A case apart

Two years ago, in a case related to a young inter-caste couple's appeal for protection against death threats, an anguished bench of the Punjab and Haryana high court had observed "In the last five years, thousands of (such) petitions have been filed. Out of 26 matters listed today, 10 pertain to marriages of young people. In four days the cases have swelled to 27... Couples (are) hiding themselves in the corridors of the courts chased by relations accompanied by musclemen armed with weapons..(but) the state is a mute spectator. When shall the state awake from its slumber, how long will the state elude permanent solution..."

These remarks are even more relevant in the context of the Central government's recent decision to set up yet another GoM on the legal framework required to address honour crimes. While this delaying tactic is disturbing enough, what is worse is the flawed understanding of those charged with addressing the crime, reflected in the proposed amendments which are reportedly being sent to the states for discussion.

The main amendment is to Sec 300 of the IPC which defines specific causes for murder. The other amendments relate to the Special Marriage Act and the Indian Evidence Act. Such a piecemeal approach to a complex and multi-dimensional social crime will do more harm than good. To give just one example, while the main amendment defines what constitutes "perceived dishonour" in a very narrow fashion, its definition of those to be held guilty as "anyone associated with a caste panchayat" which has given the order for the crime, is too wide and may include and punish persons who were not present at the time or did not concur with the decision. Those with the slightest experience of working on such cases, as many women's organisations, know that more often than not such criminal decisions are taken by a handful of people, certainly not by the wider association. Since it is neither warranted nor wise to ban caste associations, ordinary members cannot then be punished in the way suggested.

... contd.

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