ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Human Rights, Honour Killings and the Indian Law

Scope for a ‘Right to Have Rights’

This article argues that in the absence of normative criteria that can identify a set of universal human rights, the "right to have constitutional rights" can take on the onus of being that universal human right. In the case of honour killings, the right to have and, more importantly, access legitimate fundamental and legal rights is under severe doubt. A universal standard framework - such as a reading of "right to have rights" would have it - justifies the very purpose of human rights itself. The origin of human rights, thus, shifts from the matter of "being human" to a matter of social, political and legal constructivism.

There are several definitions of “honour killings” abound. Welchman and Hossain make a valid observation that most definitions of “honour crimes” or honour killings arise by the way of illustration (2005: 7). According to the Human Rights Watch, the mere perception that “a woman has behaved in a way that ‘dishonours’” her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life (Kirti et al 2011: 344). Following Nasrullah, Haqqi, and Cummings,1 for the purposes of this article, we will be defining honour killings as those murders that occur when a person (or persons) transgresses norms imposed by her/his community in the name of preserving honour as culturally prescribed. These norms may be with regard to sexual autonomy, marriage, religious conscience, caste, property, etc, all of which construct honour in ways that this article will explore.

In 2000, the United Nations (UN) estimated that there are around 5,000 honour killings every year worldwide (Chesler 2010: 3). In India, statistics from 2010 indicate roughly 900 reported honour killings in Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, while additional 100-300 honour killings took place in the rest of the country (Chesler and Bloom 2012: 45). Despite international conventions like the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), honour killings in countries such as Jordan, Pakistan, India, etc, are rampant and the victims are not just women – although they are predominantly women – but also men who exercise certain personal freedoms and “sexual deviants” such as transgenders.2 The prevalence of “crimes of honour” in several nations (GoI 2012: 2-3) highlights the relevance of using a framework of international law to address this macro­social malaise. Is there a feasible mechanism through which we can address this invidious crime across all nations?

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