India: "Honor" Killings Become More Prevalent
Monday, June 7, 2010 12:35 PM

The rate of "honor" killings in India has been growing slowly over the past decade. Experts have begun speaking out about this trend in "honor" killings as a result of a recent high-profile murder. Earlier this month, Nirupama Pathak was allegedly murdered by her own mother for being pregnant and wanting to marry the father; the father belonged to a lower caste than her own. "Honor" killings are committed frequently in India, but tend to occur amongst the poor, rural, and agrarian. Pathak’s murder occurred in urban, middle-class, and educated India, and as a result, has drawn wide-spread media attention.
Crossing caste barriers is the most common justification for such killings. The caste system is deeply ingrained within Indian culture and dictates social status from birth. Land ownership and caste are often closely related. Those born into upper castes are concerned about losing social status by blending the castes. "Honor" killings have taken hold as a way to maintain social and economic power within those communities.
Khaps have formed to help maintain these caste boundaries. Khaps are violent groups of upper-caste individuals that are dedicated to maintaining caste boundaries by combating inter-caste and incestuous marriages. The khaps have established makeshift courts that order death sentences for those who offend the honor culture by crossing caste boundaries. They often encourage family members to commit the "honor" killings by any means possible. Khaps have become increasingly brutal as Indian society evolves into one based on egalitarian and democratic principles. Prem Chowdhry, a senior academic fellow at the Indian Council of Historical Research posits that "due to their declining status, they are trying to assert their existence by taking the law in their own hands."
Some experts point to changing social norms and modernity as a reason for the increase in "honor" killings. An increasing number of young people want to marry for love, rather than basing partner choice on caste or family concerns.
Compiled from: Why are Hindu Honor Killings Rising in India?, Time (26 May 2010).