ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Half Steps against Honour Crimes

The Law Commission's bill on combating honour crimes falls short of what is required.

Honour crimes – the illegal decrees by caste/clan/community panchayats to annul or prohibit marriages, social boycotts and even murder of couples – have finally drawn the attention of the State. A consultation paper released by the Law Commission contains a draft bill – The Prohibition of Unlawful Assembly (Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances) Bill, 2011 – that proposes declaring khaps as unlawful and suggests handing down punitive punishment for intimidation of couples. A week after this paper was released on 24 January, newspapers reported that a panel headed by the secretary for women and child development in the central government had also demanded a stand-alone law against honour crimes. A similar draft circulated by the National Commission for Women (NCW) chairperson, Girija Vyas, and prepared by the All India Democratic Women’s Association about a year ago contained stronger definitions of “honour killings” and suggested appropriate amendments to the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The Law Commission’s bill is, however, primarily concerned with the “unlawful assemblies” of khap panchayats and steers clear of suggesting amendments to the IPC to define honour killings and proposing appropriate punishment. The commission has chosen this option so as to avoid difficulties in defining and interpreting such killings. However, by invoking criminal law in the proposed bill the commission has taken a major decision. It has suggested that an entire assembly can be deemed to be unlawful and guilty if it sits to deliberate on any marriage that is not prohibited by law. In other words, guilt will be communal and not just individual. Guilt will also be assumed until the individuals who participate in such assemblies are proven to be innocent – what is called the “reverse onus” cause. Similar provisions about placing the burden of proof on the accused to prove their innocence are present in the NCW draft as well, but the latter extends to murders as well.

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