Is There Really An Ounce of Honour in Killing?

Today’s post is about something that I feel deserves a great amount of attention. In all honesty, it was not until a dear friend of mine shared a link to a BBC article about last week’s murders in the Indian state of Harayana, that I decided to explore the issue of ‘honour killings’ further.

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Many will accede to the fact that ‘honour killings’ is not news. It has been going on for several decades. However, it remains newsworthy because of the fact that it continues to persist in the 21st century is cause for great concern. According to the BBC Ethics Guide, honour killings are a subset of the broader notion that is an honour crime. By definition, honour crimes involve violence, including murder, committed by people who want to defend the reputation of their family or community.

Just last week, an 18-year old girl and her fiance were brutally killed. By whom? The girls own family. In fact, in an article in The Guardian, Narendar Barak, the victim’s father, showed no remorse after he admitted to beating his daughter to death and dismembering her fiance.

“I have no regrets … not even a little … This should happen. If society is to be saved, then it should happen,” he said.

This case was dubbed a “honour killing” because of the fact that both the victims come from the same caste. As such, they were forbidden by tradition from marrying one another. More so, tradition also dictated that children were not permitted to chose who they marry. Instead, the decision has to be made by their parents. Hence, in order to preserve the purity of their local tradition, murder was the only answer. Violating their rights to life and to be free from torture in some sense was justified, as a necessary evil, when the protection of the entire culture was at stake.

To many this view will seem horrific. However, for the cultures perpetrating these ‘honour crimes’, this view is perfectly acceptable. In fact, it is based on their version of morality and behaviour, separate from the notion of universal human rights.

Cultural relativism often conflicts with universal human rights. By definition, cultural relativists ascribe to a morality that is solely governed by culture and nothing else. This is why crimes of honour are often go unnoticed or the perpetrators are granted impunity. These two paradigms are stark opposites and in order to find any resolution to this issue, condemnation of such local culture is not the answer.

In fact, if we have a look at the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of HUman Rights, Article 18 states that,

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

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Confusingly enough, it also states that,

Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

Therefore, while these may be rights everyone should enjoy by the sheer fact that we are all human beings, the writing is not always black and white.

Firstly, for cultures that see ‘honour killings’ as an affirmation of morality, human rights are seen as an alien, Westernized concept. Hence, expecting them to comply with a so-called “Western” universal notion of morality – that goes against everything their culture represents – would be rather foolish.

Instead, according to a book entitled, ‘Honour: Crimes, Paradigms and Violence Against Women’, “combating crimes of honour cannot mean repudiating the human dignity and rights of all concerned, including the perpetrators of these crimes, their families and communities. Unless one subscribes to the authoritarian view that people should simply be coerced into doing what is good for them; it is necessary to gain their cooperation and support through an internal discourse within the community around cultural norms and institutions associated with these crimes”.

In no way, am I alluding to the fact that the protection of woman should be put on the back-burner while this internal discourse is underway. Practical and legal measures should be taken. After all, ascribing to certain cultural norms and morality does not exempt you from the law of the state, which clearly indicates that murder is a crime, punishable by the judicial system.

However, the question should be one of a long -term strategy – in addition to, not instead of, all that can be done immediately.

What are your views? Can you make an argument for cultural relativism? What can be done to ensure these ‘honour killings’ stop?

We have a voice, lets use it.

Do note that every once in a while, I will explore issues outside the exclusive realm of sexual violence, that I feel deserve a great amount of attention. Do Check out “Hot Topics” for more prolific issues around the world.

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It’s Our Fault

Aren’t we all sick of being told that rape is our- the woman’s – fault? This sarcastic video, courtesy of the All Indian Bakchod (AIB), went viral a couple of days ago and demonstrates everything society needs to forget in order to get rid of a rape culture and more importantly the rape epidemic, especially in India. Blaming the victim is something that has to be stopped. Have a look and together let’s help change society’s mentality toward women and sexual violence.

It’s NOT my fault.

We have a voice, let’s use it.

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A Look Back at the Delhi Gang Rape Case

December 16, 2012: A 23-year-old paramedical student was brutally gangraped in a moving bus in Delhi.

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December 23, 2012: Fast track court set up by Delhi high court to speed up the trial.

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December 26, 2012 : Victim is flown to Singapore for treatment at the Mount Elizabeth Hospital.

December 29, 2012 : The victim dies of her injuries in Singapore. PM Singh says he is deeply saddened by her death, and pledges to channel emotions surrounding the case into action. Six suspects are charged with murder after the victim’s death.

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January 3, 2013: The father of the victim demands that those responsible be hanged and calls for new legislation on sex crimes to be named in honor of his daughter. Five men are formally charged and a sixth accused was due to be tried separately in a juvenile court.

February 5, 2013: Trial begins

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March 11, 2013: Ram Singh found dead in his cell in Tihar jail

March 21, 2013: India approves a tougher new anti-rape law to punish sex crimes, including death for repeat rape offenders

August 22, 2013: Prosecution initiates final arguments

August 26, 2013: Prosecution concludes final arguments

August 27, 2013: Defence begins final arguments

August 31, 2013: Juvenile Justice Board holds minor guilty of rape and murder

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September 3, 2013: Trial ends

September 10, 2013: Court held the 4 remaining accused guilty of rape and murder

Is the Death Penalty the Answer?

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The death penalty has been raised around the world as a sufficient and much needed punishment for the crime of rape. The underlying belief is that such a tough punishment or national stance on rape will lead to diminishing incidences of rape and act as an effective deterrent.

Major human rights organizations, like Amnesty International have campaigned for years against the death penalty which violates one’s fundamental right to life. While I do agree that no court should have the capacity to take away one’s life, I believe the issue is more complex than that alone.

Let us look at China for example. According to a study conducted by US-China Today entitled: Rape in China, only 1 out of 10 cases of rape is likely to be reported. Furthermore, the study concluded that while the majority of us would like to believe that the perpetrators of such assault were strangers, the majority of these crimes were actually committed by someone the victim knew.

In fact, if the death penalty were the punishment for rape, wouldn’t it deter the victim from coming forward especially so if the perpetrator was one of their own family members. The entire system is based on the reporting of the case and who will report a case if the conviction would lead to the death of a father or brother or son?

Also, if you look at the actual laws in place in China, like India, the death penalty is actually the severest of penalties one can receive for rape. While, logically this should deter rapists, crimes against women haven’t gone down. Therefore, the correlation between invoking the death penalty and the consequent result of lower crime rate seems to be ill founded.

Tougher laws alone are not the answer. The problem in China and India is largely a cultural one. Violence against women is rooted in patriarchal gender relations where women are assigned roles based not on their capacity but norms and values that perpetuate male dominance and superiority. The gender inequality is embedded in all levels of the society such as employment, education and social status.

It is easy to look at the death penalty as a plausible solution to years of crimes against women. It seems almost justified in places India and China where rape is so rampant. However, rape has not stopped and it is almost foolish to think it will just because of the imposition of the death penalty.

Firstly, in order to be convicted, crimes of rape have to be reported. In patriarchal societies like India and China scores of rapes go unreported. In fact, the woman is often pressured by the authorities, her family or the attacker himself to recant her statement even if she does have the courage to go forward. Secondly, if no one is willing to listen, how can any rapist be convicted and sentenced to death?

The problem is not the law alone. The real problem lies in the systematic failure to recognize rape as an actual crisis or epidemic as I have put it many times before. It is not considered a serious enough issue and therefore, even asking for the death penalty seems foolish. While it may bring justice for one victim, hundreds of others are still left in the dark.

According to Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, what should be focused on is whether the police are serious about such crimes, how quickly the matter is tried in a court and whether there is a system that punishment will be given to those responsible. Every case should not be treated as different but be given the due diligence that it truly deserves.

What do you guys think? Is the death penalty the answer?

We have a voice, use it.

Does It Matter What Clothes I Wear?


The way a woman dresses is often seen as an incitement to rape.

The basic premise of this argument is deeply flawed. It places a disproportionate blame on the victim. It simply means, if you are sexually assaulted, the way you were dressed at the time of the attack, makes it understandable and in some sense, justified. How many of you have a problem with this skewed logic? I do.

Firstly, rapists look for easy, vulnerable targets. Thinking that women provoke attacks against them by the way they dress transfers blame from the perpetrator to the victim. In India, the statistic is something like a female is raped every 20 minutes. Anyone who has visited India will see that other than the metropolitan cities like Mumbai, females are very seldom seen wearing anything other than the traditional Indian kurta or sari. In contrast, in more modern countries like Singapore, where often women are seen strolling around in shorts that barely cover their bottoms, the rape rate is much lower.

Secondly, if clothing were truly the main motive for rape then what explains the rampant rape of infants in India. 53% of children in the country have faced sexual abuse of some form and almost 50% of the abuses are carried out by persons known to the child or by people who are in a position of trust and responsibility.

In my opinion, clothes definitely do not cause rape, rapists do. This argument simply creates a social stigma – which badly needs to be crushed – that rape is OK as long as the victim was “asking for it” by the way she was dressed. It instigates that men cannot be held accountable for the ways in which women tempt them- nor should they be forced to.

It should be understood that I do not advocate that women wear provocative clothing. However, I do believe that no woman asks to be raped or deserves it. The main issue or rather the bigger problem is a social one. If society themselves believe that the victim bears responsibility in their own sexual assault, how can justice ever be achieved?

Society shouldn’t only teach us to not get raped, society should more importantly teach us not to rape.

What are your views? Should the victim assume some responsibility? Or should men learn to control their animalistic urges?

We have a voice, use it.

Are 3 Years Enough?


The youngest of the accused in the Delhi gang rape case has been sentenced to three years in reform home.

According to the Indian Penal Code, crimes of murder are punishable by death. More so, after this horrific incident in December 2012, and the public uproar it created, the government of India toughened laws and imposed the death penalty in cases where a victim of rape is left in a vegetative state after an attack.

For many this brought a sense of hope and it was precisely this hope and the expectation of a tougher sentencing that has left the entire nation reeling.

Kiran Bedi, an Indian Social Activist and a retired Indian Police Service officer  expressed her frustration via Twitter, saying that “Courts need not be mechanical robots. We make laws and then interpret them not to be enslaved but do justice to victims too“.

However, according to the Indian juvenile court system, 3 years is the maximum sentence a juvenile can receive. By this standard, the convicted murderer received the maximum sentence and justice was served.

Yet, one should ask whether age should have been the only factor that prevented this criminal from being persecuted by the fullest extent? In my opinion, whether the accused was 17 or 18 should be irrelevant. Emotional and intellectual maturity is what should be the focus of attention as opposed to the juvenile’s numerical age. One year does not separate the men from the boys. After all, five of the attackers were over the age of 18 and not one of them acted like a proper man.

Also, according to investigative reports, this man was accused of being the most violent while carrying out this horrific crime. How then is it fair that the most violent perpetrator be sentenced to simply three years at a reform home?

The answer is simple: it isn’t fair. Instead what would be fair is for heinous crimes to be prosecuted differently from ordinary crimes, like petty theft. The judicial system should have in place different legal provisions based on the seriousness of the crime committed. Justice for such crimes should not be determined by age alone. After all, does it really make sense to give a murderer and a thief a similar sentence? I think not.

While the Juvenile Justice Board believes in reform as opposed to punishment, it seems almost ridiculous to believe that such a criminal could truly reform  after having committed such a heinous crime.

I am inclined to believe in second chances. However, I am also inclined to believe in justice for the victim, who isn’t with us anymore. The facts remain that this man was one of the six men who attacked her, and ultimately murdered her. I am no lawyer, nor am I a expert. I am however a woman, and this verdict was a slap in the face for women everywhere and particularly in India. On a daily basis women in India are sexually harassed, from catcalls on streets and groping in buses to rapes. Quite often the police refuse to accept complaints by female victims and even accuse them of inviting unwanted male attention by dressing provocatively.

This verdict was an institutional failure and has made the Indian judicial system look like a complete joke.

What are your views? Are you pro-reform or pro-punishment? Are 3 years enough?

We have a voice, use it.