In the name of ‘honour’

In December 1998, the shocking murder of the mother of two at the hands of her husband and mother-in-law and the subsequent events thereafter catapulted the “issue of honour crimes into the headlines in the United Kingdom.”


According to a news report, the duo – her husband Sukhdave Athwal and 70-year-old mother Bachan Athwal “believed her daughter-in-law’s wish for a divorce would bring shame on the family.”


In a landmark case, while crime occurred during the victim’s trip to Punjab in 1998, and her body never found, the duo was “sentenced to life imprisonment” in 2007 for arranging the murder. Others involved in the crime remain free in India, other reports suggest.


While not often spoke openly, it grabbed international headlines in the UK and around the world when British Indian Sarbjit Kaur Athwal became the “first person to give evidence in an open court for so-called ‘honour killing’ of her sister-in-law – without a body ever being found.”


“There was no motive worthy of the name,” the judge noted while sentencing, according to a report in The Guardian.


While honour is synonymous with respect, prestige, stature etc, the crime or violence are often committed for safeguarding the same. Taking a life or ‘Honour killing’ described by a BBC analysis as “the murder of a person accused of “bringing shame” upon their family, are the extreme manifestation, different forms of exertions exist.


Honour violence occurs worldwide, from South America to Asia, though exact figures are unknown, the analysis informed, adding, while none of the world’s major religions condone honour-related crime, perpetrators have sometimes tried to justify their actions on religious grounds.


In India, such crimes regularly make headlines. “Violence against women’s autonomy, in all matters and especially in matters of sexuality and marriage, is one of India’s most widespread and tenacious forms of gender violence – and also the least recognised,” activist Kavita Krishnan argued in aljazeera.com in March.


While hiding from plain sight, violence in the name of ‘honour’ against men and women is not properly documented, since India does not have a specific law against “honour” crimes, she added.


“To spot such violence and confront it, you need to look beneath the surface and read between the lines of available documentation.”


Closer home, while such extremities seldom occur, often the omnipresent struggle with livelihood, gender identity, relationships and societal consideration often ensure that things waver beneath the surface.


The Morung Express’ narratives on the life of transgender dreaming of things “people take for granted every day” speak volume. They often voluntarily “leave home for fear that their family would be ostracized and abused because of them.”


A pressing question to ponder as explained by a legal practitioner that the family often kept them in the societal prescription of gender but when they start “asserting their identity, they are often driven out.”


Beyond gender and identity struggles, there are many societal issues which are either ‘solved’ or pronounced with arbitrary decisions based on ‘honour.’ Time is opportune to delineate and ponder upon this issue though honest deliberation and approach.