Vol 2/ Issue 2/ Dec 2016 [ISSN 2394-9295]

Harshita Singh

Research Scholar

Mewar University, Chittorgarh (Rajasthan)

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There is a complex set of traditional, social, and cultural factors that explain the practice of honour killings. In many developing countries sex outside of marriage is illegal and socially unacceptable. As a result, women are expected to actively guard their sexuality before marriage. Specifically, the developing society perpetuate the belief that any deviances from marital sexual relations are shameful and thereby brings dishonour to the family of a woman that engages in such activity. Therefore, a woman’s sexuality directly correlates to the honour of her family and the level of honour society associates with the family. Moreover, the practice of honour killings is exacerbated by the strong emphasis placed on close familial relationships throughout the Middle East and South Asian Countries.

In addition to affecting the honour of her family, a woman‟s sexuality is also an important symbol of her own worth. Traditionally, a woman is expected to preserve her chastity and thus, her intact hymen indicates fulfilment of her pledge to abstain from sex prior to marriage. The loss of a female family member‟s virginity adversely affects her social standing and also negatively impacts the marriage prospects of her female relatives. Males view a female who has allegedly engaged in sex outside of marriage as less feminine and of little worth as a potential wife because she has not maintained her traditional feminine virtues.

Keywords: Honour Killings, Feminine Virtues, Marital Sexual Relations.


Honour killing is often mistakenly believed to be an Islamic practice or a practice condoned by Islam since it often occurs in Muslim-majority societies. Actually, honour killing is forbidden in Islam and there is no mention of this practice in the Quran or in the Hadiths. There is also little evidence of the practice in Muslim -majority countries such as Indonesia or Malaysia. Honour killing occurs in strongly patriarchal societies often referred to as honour-based and which are found primarily in the Middle East, the Balkans, the southern Mediterranean, and South Asia. In traditional patriarchal societies inheritance is patrilineal, and the family or kin group is the basic social, economic and political unit. The persistence and continuity of that structure depends upon the ability of the women of the family to bear legitimate children, hence the emphasis on control by the family of women‘s sexual and reproductive powers. In such societies the rights and status of the individual are subordinate to those of the family group. In strongly patriarchal societies women are often legally minors throughout their lives, merely changing from being the property of their father‘s family to being

the property of their husband‘s family, without acquiring any political or economic voice, and with no possibility of independent action as an individual.

The concept of disreputation of the male honour has extended, when he lost his control over a female relative. Sometimes women desire to choose a life partner and contracting a marriage with a person of her own choice in a society where the majority of decisions for marriages are taken by parents. Their acts are believed to be acts of disobedience. These practices are assumed to pollute the honour of man to whom that female belongs and who waits for a bride price at her marriage. Women and girls who marry men with their own choice sometimes take help and protection from state laws, and do against the traditional norms and brought shame for their guardians leading them to commit violence for the restoration of their honour. In a traditional notion, the arranged marriages are perceived as balancing of the society, so when females use their own decisions. It causes an imbalance in the society. Sometimes girls and women are killed, when they are trapped between many men‘s decisions for their marriages. Different male relatives have different choices for their arranged marriages. She obeys one relative male. Consequently, she is attempted murder by other male relative. Nagina Bibi, a 17 years old girl was engaged with her cousin by her father‘s choice, but her brother wanted her to marry his wife‘s brother. Once, her brother saw her with the cousin and he burnt her alive. She was admitted to the hospital and her family told the doctors that it is only due to stove bursting at home, but when she came into conscious, she disclosed all the facts. Societies where honour killings occur are characterized by the existence of codes of honour which specify what is and is not ―honour . Honour relates to the outside world‘s view of a person and can be both won and lost. The community has the obligation to respect a person as long as the code is followed and is seen to be followed. The fact that the practice of honour killing is embedded in and expresses the most deep-rooted values of patriarchal societies, values which are shared by women and men, implies that strategies to address this must be complex comprehensive, and long -term, addressing not only the incidents themselves but also the root causes.

Patriarchy crosses faiths and cultures. In strongly patriarchal societies, women and the reproductive power that they embody is a commodity. They are the property of the family to be guarded and exchanged according to strict rules. If those rules are breached, or are perceived to have been breached the men of that family are obliged to eliminate the woman who has brought shame to the family in order to restore family honour. Honour which inheres in the male members of the family can be seen as a parallel concept to shame which is experienced by women. Lost honour becomes a reality when it is made public, and can be restored by a collective response, typified by the collusion of family members in the death of a woman who is perceived by themselves and by the outside world to have brought shame on the family.

In most countries where honour killings are tolerated, these acts do fall under laws dealing with murder but at the same time rules of defence relating to provocation and extenuating circumstances can be found in their penal codes. Such provisions usually originate from old colonial penal codes Spanish, French or Ottoman where honour killings are accorded similar treatment as are ―crimes of passion, in that sentencing is based not on the act itself but on the feelings of the perpetrator. If defence of family honour is regarded as an extenuating circumstance, killing in the name of honour may incur a sentence of a few months only.

Honour killing can be seen as one of a range of violent and non­violent manifestations of woman‘s commodification in patriarchal, honour-based societies. A variant on honour killing is honour suicide whereby members of the family force the perceived transgressor to take her life. Amongst other violent manifestations of patriarchal power over women are Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) sometimes known as female circumcision; the practice of suttee or widow­burning, and acid­attacks or other forms of defacing and despoiling the perceived offender. Forced virginity testing and female foeticide also fall into this category of violent acts against women which are characteristic of strongly patriarchal societies. Amongst the non -violent manifestations, though they may indeed lead to violence, are the practices of payment of dowry and bride -price on the exchange of a female commodity between her natal family and her family of marriage. Sometimes in such societies widows may be inherited by the dead husband‘s brother, although more often a widow in a patriarchal society is a non -person, as is a barren woman. Statistical data from many societies shows that strong preference for sons in patriarchal societies may lead to the neglect or malnutrition of female babies and infants leading to higher infant mortality amongst under five girls.

The incidence of honour killings is presumed to increase in situations of economic crisis or conflict, or where traditional patriarchal values are under threat as for example when minority communities where honour killings are tolerated come into contact with mainstream societies which do not share the same views of appropriate gender roles. A woman in an immigrant community who is threatened by honour killing by her family is usually discriminated against not only on the basis of gender but may also encounter further ethnic, racial and gender prejudice if she seeks help from the police. This is known as a situation of ―intersectionality or multiple discrimination where several cross -cutting dimensions such as gender, class, ethnicity and age combine to undermine the status and power of individuals. Such situations are often not properly understood by the police and other authorities in the mainstream society.


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