegal for any group or individual, be they khaap panchayats or Sangh outfits or parents like D P Yadav or Ashok Todi to coerce adults in matters of marriage;
• spells out punishments for diktats and death sentences issued by khaap panchayats, and also for justifications of such ‘executions’;
• that spells out punishments for concerned police and administration authorities who fail to protect couples and take preventive action against those who issue death sentences
• that orders a magisterial enquiry to be ordered in every case of suspected honour killing
• that spells out punishments for parents who falsely accuse women of being ‘minors’
• spell out punishments for those who impose ‘dress codes’ on women or indulge in any kind of threats or violence on women in the name of ‘culture’ or ‘honour’
You are quite proactive when it comes to protecting the cold-blooded killers of Ishrat Jehan, or branding ‘naxalites’ as ‘cold-blooded killers’ in your propaganda offensive. Will you act to protect the human freedoms and the lives of young women and men from cold-blooded killers sitting in judgement on their love?