To be young and in love has proved fatal for many young girls and boys in parts of north India as an intolerant and bigoted society refuses to accept any violation of its rigid code of decorum, especially when it comes to women. The two teenage girls who were shot dead last week by a cousin in Noida for daring to run away to meet their boyfriends are the latest victims of honour killings, a euphemism for doing away with anyone seen as spoiling the family's reputation. Many such killings are happening with regularity in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. These are socially sanctioned by caste panchayats and carried out by mobs with the connivance of family members.
The usual remedy to such murders is to suggest that society must be prevailed upon to be more gender-sensitive and shed prejudices of caste and class. Efforts should be made to sensitise people on the need to do away with social biases. But equally, it should be made clear that there is no escape for those who take justice into their own hands. So far, there is no specific law to deal with honour killings. The murders come under the general categories of homicide or manslaughter. When a mob has carried out such attacks, it becomes difficult to pinpoint a culprit. The collection of evidence becomes tricky and eyewitnesses are never forthcoming.
Like the case of Sati and dowry where there are specific laws with maximum and minimum terms of punishment, honour killings, too, merit a second look under the law. In many cases, the victims who run away with 'unsuitable' partners are lured back home after FIRs are filed by their families. The police cannot be unaware that in many cases they are coming back to certain death at the hands of their relatives and fellow villagers. Yet, pre-emptive action to protect them is never taken. Undoubtedly, the virus of caste and class that affects those carrying out such crimes affects the police in the area too. But that can be no excuse to sanction murder. Active policing and serious penal sanctions is the only antidote to this most dishonourable practice.