Author:- Anshika Sharma

Cultural crimes are crimes that are committed under the pretext of culture and there has been a spate of honour killings that has immensely shocked the country. An honour killing can be termed ad the killing or the murder of a girl for actual or perceived “immoral” behaviour that is deemed to have breached the ‘honour code’ of a household or community. The deeply rooted patriarchal, cultural and social prejudices resulted in these so-called “honour codes”, where the women are perceived and forced to bear all responsibility for maintaining communal honour. Honour killings are a straight abuse of the most basic human right i.e. right to life and also to all the conventions on Human Rights.

A woman is the one who is always targeted by her own family members and society for a variety of reasons like being the victim of sexual assault, seeking a divorce even when it’s the husband who doesn’t treat her well, refusing to enter into an arranged marriage or performing acts such as adultery. It has always been seen that a mere act committed by a woman which is different and not in regards to the thinking of the family and quite the opposite of it is sufficient enough to trigger an attack in the life of that woman.


The main reason for the commitment of this heinous crime is the belief that a family member has brought dishonour to the family and the dishonour can be perceived different for different families. Though honour killing is against International Law India still lacks the need for a specific law but does have judicial precedence over it. Also, the rigid cast system existing especially in the rural areas and the people refusing to change their mindsets and outlook has been one of the most obvious reasons for the prevalence of this system in India. India is a patriarchal society where men enforce such traditions and norms in order to protect the family and the male honour from shame.

The Khap Panchayat’s prevalent in the villages mostly believe that the marriages between the people belonging to the same village incest and considered to be siblings and thus their marriages are prohibited and thus not valid and therefore the Panchayat orders for the killing of such couples and hangs their bodies in the village in order to set an example for other straying couples. India, being a patriarchal society, women are considered as the vessel and the property of the family’s honour and any act committed by the woman which according to the male dominant society would bring dishonour to the prestige of the family, it renders an absolute right on the male members to kill the woman as by doing this the family’s honour and prestige would be brought back.

For this, we need to understand the meaning of the terms Gotras and Sapindas. Gotra can be defined as the clan or the lineage assigned to a Hindu at the time of birth. It is a Sanskrit word which was initially used by the Vedic people whereas Sapindas means, it could be with reference to any person it extends as far as the third generation in the line of ascent through the mother, and the fifth in the line of ascent through the father, the line being traced upwards in each case from the person concerned, who is to be counted as the first generation. Thus the marriage between two people where one person is the sapinda of the other is unacceptable in the society as they are very closely related and looked down on by the society as a whole. In the case of Gotras, the lineage is traced back to a single rishi and people belonging to the same Gotra are considered as siblings. However, viewing this narrative scientifically doesn’t make much sense as it is impossible to assert whether one has had an unbroken ancestral lineage.

In order to understand this practice, we need to analyze it from the core and the very root of such attitudes towards marriage under the pretext of Gotra lineage lies in the fact that incest is considered taboo in our Indian culture. A marriage between sapindas people within the fifth generation in the line of ascent through the father and the third generation in the line of descent through the mother is barred by the Hindu Marriage Act of 1954. Thus, the law has also laid down the ingredients for a marriage to be valid and society has gone a step further by killing the couples who insist on such marriages.


The issue of same Gotra marriages between people was put to rest in the landmark judgement in the case of “Madhavrao vs.Raghavendrarao passed by the Bombay High Court which declared the marriages between people of the same Gotra as legal. Generally, the cases relating to honour killing are admitted in the Courts under the pretexts of manslaughter and homicide. However, the Courts after analyzing the facts and the nature of the cases, followed the so-called concept of “honour” of the family and the perpetrators are usually rescued. Such an incident was very much evident in the judgement of the Supreme Court where Justice Deepak Verma and Justice VS Sirpurkar said that it wasn’t the rarest of rare cases. The murder they stated was the outcome of a social issue like marriage with a lower caste person. The family of the girl has to face many taunts by the people of the society for the acts committed by the girl, and hence such killings do not fall under the rarest of rare cases. In other words, the court classified the shameful caste-based ‘honour killings’ as different from other homicides in which the maximum punishment of death can be awarded. In this case, the brother of the girl, who belonged to Uttar Pradesh, had killed five members including his brother-in-law who was a Scheduled Caste.

In August 2010, the Supreme Court in the case of the State of U.P. vs Krishna master and ors, a life sentence was ordered to the three people who caused the death of 6 persons of a family, in the pretext of “honour killing” in the state of  U.P. in 1991. A bench headed by Justices J.M. Panchal and H.S. Bedi had reversed the order passed by the Allahabad High Court. The Bench had stated that there was no doubt that killing the entire family of six people under the pretext of saving the honour of the family would be considered as the rarest of rare cases and thus the Court was completely justified for imposing capital punishment on the respondents. In the recent judgement of the Supreme Court, it gave a landmark ruling in the Writ Petition (Civil) of 2010- Shakti Vahini v Union of India & Ors on the 27th of March 2018.

It stated that any attempt made by an assembly or Khap Panchayat which would prevent or scuttle two adults who mutually have their consent to marriage, from marrying each other would be absolutely illegal. The writ petition was filed by an NGO named Shakti Vahini in 2010. The judgement was headed by a bench of three judges, namely, Justice Chandrachud, Justice Dipak Misra and Justice A.M. Khanwikar.  The judgement stated that the Courts and the fast tracks Courts should look into the criminal cases which dealt with honour killing and violence against couples and that the trial should proceed on day to day basis and should be completed within 6 months of the cognizance of the offence. It was also said that the Khap Panchayats are not allowed to give any verdict and take the law in their hands as they are not conferred with any authority of law.

The Madras High Court on the 22nd of June 2020 had set aside the death sentence which was to be awarded to the five accused in the honour killing case of Udumalpet vs Shankar and modified and declared life imprisonment with a minimum of 25 years without any right to remission. A division bench headed by Justice M Nirmal Kumar and Justice M Sathyanarayanan had acquitted the accused, Chinnaswamy, the father of Kausalya and had relieved him from all the charges of criminal conspiracy. Shankar was a Dalit and had fallen in love with a non-Dalit girl, Kausalya. They both married each other even though her parents were against the marriage. On the 13th of March, 2016 a gang of three members had attacked Shankar and he succumbed to the injuries and Kausalya also had suffered minor injuries in the attack. The Tirupur district sessions Court on 12th of December, 2017 had ordered the death sentence of all the 6 accused including her father.


  • Section 307: penalizes attempt to murder where the punishment is imprisonment along with a fine and if the person is hurt the penalty can be exceeded.
  • Section 299-304: Penalizes any person who is found guilty of culpable homicide and murder not attempting to murder. The punishment is a life sentence or death and a fine.
  • Section 308: Penalizes for an attempt to culpable homicide with imprisonment up to 3 years or fine or both. If the person is hurt, the imprisonment could exceed up to 7 years or fine or both.
  • Section 120 A and B: Penalizes anyone who is a part of a criminal conspiracy.
  • Section 107-116: Penalizes anyone for the abetment of offences including culpable homicide and murder.


Specific laws for honour killing will bring in more clarity and help the law enforcement agencies. To put the burden of proof on the accused is one of the propsals been made in order to amend the laws. Thus, the family members or the Khap Panchayat would be responsible for proving the innocence. Thus life imprisonment or death penalty would be granted to the accused who convicted of honour killing with a penalty is extended upto Rs 5 lakh. If the person has been hurt grievously the punishment would be 10 years along with a fine of Rs 3 lakh.


Honour killing is done with the belief that the killing of a specific person would save the honour of the family but there is no honour in killing a person and religion and culture cannot and should not be invoked as an excuse to kill a woman. No culture or religion has any right to harm the dignity of any individual as everyone has the right to equality and dignity. Hence the need for active laws is the only antitode to stop the commission of such heinous crimes. Secondly, people need to be educated about the marriages that are actually valid and invalid and eradicate the existing myhts in the minds of the people and that there is a difference between Gotras and sapindas. It is high time puts back such beliefs and develop from the core and the base otherwise it would just be a hollow wooden structure.

Author Anshika Sharma is a second-year law student from ILS LAW COLLEGE, PUNE.

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