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Questioning the ‘Honour’ in Honour Killing

Kareena Tahilramani

Very often movies and other works of art are based on real life situations and they are meant to be a reflection of the way society at large perceives such situations. ‘Talvar’, directed by Meghna Gulzar, is an example of this instance. The movie is based on the infamous murder case of Arushi Talwar and Hemraj. In the movie, Arushi Talwar is portrayed as the character of Shruti Tandon and Hemraj, the domestic help, is portrayed as the character of Khempal. Shruti and Khempal are murdered in the Tandon residence, in Noida (Uttar Pradesh), on 15th-16th May, 2008. The Uttar Pradesh police team alleges, based on circumstantial evidence, that Shruti’s parents – Dr. Ramesh Tandon and Dr. Nutan Tandon – murdered the duo and that this was a clear case of honour killing.

What is ‘honour killing’?

Honour killing is a cultural crime (also sometimes called as customary killing), wherein generally a female member of a family or clan is murdered by one or more, typically male relative or member of the same clan for the reason of belief of the perpetrators that the victim has brought ‘shame and dishonour’ upon the family name or community.

Any justifiable reasons for honour killing?

One of the major reasons for honour killing in India is the existence of caste system. The caste system is deeply rooted in the culture of Indian society and there seems to be a certain ‘honour’ attached to belonging to the ‘upper caste’ of society. Therefore, if a woman marries someone or is sexually intimate with someone outside her caste or strata of society, she is said to bring ‘dishonour’ to the family. Some of the other ways in which a woman is said to bring dishonour to the family include, being involved in sexual activities before marriage or out of marriage, marrying against the will of the parents or refusing an arranged marriage, being victims of rape, etc. In the movie ‘Talvar’ it was alleged that Ramesh Tandon killed his own daughter, in a fit of rage, when he saw Shruti and Khempal in a compromising position. It was portrayed that Ramesh considered this as an act that brought upon dishonour to the family as Shruti was an unmarried teenager who was not only sexually active, but with a person belonging to a family of a lower status (Khempal being the domestic help and both parents being dentists). Another example of depiction of caste-based honour killing can be seen in the Marathi movie ‘Sairat’ where the characters of Archana Patil (Archi) and Prashant Kale (Parshya) marry each other against the wishes of Archi’s family, as Parshya belongs to a lower caste and Archi belongs to an upper caste, only to be found murdered by Archi’s brother and relatives in the end of the movie. ‘Khap’ is another movie, based on the real-life Manoj-Babli honour killing case, wherein involvement of khap panchayats in Haryana state in preventing marriages within the same ‘gotras’ (clans) is shown.

Current Laws existing on Honour Killing in India

Currently, there is no provision in the IPC that recognises the specific crime of ‘honour killing’ and honour killings are treated as homicide cases under section 299 and 300 of the IPC. Section 299 of the IPC deals with culpable homicide not amounting to murder whereas Section 300 deals with murder. In January 2014 the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), recognised honour killing as a motive for murder and this explains unavailability of records alleging this act prior to 2014 which in return reflects upon how the severity of this heinous crime has been undermined. Post this development, there were about 251 cases recorded in 2015 alone!

However, there have been contradicting judgements given by Indian Courts on cases of honour killing. Before the 2010 landmark judgement of Manoj and Babli – in which the court, for the first time convicted khap panchayats for abetting the crime of honour killing and also awarded capital punishment to the perpetrators of the crime, but did not recognise honour killings as a separate crime and treated it as murder.

The discord can also be seen in the case of State of Punjab v. Gurmit Singh though this isn’t a case of honour killing per se, and is a crime of honour wherein the victim was gang raped by the defendant and it was alleged by the defendant that the victim had brought a false claim against him due to enmity between the two families and since the investigation was botched up and there was no proper evidence collected, the trial court accepted the plea of the defendant. The supreme court questioned the fact that if the investigation was not conducted properly, how could that be a ground to discredit the prosecutions claim. The Supreme Court convicted the defendant even though he should’ve been acquitted based on a sub-standard investigation. The same parallel can be drawn with the Aarushi Talwar case. The investigation of the whole case was not conducted properly and was skewed on many levels, this has even been shown in the movie, yet the parents were convicted for the murder by the CBI court and then finally, recently acquitted by the Allahbad High Court.

As can be deduced, courts have taken contradicting stands on cases of crimes of honour and this can be attributed to the lack of a separate section or law dealing with honour crimes. In 2010, there was an attempt to pass a bill which dealt with recognising and criminalising ‘crimes of honour’ but it failed.

Honour killing and the law around the world

Honour killings are prevalent not only in India but all around the world as they are deeply rooted in history and date back to ancient civilisations. “The United Nations Population Fund estimated that every year over 5,000 women die in honour killings around the world” Researchers have suggested that about 200 women are murdered every year in Turkey. In Turkey, perpetrators of crime try and evade the law on crimes of honour by forcing the victims to kill themselves or they ask minor males to commit the crime in order to reduce their sentences. Very recently, in July 2016, a Pakistani model and actress Qandeel Baloch was strangled by her own brother and his justification was “girls are born to stay at home” and he felt no remorse whatsoever, in fact he was proud of his actions. Approximately 20 women were murdered in the name of honour in Jordan and Palestine each.

Pakistan and Turkey both have a separate law dealing with honour killings in their respective penal codes. Although only on paper and it may lack proper enforcement, Turkey has made some significant attempts at reforming the law in the country in order to eradicate crimes of honour. As per Article 38 of the Turkish Penal Code, any person who forces another to commit a crime, will be sentenced to the same punishment as the perpetrator and an increased sentence is awarded to the inciter if the person incited is a minor.

The Pakistan parliament passed an Anti-Honour Killing Bill, 2016 which deals with crimes of honour separately from simple murder, making life imprisonment mandatory for the convicts. Though there is a provision for the members of the family to pardon the convicts, it is only in cases where the perpetrator has been awarded death sentence.

Need for reforms in India?

The loophole in treating honour killings as murders is that the defendant can claim the defence of grave and sudden provocation and escape liability under section 300 and 302 of the IPC and get a reduced sentence by being prosecuted under section 299. If treated as murder, the court would look at the intention of the defendant at the time of committing the crime and would not take into account the events leading up to the murder, thereby increasing chances of the defendant going scot free. Another problem lies in the fact that the burden of proof lies on the prosecution, thereby adding to the trauma already suffered by the victim and the family.


After analysing the crime of ‘honour killing’ – in light of the broad theme portrayed in the movie ‘Talvar’ – and looking at the currently existing laws in India and around the world, it can be concluded that there is definitely no ‘honour’ in ‘honour-killings’ and there need to be more stringent laws in India regarding the same.

Kareena is a 3rd year LL.B. student at Jindal Global Law School.

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