Over the last six weeks, a spate of articles about Hindu honor (or “honour”) killings began appearing in the Indian and British media. I had arranged to receive Google alerts for honor killings; only recently did I add the British way of spelling the word: “honour.”
Initially, I was very surprised. Why? First, because honor killings occur quite rarely in the Indian diaspora in the West. See my latest study in Middle East Quarterly. In North America and Europe, Hindus committed only 3% of the honor killings.
I was also surprised to read about many Hindu honor killings because Hindu human rights activists, whom I had queried, hotly denied that Hindus ever commit honor/honour killings. When I pressed one such gentleman, he insisted that “anyone who says Hindus do this is a Marxist or a Muslim troublemaker.”
Nevertheless, according to the Indian media, at least ten separate cases of suspected honor killings either took place—the bodies of 16 victims were discovered—or arrests were finally made in June 2010 alone. More than one family member, often two to three relatives (a father, brother, uncle, grandmother, mother) or the village council (khap panchayat) were arrested as conspirators or murderers. Five male and female couples (ten victims) were killed while together; three killings were women-only; one killing was male-only.
The victims were mainly young and ranged in age from twelve to twenty-four-years old. The motives for killing them did not concern dressing in too western a fashion, refusing to dress in an acceptably customary way, or having unacceptable financial or career ambitions. The motives in all ten cases concerned the family’s need to control marriage and reproduction. The idea of choosing one’s own life partner was viewed as abhorrent, as something that only whores do.
However, in contrast to Muslim practices, these ten Hindu families found it unacceptable, a criminal act, to marry a cousin or someone from the same family or clan. In other words, while some of the honor killings are for marrying someone from a different caste, even the right caste mate might not be acceptable if he lives in the same village or is too closely related to the bride.
These killings are shockingly savage. Young daughters are beaten, even hacked to death—or they are electrocuted.