Nothing honourable

Print edition : August 28, 2009

ON October 9, 2007, in an honour killing case involving a Jat Sikh family in Maharashtra, the Supreme Court upheld the life imprisonment awarded by the High Court to five persons, including two women.

Four members of a family were brutally done to death with traditional weapons at Panvel on the outskirts of Mumbai on May 30, 1999.

A Bench comprising Justices S.B. Sinha and Harjit Singh Bedi, while upholding the sentence, held that the case fell within the category of the rarest of rare cases.

The Bench, however, ruled that it was not inclined to re-impose the death penalty. A trial court had sentenced the accused to death but the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the Bombay High Court in 2003.

The Bench opined:

We are of the opinion that in the peculiar circumstances that we now face, we are not inclined to reverse the life sentence awarded by the High Court and re-impose the death penalty on the accused. We note that the Additional Sessions Judge had rendered his judgement on December 21, 2001, awarding the death sentence to four of the accused.

Rajvinder Kaur fell in love with Ravinder Singh who neither was economically sound nor was of the same social status as her. The duo got married despite opposition from the girls family. The boys family continued to receive threats from Rajvinders family.

On May 30, 1999, the girls father Baldev Singh, mother Maya Kaur and three relatives stormed into Ravinders house at Panvel and attacked the family with traditional weapons. Rajvinder managed to escape. She was the sole witness to the crime.

The Supreme Court noted: The diabolical nature of the crime and the murder of helpless individuals committed with traditional weapons with extreme cruelty and premeditation is exacerbated by the fact that Maya Kaur and Nirmal Kaur had come upstairs and recovered the jewellery and clothes from Rajvinder Kaur just before the actual murder.

However, the court rejected the appeal of the Maharashtra government for reviving the death sentence to the male members on the grounds that they had already undergone eight years of imprisonment.

In the 21-page order, the Bench observed:

The accused are Jat Sikhs, a proud and aggressive community that has produced some of Indias most valorous soldiers and helped fill Indias granaries unwilling to accept the victims as equals and in their garbled perception, inferior in every way and unsuitable for their daughter.

Dealing with the issue of honour killing, on July 7, 2006, a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court expressed concern (in Lata Singh vs State of U.P. & Another [Criminal Writ Petition No.208 of 2004] over the several instances of harassment, threats and violence against young men and women who marry outside their caste and held that such acts of violence or threats or harassment are wholly illegal and those who commit them must be severely punished.

Observing that inter-caste marriages are in fact in the national interest as they will result in destroying the caste system, the Bench held that once a person becomes a major he or she can marry whosoever he/she likes. If the parents of the boy or girl do not approve of such inter-caste or inter-religious marriage the maximum they can do is that they can cut off social relations with the son or the daughter, but they cannot give threats or commit or instigate acts of violence and cannot harass the person who undergoes such inter-caste or inter-religious marriage.

The Bench directed the administration and the police authorities throughout the country to ensure that if any boy or girl who is a major undergoes inter-caste or inter-religious marriage with a woman or man who is a major, the couple are not harassed by anyone nor subjected to threats or acts of violence, and anyone who gives such threats or harasses or commits acts of violence either himself or at his instigation is taken to task by instituting criminal proceedings by the police against such persons and further stern action is taken against such persons as provided by law.

Referring to instances of honour killing of persons undertaking inter-caste or inter-religious marriage of their own free will, the Bench observed that 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.

T.K. Rajalakshmi

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