Honour Killing

The Supreme Court gave a controversial ruling a couple of days ago, reducing the sentence in a case of murder, from death penalty to 25 years of imprisonment without any option of release for two accused, and to 20 years for a third.

“The case relates to the killing of one Prabhu
, a member of Ezhavar
caste of Kerala, who was hacked to death along with his father Krishnan Nochil,
brother Bijit, and a neighbour Abhyaraj, by the convicts who are Brahmins.

The accused were Dilip Tiwari and two others. Dilip’s sister had married Prabhu, disregarding her family’s opposition because he was of a so-called lower caste. This angered the accused and led to the murders. Prabhu’s sister and mother were also injured in the attack.

“The sessions court had sentenced the accused to death and the Bombay
High Court confirmed it, after which the accused had appealed in the apex

Supreme Court Division Bench of Justices V S Sirpurkar and Deepak Verma agreed that the murders were gruesome.

However, the Bench was of the opinion that Dilip had felt humiliated because of his sister’s marriage to a person of so-called lower caste.


“It is a common experience that when the younger sister does something
unusual–and in this case it was an inter caste, inter community marriage out of
the secret love affair–then in the society it is the elder brother who
justifiably or otherwise is held responsible for not stopping such affair.


“It is held as the family’s defeat. At times, he has to suffer taunts and
snide remarks even from persons who really have no business to poke their nose
into the affairs of the family. Dilip, therefore, must have been a prey of the
so-called insult which his younger sister had imposed upon his family and that
must have been in his mind for seven long months,” the apex court said.

“The apex court said the principle is that the court should not confine its
consideration principally or merely to the circumstances connected with the
particular crime but also give due consideration to the circumstances of the

“It is because of this that we have ventured to consider the mindset of
accused No.1 Dilip and the vicious caste grip that might have provoked the crime
committed by him. “


Many feel that there should be separate legislation to tackle such ‘honour killings’. A ‘calling attention motion’ was moved in the Rajya Sabha a few months ago.

Replying to the motion, Home Minister P.Chidambaram argued against a separate legislation.

“He explained that in the end: “Whatever law we make, honour killing is
murder. It would have to be tried as murder.”


Honour killings are still frequently committed in India. And excommunication by village Panchayats for marrying outside a person’s caste, disregarding laws in force, is still commonplace.

This Supreme Court ruling brings certain social realities in India to the spotlight once again.

Whatever laws are enacted, until the mentalities of people change, they will not be of much use.

The situation in the villages, where Panchayats are influential, is very different from that in the cities, where social taboos can be disregarded.


However, this retrogressive mentality is evident in cities, too. This particular case, the murder of Prabhu, took place in the city.

Should an ‘honour killing – as in this case of the murder of Prabhu and his family members- be treated as any other murder?

Should the disturbed mentality of the accused- because of the taunts by others in their community, and the perceived ‘loss of face’ because of the sister’s marriage to a person of ‘lower’ caste- be taken into account?

Should it be regarded as a particularly heinous crime, because in reality the sister and the victim had done nothing wrong?

What do you think?



  1. First of all, I want to make clear that I'm against capital punishment…Having said that, I feel the Supreme Court's reasoning is reprehensible…It is basically condoning honour killings by saying that the high caste men were humiliated…Excuse me, but isn't life important? Is a high caste man's humiliation more important than a low caste man's life?


  2. Either a person is in a normal mental state, or is certifiable as mad. The latter is a scientific procedure done by medical specialists. The judge can take a different view ONLY if it is proved that the accused is certified as mad. That this provision maybe misused is possible. But no judge in my opinion can take decisions based on society's current thinking regarding castes, upper/lower, attitudes to women etc etc. The decision taken by this judge sets a very dangerous precedent, and calls for a reassessment in our procedure of selection of judges.


  3. Even though I am against the capital punishment at time its needed, I guess..if all the so-called higher community people were let off like this, they never understand the crime they have done and won't take the things seriously..of all the supreme court's words I found this really objectionable…/*It is a common experience that when the younger sister does somethingunusual–and in this case it was an inter caste, inter community marriage out ofthe secret love affair–then in the society it is the elder brother whojustifiably or otherwise is held responsible for not stopping such affai*/I don't know what kind of answer is this… why they have see the thing like this… Everyone is same in front of the law… and caste are still mentioned not to say one is higher and one is lower.. its about equality…


  4. The Supreme Court should be either society-neutral or, at best, in the vanguard of deterring crimes based on reprehensible social norms and practices.At the level of that individual alone, the judge is right in recognising reality. But his judgment impacts the society as a whole. That is where I feel he has erred.Honour killings have to be discouraged by all means so that the practice stops earliest. Had Sati not been banned and dealt with strictly, it would not have stopped.


  5. Sraboney– The question of capital punishment is, of course, a different issue.The issue here is that the SC did not agree to the maximum punishment for this crime awarded by the High Court.I agree, from the wording of the judgement, it does appear that the SC is condoning honour killings.Gopinathji– Thank you!Ugich Konitari– I don't think that the view of the Bench is that the prisoner was mentally unstable- but that the provocation to commit the crime was so great as to be a mitigating factor.


  6. Kanagu– I agree, everyone should be equal in front of the law.The fact that his community held the brother responsible cannot be a factor to be considered.Social pressure leads parents to prefer boys over girls. Should murder of female infants be condoned?Vinodji– The example of Sati is a perfect one. Another is of polygamy.The reality is that polygamy is still prevalent in society. But we think that there should be a law against it for all communities, that it should not be given legal sanction. As you have said, the law should be ahead of social reforms and show the way. Not condone social evils.


  7. Cannot imagine that a judge has given an excuse for MURDER! does our courts still have such "great" minds… nd will this hon'bl Judge also kill if his "honor" is at stake?nd it is told that around 5000 of the fairer sex are still killed yearly in India for somebody's "honor" and this is in addition to those killed in the womb itself so that this "honor" is not questioned at all!terrible I should say and if the judiciary itself has warped minds then it is going to be a long fight before it is stopped…


  8. 'Should the disturbed mentality of the accused- because of the taunts by others in their community, and the perceived 'loss of face' because of the sister's marriage to a person of 'lower' caste- be taken into account?' When this is a planned murder and not impulsive, why should they consider the background of the murderers? In one way, this is a more severe punishment than death penalty, I feel. He has to live and suffer the prison sentence, which is more humiliating than instant death.


  9. Happy Kitten– Yes, the term 'honour killing' is more usually used for the murder of the woman concerned in the case.Here the victim was the husband of the 'erring' woman.I agree, the reasoning of the Bench is reprehensible.Sandhya– That is a good point- it was a planned murder, not one committed in the heat of the moment.As you say, the sentence of imprisonment for life may turn out to be a more severe punishment- though the judges did not intend it to be so.Chowlaji– I used to be totally against capital punishment, too.However, now I think that it is defendable in certain cases such as that of terrorists, where keeping the prisoner alive in prison may be an invitation for a hostage situation.


  10. Hnour killing is killing in the most gruesome of forms. In my opinion, it deserves a degree of punishment higher than that is normally awarded for 'killing'. It tethers us to age old practices and thougts. Its time to move on. Beyond case and such else.


  11. Honour kiling is such a regressive, chauvinistic principle that I cannot ever come to terms with it. The perpetrators need to be meted the severest punishment as a deterrent to others.


  12. Murder is a murder, someone is loosing life in the process, we cant give the family of looser what they have lost..so punishment should be for the murder, but socially we must try to bring awareness in our society.


  13. Kavi, Sucharita,– I think you are right- the highest punishment must be meted out in such cases.Renu– I agree- the spread of social awareness is needed if such crimes are to be stopped. If the mentality of society does not change, these 'honour killings' are likely to continue. Just giving the highest punishment- though that is necessary, too- will not be enough.


  14. Punishment is never a deterent.it should be there so that nobody thinks they can go scot free after killing someone.To remove the crime we have to remove the roots of it, and the roots lie in rigid thinking..only education csan bring awareness and then govt need to come forward to support those young couples who face all these difficulties.


  15. "….honour killing ismurder. It would have to be tried as murder.” I go with that. The mental state of the accused due to taunts from society etc I feel should not in any way make us fail to see the killing for what it is, plain murder."Whatever laws are enacted, until the mentalities of people change, they will not be of much use."Maybe. But sometimes, at least in the long run, mentalities might change because of laws. So do we wait for mentalities to change or make laws so that mentalities change, maybe at a snail's pace, but still a change??


  16. Shail– Of course, I agree that laws should be in place, giving the highest punishment.I only said that laws will not be of much use, because there is a tendency to think that it is enough that laws are formulated.If the thinking of people does not change, as the brother's in this particular case, then the fear of punishment will not always act as a deterrent- that's what I meant.


  17. It is shocking to see our SC ruling like this. Normally SC's rulings are far more mature. In this case, it almost looks as if SC is acknowledging and condoning honour killings.


  18. the verdict and accompanying statements are highly shocking.is the crime of a lower cate person is more punishable than the same crime of an upper caste person? the social pressure on an upper caste person is very high considering the pressure of a lower caste person. this is the meaning and cause of the the verdict . this verdict remembers us manusmrithi ages.where the upper caste have an extramarital affair ther will be no punishment, but if it is done by a lower caste person he will be sentenced to death and confiscated all of his wealth.this is a very clear caste discrimination.


  19. Are we saying here that the supreme court was not presented all the evidence to convict these people.Or are we saying that the supreme court was presented all the evidence from which it was very clear that these people should be convicted and it was a clear case of injustice on the part of the supreme court?


  20. LVS– Good to see you again- it's been a long time!The HC had awarded the death penalty to the convicted persons. The SC reduced the sentence to life imprisonment. As I understand it, the SC has the authority to do this.The objection is mainly to the reasoning of the SC- which seems to be that the humiliation and ridicule that the convicted brother had to bear because of his sister's inter-caste marriage, should be considered a mitigating factor.


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