Blood ties

Print edition : March 13, 2020

A study by the National Family and Health Survey (2015-16) on Consanguineous Marriages Percentage of Ever-Married Women (Age 15-49) points out that various caste and religious communities prefer marriages within the community. It says that women in the southern States except Kerala are more likely to be in consanguineous marriages than in other States.

It further says that about one-third of the women in Tamil Nadu (33 per cent), followed by Lakshadweep, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana respectively, are reported to be in consanguineous marriages against the country’s average of 14 per cent. While studying the Proximate Determinates of Fertility, the survey points out that these marriages take place mostly between first cousins but also with second cousins, uncles, brothers-in-law and other blood and non-blood relatives. Marriages among non-related partners, however, account for over 80 per cent of the marriages across the country, though the study has not recorded specifically whether they take place across caste and religious barriers. Tamil Nadu has recorded the lowest rate among all States under the “not related” category of marriages (66.9 per cent).

A study by the United Nations—Global Study on Homicides, 2019, of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime—says that though women and girls account for a far smaller share of victims of homicide in general than men (81 per cent), as of 2017, they do “continue to bear by far the greatest burden of intimate partner and family-related homicides”. Another U.N. report, “Progress of World’s Women: Families in a Changing World, 2019”, says that lone parent families have increased to 8 per cent across the globe, and of these the majority are single-mother units. But, of late, the report claims, “arranged” marriages of Indian women are increasingly becoming “semi-arranged”.

In fact, honour killing has a wide geographical spread and happens across all social groups. While India records about 900 such killings every year, it is 5,000-odd across the world, says an unconfirmed United Nation Population Fund (UNFPA) report. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data in the past claimed that India registered 251 killings in 2015, a 792 per cent increase over 28 in 2014. The report was presented in Parliament in 2016. The Centre has submitted to the Supreme Court in connection with a case that 288 cases of honour killings were reported between 2014 and 2016. But this time, the NCRB has withheld the release of the data on honour killings and lynchings.

That these killings in the north had roots in history is no surprise. Guru Gobind Singh, the revered figure of Sikh religion, had asked his disciples to shun and reject “honour” killers and declared that “whosoever takes food from the slayers of daughters shall die unabsolved”.

Though khap panchayats (community committees) are active as extrajudicial entities in Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, the presence of such extrajudicial bodies is not officially recorded in Tamil Nadu.

Independent reports claim that Gujarat ranks third in terms of honour killings, with 30 cases reported between 2014 and 2016. Sustained interventions by activists in certain pockets had also led to some discernible changes in the mindset. In 2014, the Satrol Khap in Nardid village in Haryana permitted inter-caste and intra-khap marriages in 42 villages under its “jurisdiction”. Activists claimed that a skewed sex ratio in that State, just 834 girls to every 1,000 boys in Haryana then, was the reason for decision.

Killings are reported beyond India’s borders, too. Pakistan is said to record around 1,000 honour killings every year. Honour killings are reported among immigrants in European countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany and also in the United States. These immigrant groups mostly have their roots in West Asian and South East Asian countries. One report says that around 12 people get murdered every year in Britain, while a report quoting the U.S. Department of Justice claims that between 23 and 27 killings take place in the U.S. every year. Many women prisoners of the now infamous Abu Gharib prison in Iraq, who were allegedly raped by soldiers while in prison and became pregnant, were executed by their relatives after their release, all in the name of honour.


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