HONOUR killings are usually associated with predominantly Muslim societies such as Pakistan, and for good reason. Be it Pakistan, Middle Eastern countries or even expatriate communities in the West, this barbaric practice has taken numerous lives, female and male, of those deemed guilty of offending their communities or clans.
Free will holds no meaning for people who are prepared to kill if they feel that their personal description of honour has been tarnished. But it seems that largely Muslim countries are not alone when it comes to confronting this blight. In India, for example, independent studies estimate that about 900 young people are killed every year in the name of `honour` and for defying their elders – no official figures are available. This is not to say that the problem has gone unrecognised: the death penalty, handed down in India in only the “rarest of rare” cases, has on some occasions been awarded by lower courts in honour killing cases but the apex court had not voiced an opinion. On Monday, however, India`s Supreme Court recommended that persons found guilty of honour killings be awarded the death penalty, saying that “people planning to perpetrate honour killings should know that the gallows await them”.
This paper has never written in favour of capital punishment and cannot condone it. But what has emerged is that the menace of honour killings is not restricted to our neck of South Asia. The fact that India faces the same problem would indicate that the practice is perhaps more cultural than religious. Many of the problems faced on both sides of the border are similar – brutal checks on defiance of parental control, bringing the family and clan into `dishonour` and, especially in the case of India, marrying outside the caste. Research is required into the cultural dimension of honour killings, and efforts must be made to incorporate the findings in strategies to eliminate the practice. It ought to be condemned just as vociferously in India as it has been in Pakistan for many years, with some but inadequate results. Where India has village councils handing down barbaric judgments, Pakistan does not lack jirgas ready to order murder. The authorities on both sides need to act decisively.