Writing the judgement in a case that involved a father killing his daughter for the sake of so-called caste honour in Delhi in 2011, former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju made the following observations:

“In our opinion honour killings, for whatever reason, come within the category of rarest of rare cases deserving death punishment. It is time to stamp out these barbaric, feudal practices which are a slur on our nation. This is necessary as a deterrent for such outrageous, uncivilized behaviour. All persons who are planning to perpetrate ‘honour’ killings should know that the gallows await them.”  

There are several problems in this deduction made by the court. Foremost is the generalisation of a particular category of crime as “rarest of rare” without following the guidelines the Supreme Court itself set in 1980, by which an act of crime was supposed to be evaluated individually taking into account aggravating and mitigating circumstances. However, there cannot be any doubt over the seriousness of these murders that negates the very foundation of liberal Constitutional ethos.

On Tuesday, a court in Tamil Nadu stuck to the observations made by the Supreme Court in 2011 and awarded death penalties to six persons involved in the so-called honour killing of Shankar, a Dalit youth who was butchered in broad daylight in Udumalaipettai. The boy married a caste Hindu girl Kausalya, which the girl’s family could not digest. The conspiracy to kill the couple was hatched by the father, who will now be sent to the gallows once the higher courts confirm the penalty. Kausalya escaped the attack and later turned into a strong crusader against caste atrocities.

The obvious needs to be reiterated and stressed: there is no honour in such killings. The term was coined by courts and academics to point to the caste pride and honour that motivates such heinous actions. Mostly, Dalits are at the receiving end of this brutal phenomenon. Notions of purity attached to women’s sexual conduct and the privilege that sticking to endogamy provides the actors in a caste society, including retention of crucial assets like land within a community, are among several factors that drive such incidents. Over the last few years, in states like Tamil Nadu and Gujarat, Dalits have been targeted specifically for even the little economic prosperity they have managed after thousands of years of discrimination. Caste organisations have spread the message that inter-caste marriages involving Dalits are orchestrated conspiracies to capture assets of the caste Hindu families. In Tamil Nadu in 2013, the Pattali Makkal Katchi ran an organised campaign accusing Dalit youth of “wearing sunglasses” and fancy pants to woo caste Hindu women, and then dump them once their assets are utilised. Such propaganda saw a spike in brutal cases of “honour killings” in Tamil Nadu.

Shankar’s case could be termed an exception, where the trial proceeded swiftly and punishment awarded within two years of the crime taking place. But not all cases move so quickly. In Tamil Nadu, the murder of Gokulraj, another Dalit youth from the western region in 2015, is still to see a verdict. The prime accused, Yuvaraj, almost turned into a hero of the Gounder community when he went underground following the murder and continued his casteist propaganda through social media. He was finally arrested in October 2015, but not before the investigating officer, a Dalit woman Vishnupriya, committed suicide allegedly due to pressure exerted on her.

What such incidents point to is the need for an exclusive law from the Centre to deal with such cases. A government panel has already made this suggestion last year. With the Supreme Court already categorising such crimes as uniquely barbaric, it is important to deal with such cases with the seriousness they deserve. Such a law should ensure time-bound investigation and trial, and possibly the setting up of special courts. The victims and their families also need compensation given that such crimes also involve the failure of the state to end caste discrimination against the weaker sections.

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  1. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Gujarat campaign shows politics of hope has been replaced entirely by politics of fear, writes Pratap Bhanu Mehta in the Indian Express. 
  2.   Neither civilisational ethos nor the mere enshrining of constitutional morality is enough to deliver on basic rights, says Pulpare Balakrishnan in The Hindu. 
  3.   To push agriculture growth, export restrictions must go. Monopoly procurement must go. Essential Commodities Act restrictions must go. Arbitrary stocking limits must go, argues Ajit Ranade in the Mint.


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Tripura election: Congress is showing signs of a fightback but it may be too little, too late, reports Arunabh Saikia.

“There has been talk of the Congress gaining ground since the party wonthe bye-election to the North Dhanicherra village committee of the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council in late November. It took 197 votes against the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s 181. The BJP managed only 24 votes and lost its deposit.

In the 2013 Assembly election, the Congress, with nine seats, had emerged as the primary opposition to the CPI(M), which had won all the other 51 seats. In 2016, six of the Congress legislators defected to the Trinamool, which they later left for the BJP. In effect, as the Congress’s strength waned, the BJP’s increased sharply.

So, are their fortunes reversing now?”