By: Riddhima Sharma, (Executive Editor at the LAW blog)

From Haryana to West Bengal, several forms of Honour Killings have been flourishing and claiming the lives of many men and women who dared defy the traditional customs and rules which their community leaders hold sacred.

There is no honour in killing1. Whose Honour is it anyway?

The many stories, news pieces and documentaries about honour killings reveal one common factor between them – a woman’s chastity. The role of woman in such communities is simple. Protect your virginity and uphold the family ‘honour’.

You are putting your life (and even your partner’s life) in danger if:

a)      you try to rebel against the family by finding a boy from a different caste or community; or

b)      you get married against family approval; or

c)      you have sex before marriage; or

d)      you get raped; or

e)      you don’t follow the strict dress code.

So it’s not so much your own honour or values that matter, but the family and community’s honour which, by the way, are directly linked to your sexual choices, your choice of clothes, behaviour and things which you can’t control, such as sexual abuse and rape.

Perverse isn’t it?

2. Our cultures are all about contradictions:

Let’s face it; India is popular for all the wrong reasons. They may not know about our amazingly unique blend of cultures and festivals and the popularity of and devotion towards our all powerful female deities, but they sure as hell know all about the crimes against women and crimes inspired by religions.

But anyway, if you know about one, it’s hard to believe the other can be true.

Confused? So are we.

3. No it doesn’t only happen in India:

If you’re thinking that India is such a horrible place where so many terrifying crimes are committed in the name of religion, it’s true. But, it is also true that honour killings are not exclusive to India.

If you follow any popular international media, you will find many stories and articles like this, this, this and this which will show you that honour killing is a serious crime which is rising on a global level in countries like in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda and the United Kingdom. Islamic countries have been notorious for years for their practice of honour killing although there is no real religious sanction for this that has been found.

Twisting religion and rules for the benefit of exercising control over community members, especially young men and women is not a new concept but is certainly a disturbing one.

4. You thought Honour Killings are committed only against heterosexuals? Think Again:

Although popular lore suggests the crime is committed against love struck young girls and boys who defy their community elders and dishonour their families, a surge in honour killings against homosexuals in various countries suggests that the narrow minded, rigid elders are trying to target anyone who goes against their beliefs and customs and well, ‘the law of nature’ as many put it.

Honour killing against homosexuals who are seen by many as ‘ill’ or ‘diseased’ are a way for families or communities to ‘cure’ them of homosexuality. Despite the global movement to legalise homosexuality (in many places it already has been legalised) and the availability of research which shows that homosexuality is normal and that they need to be socially recognised and accepted, many people are still uncomfortable with this idea.

A popular and shocking story of honour killing by the father of a homosexual teen in Turkey, sparked an outrage among the people and inspired the making of a movie on the phenomena that is homosexuality, gender identity and the homophobia which results from rigid gender perceptions, called “Zenne”.

Gruesome stories of honour killings and death threats against homosexuals and lesbian and gay couples have been reported in India, Houston, Turkey. Many more may be unreported.

The hostility against LGBT communities is shocking but the fact that they are now being targeted by groups that advocate and carry out honour killings is even worse. Many homosexuals prefer to keep their orientation secret for fear of being prosecuted or socially suppressed.

This leaves a serious question on our tolerance as human beings for those who seek to be different and challenge the popular notions of gender and sexuality.

5. Where are the law makers?

Honour killings directly violate the constitutional rights of a person to life and liberty apart from violating a whole set of human rights laws at the international level.  However, a specific legal provision targeted at protecting citizens against honour crimes or punishing the perpetrators of honour killings in not present in India. . A step in this direction was the 2011 Supreme Court directive which called for honour killings to be identified as ‘rarest of rare cases’ and the perpetrators be awarded the death sentence. Apart from this, several attempts are being made to introduce specific remedies against this crime and even remove the stronghold of kangaroo courts and khaps which sanction these killings.

But local beliefs and nonchalant attitude of policy makers mostly allow for the perpetrators to slip through the legal repercussions because after all, isn’t honour killing a local brand of justice dispensation?

If you thought that having no legal remedies against this practice is bad then what’s happening in many places will befuddle you. In some countries, honour killing as a practice is promoted and may even have some form of legal sanction. Homosexuality in Brunei is a recognized crime which is punished by being stoned to death.

The need to preserve the high moral standards and practices which don’t allow for any freedom of choice for young women and men has been so deeply ingrained in the minds of many that even legal measures against the act have not managed to curb the number of victims claimed by honour crimes. So even in places where honour crimes are legally recognized, it has been increasingly difficult to find any takers.

The change in mindset of citizens which is crucial to the success of any punitive or preventive law has not been widespread. Social structures haven’t allowed for disintegration of these practices and therefore breaking these structures and social education is our best hope at cutting the problem at its root and promoting tolerance and inclusivity.


A number of foundations and women’s groups have been working tirelessly for creating a safer and more tolerant society to live in. International non profits and resource centres have been crucial in providing databases of laws against honour crimes and creating awareness. Involving religious institutions for educating the masses about these crimes and making community action groups is another method of tackling this issue. In India, organisations like Shakti Vahini, Himmat Mahila Samooh and many others have been involved in these efforts. And there’s this helpful info-graphic to walk you through this disturbing phenomena and its realities.

 “There is nothing honourable in such killings, and in fact they are nothing but barbaric and shameful acts of murder committed by brutal, feudal minded persons who deserve harsh punishment.” – Supreme Court of India


  1. Could you please tell that shakti vahini and himmat mahila samooh have helped how many love couples, given them shelter or legal assistance, saved them from killings and other crimes in the name of so called honour etc. To our information it is a big zero


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