Death Penalty for ‘Honour Killings’

The observations of the Supreme Court in the recent case of Bhagwan Dass Vs. State (NCT of Delhi) – (2011) 6 SCC 396 on the subject of ‘honour killings’ are serious and noteworthy. Observing that ‘honour killings’ have become commonplace in many parts of the country, particularly in Haryana, western UP and Rajasthan, the Court remarked that often young couples who fall in love have to seek shelter in the police lines or protection homes, to avoid the wrath of kangaroo courts.

The Judgment delivered by Justice Markandey Katju, on behalf of the bench comprising of himself and Justice G S Misra, aptly reflects the circumstances prevalent in the society today. The Court observed:

Many people feel that they are dishonoured by the behavior of the young man/woman, who is related to them or belonging to their caste because he/she is marrying against their wish or having an affair with someone, and hence they take the law into their own hands and kill or physically assault such person or commit some other atrocities on them.

Making clear that such acts are wholly illegal, the Court threw light on the limits and boundaries within which a person can act in such circumstances:

If someone is not happy with the behavior of his daughter or other person, who is his relation or of his caste, the maximum he can do is to cut off social relations with him/her, but he cannot take the law into his own hands by committing violence or giving threats of violence.

Reiterating that there is nothing ‘honourable’ in ‘honour killings’, the Court harshly observed that “they are nothing but barbaric and brutal murders by bigoted persons with feudal minds.

The Court, while observing that “It is time to stamp out these barbaric, feudal practices which are a slur on our nation”, declared that:

In our opinion honour killings, for whatever reason, come within the category of the rarest of rare cases deserving death punishment.

This is necessary as a deterrent for such outrageous, uncivilized behavior. All persons who are planning to perpetrate ‘honour’ killings should know that the gallows await them.

The Court has directed that a copy of the Judgment be sent to the Registrars General/Registrars of all the High Courts, directing them to circulate the same to all the Judges of the High Courts and to all the Sessions Judges and Additional Sessions Judges. The Court has further directed that the copies of the judgment be sent to Chief Secretaries, Home Secretaries, DGPs, directing them to circulate the same to all SSPs and SPs.

In view of the severe stand taken by the Supreme Court, both in the nature of the observations made, and the directions given for wide circulation of the judgment, one could expect harsher sentences for people convicted of ‘honour killings’ in the future. However, it is also time for the Government to enact a suitable legislation, to specifically tackle this menace, which is fast becoming a serious social concern.

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