Honour Killings In India Philosophy Essay

The topic of my paper is honour killings. I choose this topic because I strongly believe this topic should be addressed more openly in public and we should find out why it is still happening in our world. The world we now live in is much modernised in every possible way we could think of and relate to the earlier times. But when I think of the greatest evil things that still prevail in our so called modern world then the dreaded phenomenon of honour killings comes to my mind in the very first place. As we all know honour killings have been happening in our society from a long time and despite all the efforts made to stop such killings there are still a lot of people being killed in the name of family honour. Honour killings in simple words can be put as the killings of a family member by the other family members or by people of same community in order to savour the pride of their family or community. It is believed that there are certain acts which when some family members commit bring huge amount of dishonour to the whole family and that in order to regain their honour the killing of family people becomes mandatory. Human Rights Watch states, “Honor killings are acts of vengeance, usually death, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dis-honour upon the family.” In another definition of honour killing it is stated as the murder or forced suicide of a person by his/her family or relatives once they have become suspicious that the person concerned has done something wrong and thus has brought disgrace to the family( Diana Y).

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The term ‘honour killing’ was introduced by a Dutch Turkey expert in 1978 to separate such killings from other kinds of killing in the families and communities. It is also referred to as “Customary killing”. Though the term has been coined quite recently but the concept of honour killing is very ancient and it has been prevailing in our society from very long in one way or the other. The other terms which are closely associated with honour killings are filicide and sororicide. The definition of filicide is killing of one’s son or daughter (oxforddictionaries.com). Closely related the other term, sororicide is defined as the murder of one’s sister (websters-online-dictionary.com).

Current thinking and current issues

Honour killings are not a problem of one or two countries rather it is a global problem. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that the annual worldwide number of “Honour killing” victims may be as high as 5,000 women. In some countries, like Egypt males or the husbands have been given the legal right to beat and they could even kill their wives if theysuspect them of committing adultery (Amnesty International 1995a; Mertus 1995; [Roth] 1995). So, in one way or the other such rules discriminate a lot against women and further support honour killings. All over the Middle East and South Asia, women are being killed because their families believe they have dishonoured them. Women are being killed throughout the Middle East and South Asia once their families come to know that they have done such acts which have brought dishonour to their family name. Even the so called modern Western countries, such as the England, Canada, and the America, have their fair share of such killings, though usually within immigrant communities. “Reports to UN human rights bodies have shown that killings in the name of honour have also occurred in other countries like Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Turkey, and Uganda”, says Azza Karam, a culture adviser with UNFPA (Solberg Jun6-Jun12, 2009). Recently there have been many cases happening regarding honour killings in India. Most recent of these incidents is the one where death penalties have been given to the guilty family members of an honour killing case. According to bbc news (5 October, 2012), five members of a family in the Indian capital, Delhi, have been sentenced to death for the brutal murder of a young couple in 2010. It was found out that the couple has been tortured and electrocuted by the family members of girl who objected their affair on the basis of different castes. The girl’s parents, uncle, aunt and a cousin were arrested the day after the crime. In 2011, the honourable Supreme Court of India said that people involved in honour killings will get the death penalty. There are no statistics available on the exact number of people who have been killed in the name of family honour in the country, but one recent study has shown that hundreds of people are killed every year for falling in love or marrying against their families’ wishes. A large number of parents in India prefer arranged marriages for their children within their own caste and religions and relationships outside of their caste or religion are frowned upon (Death penalty for family members in India ‘honour killing’ October5, 2012).”It can be safely concluded that the prosecution has been able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused persons had caused the death of the victims with the common intention after giving them merciless beatings by tying them with rope and thereafter electrocuting them on various parts of their body,” Additional Sessions Judge Ramesh Kumar said on Monday.


Under the analysis I would like to stress upon that why such heinous things still happen in our society. I would like to discuss this topic from two perspectives; one from the parent’s point of view and one from their children point of view. I would like to go through various ethical concepts in relation to this topic. The ethical concepts I would like to co-relate here are covered beautifully in a book called “The Responsible Administrator” by the author Terry L. Cooper. According to Chapter One: Introduction; there are basically two kinds of thinking approaches that drives our ways of choosing or our way of making decisions. These are called Deontological and Teleological. Deontological approach is defined as sticking to certain ethical principles, such as justice, freedom, or veracity, without regard for the consequences of one’s actions. On the other hand, Teleological approach involves a concern for the ends or consequences of one’s conduct. So, the people or parents who would not hesitate to kill their own children in the name of serving the honour of their family or traditions or their community are strictly the followers of Deontological approach for decision making. For them to safeguard the family’s pride is the ultimate thing and they would go to any length to guard it, and often parents go to any limit to find their children to punish them for dishonouring the family’s pride. Such peoples’ thinking is nowhere near the Teleological approach because they do not think at all about the consequences. They do not fear the loss of their own children forever; let alone that they even know that they would get punished by law but still none of this really bothers them and they do not revert back from doing this. Interviews published of some of the parents who have killed their own children in the name of honour killings clearly demonstrate that many of them do not have even a slightest bit of remorse of what they have done. An incident of throwing acid on a girl by his mother occurred in Pakistan; an interview with the parents revealed girl’s mother saying that it was the destiny of her daughter to die in that way as she has looked at a boy who drove by on a motorcycle (newser.com Nov 5, 2012).

Another way of analysing and understanding the scenario behind the occurrence of honour killings in the through the values, believes and attitudes model. This model was proposed by Rokeach in 1970(The Responsible Administrator). This is a very simple model to determine how our attitude is formed toward various things in life. According to this model, our attitude is derived from beliefs which are further formed on the basis of our values. According to this model, we can correlate values to be as ground, belief’s as to be soil and attitude to be as fruits which we bear from the different trees that grow on the soil. So to correlate this model to the people who commit honour killings it is obvious that their attitude is driven by the belief that if their children have done something which they think has brought dishonour to the whole family then to kill them is justified. These people are driven by the belief that the dishonour can only be reversed by killing them. Such strong believes are formed on the values these people inherit from their ancestors who believe that family honour is something we have to protect in all the circumstances. Their attitude of killing their own children is also driven by the belief that if they will kill their children in such scenarios then such type of actions would definitely be respected by their community and society. On the other hand if we take up the perspective of children or people who go against the wishes of their families , we can figure out that these people despite belonging to the same family obviously values something different which changes their believes and their attitude outcomes. Such people value most importantly, freedom and love in their life and they make a belief that these things are most important to live a happy life. So such believes lead to the formation of a different attitude in them that caste or religions do not matter when you like or love someone and they make the decision of living with each other and their this decision often leads them to abandon their own families. And they want to pursue their lives without the interference of their families. So in this way this models explains quite clearly what are the various forces that drives many people to go against their own family and the parents to kill their own children.

Another way of analysing this whole scenario of honour killings is by the use of a model given in the book The Responsible Administrator named as Dynamic Framework for Ethical Decision Making. According to this model there are 4 levels of decision making and these are briefly described here:

Level 1: The expressive level

Level 2: Following internalized moral rules

Level 3: Ethical analysis

Level 4: Post ethical level

The first level is defined as the spontaneous, unreflective reaction and judgement made to any issue or problem concerned. This level determines action on the spot without much thinking involved. The next level which is called as following internalized moral rules correlates to the moral rules we learn through the our society. If we relate this model to honor killings then it is quite clear that the parents or relatives who go on killing their own children because of the norms of family honour which they incurred from society; most of these people follows the level 1 and 2 of decision making. Their actions are expressive as they have so much anger against their own children which they leash out by killing them. So, in this way level 1 fits here. The level 2 can be described in this scenario as these parents are trying to follow the moral rules they have learnt from their societies of keeping the honour of their families’ alive by killing the ones who brought dishonour to their family by engaging in certain activities which are strictly prohibited or are against their culture and societies. So, level 2 thinking also correlates here.

Now if we try to describe the behaviour of children who go against the wishes of their families we can correlate their behaviour with the third level of this frame work. The third level of framework is ethical analysis. In this the people tend to do the reconsiderations of their moral codes and their principles and they try to make a hierarchy of principles and values. This level includes the logical thinking. Children derive their decisions from this third level because the feeling of thinking logically and to give priority to love and freedom derives them to go against the will of their own parents. And the fear of consequences also cannot reverse them back from their decisions. So, that’s how this model explains the various different levels of the thinking between the two parties involved in honour killings; parents and children.

Now the most important issue here is how we can stop these evil things to happen in future or what necessary measures are needed to put an end to honour killings. According to cooper there are basically two ways in we can change people and their behaviour and their ways of dealing things. These are categorized into Internal Control and the External Control. Carl Friedrich vouches for changes in people through the modification of values, belief’s and knowledge; that is the Internal Control method. On the other hand according to Herman Finer, peoples’ behaviours can be changed through the implementation of rules, laws and organizational restructuring (The Responsible Administrator). In the following way we can use these behaviour changing techniques to change the current scenario of honour killings. Through the virtue of Internal Control techniques we can try to make people understand the value of life, the value of freedom to every individual and foremost we can try to teach people that family honour has nothing to deal with such issues. We could try to make people understand the situations of their children and the importance of love and happiness in their children lives. Besides this, family reputation is made or destroyed by the good or bad deeds people do or their children do in their lives. By killings their own children these parents themselves bring poor reputation to their family. This sort of attitude towards one’s own children shows that such parents do not love their children at all and they just produce them to carry forward the name of their family. So, I think if we try to educate people enough of such values then their attitudes will probably get changed and they would definitely start valuing the importance of lives of their children. On the other hand, through the use of External Control we could also try to change people’s behaviours. External control methods advocates that we need to create fear in the peoples mind, so that they stop indulging in these killings. For this to be successful we need strict rules and regulations. The British when drafted the Indian Penal Code in 1860 they made such provisions that the offenders and guilty people of honour killings were dealt with leniency and latitude (Wasti, Jun-Dec 2010). Though there are already various laws exist in these context but since incidents of honour killings happens quite often so this obviously correlates that laws are not as strict as they need to be. According to Albrecht, Lawrence G, the legal system of India is still lenient and tolerating the honour killings done by the khap panchayat community (The International Lawyer45. 1 (Spring 2011). Khap panchayats are like a union of some villages, mainly existing in the northern region of India and are emerging as quasi-judicial bodies giving strict punishments based on old customs and traditions (India Today Online, October 11, 2012).Besides the laws against the guilty persons involved, there is also a need to make strict provisions in the legislature to give adequate protection to the people concerned in such issues who have threatened by their families. Strict actions needed to be taken if some family member or relatives tries to threaten their children in the name of family honour. Rules and regulations should be such that we need to act before the killings could happen. There should also be another provision in the laws to treat such incidents within a short span of time. Punishments given should be very severe to the guilty found in the honour killings so as to stop other people from being indulging into such crimes.


In my conclusion, I would state that honour killings need to be condemned strongly not only in India but throughout the world; so that we could save the lives of many innocent people. In my opinion we need both the Internal and External control methods to free our society from the clutches of this age-old evil.