How Honorable is Honor Killing?


By Nithin Sridhar


A scary tale from Bangalore

In what appears to be a case of honor killing, a person named Hanumantaraaya is alleged to have murdered his sister Kasturi and her lover Basavaraju in Bangalore according to a report published in Vijaya Karnataka (July 6 issue), a Kannada daily.

The victims were originally from Koppala district, and Kasturi was in love with Basavaraju. But their love was not acceptable to her family due to caste consideration. Her brother had forced Kasturi to marry another man against her wishes. Kasturi left her husband and ran away with Basavaraju and arrived in Bangalore, just days after the marriage.

It is alleged that Hanumantaraaya was very upset with this, and he searched for Kasturi and found her to be living in Bangalore. He visited their house and spent the day with his sister. At night, when Kasturi and Basvaraju were sleeping, he allegedly hacked them to death with a knife. Kasturi was 24 years old and Basavaraju was 28 years old.

This brutal double murder adds one more to the ever-growing list of honor killings that is happening in India. A typical honor killing issue starts with two young people loving each other, and it ends with the lovers ending up dead, killed by their own families for ‘defiling’ their family’s honor.

The question that society, of which these perpetrators are an inseparable part, must ask itself is: What honor is there in killing someone in the name of honor?

Honor killing is a global phenomenon

Honor killing refers to the killing of a person by the members of his/her own family, because of the notion that certain actions of the victim brought insult and dishonor upon the family.

Honor killings are a worldwide phenomenon. Though it is difficult to estimate the exact number of people killed annually, it has been suggested that globally 5000 people are killed for honor every year. The Indian figures are estimated at 1000 people annually.

Honor killings are rampant in the states of Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, Western UP, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Some experts suggest that the number of deaths globally is as high as 20,000 per year.

Apart from India, the cases of honor killings have been reported in Jordan, Pakistan, Turkey, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Italy, Israel, Holland, Sweden, USA, and many more countries. Therefore, this is clearly a global phenomenon.

What is honor?

Now, returning to the question: Is there honor in killing for honor? We must first look into the question: what is honor?

Traditionally, the notion of honor has been associated with zarr (wealth), zoroo (women), and zameen (land) in India. But does it mean women are commodities similar to land and wealth?

The answer is a definite no and therein lies the source as well as the solution to the problem. Pursuing land, wealth and women are considered as virtue because without them, a man cannot perform dharma (duties/righteousness). But, they can easily turn into a vice, if a man intends to misuse them.

The ultimate goal of life is considered as moksha (liberation), and this cannot be attained without attaining the wealth that constitutes artha, and without having a spouse, together with whom, one can pursue desires and duties that constitute kaama and dharma respectively.

Therefore, women are associated with honor of the family, not because they are commodities, but because without them, men are incomplete, without them the practice of dharma is impossible. When it is said, a wife is half portion of her husband, conversely it also means that husband is half portion of his wife. Hence, although their roles are different, men and women share an equal standing as far as a family is concerned.

There is no honor in honor killings

The next question is: whether killing is honorable?

Honor is related to virtuous and righteous actions. The scriptures have clearly defined what constitutes dharma or righteous actions and what constitutes adharma or unrighteous actions.

Ahimsa or non-injury is considered as the most important duty of whole mankind. When the Hindu scriptures, which are the basis of Indian life, clearly state that violence committed in self-interest is unrighteous, how can killing anyone, because of the notion that family honor has been ruined, be righteous? Further, such a notion of honor itself is based on wrong understanding.

Love or lust?

If it be pointed out, that few Hindu scriptures mention harsh punishments for adultery including death, it is easy to point out that love is not same as adultery.

It’s true that, adultery is considered adharma as it involves cheating and a wide variety of punishments have been mentioned depending the severity of the crime. But, nowhere do the scriptures mention that parents should kill their daughters, or brothers should kill their sisters by accusing them of adultery or of bringing dishonor to the family.

The authority of delivering punishments is only with the judicial systems and not with people. More importantly, in the present case of Kasturi, her forceful marriage itself is invalid as far as dharma is concerned. Marriage is called as kanyaadaanam because the bride is given as a charity. And charity is a very noble act.

But, anything forcefully given can never be considered as daanam (charity). Therefore, the marriage of the girl itself is invalid. So the question of adultery does not arise at all.

Also, love marriages are accepted as valid forms of marriage in Hindu scriptures which call them “gandharva vivaha.”

Therefore, any assertions that honor killing is committed because the victim had violated culture norms and family honor, has no basis.

Women, without whom no act of dharma is possible, are always honorable. And there is absolutely no honor in killing women. Honor killing is a dishonorable act. Period.