Samantha Syverson (India)

Samantha Syverson (Vikalp Women’s Group): Sam worked as a legal intern at Ocean Conservancy where she worked with a coalition of environmental groups lobbying for policy change in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy. At the time of her fellowship she was studying at the Georgetown University Law School, where she was an active participant in the Community Justice Project clinic. Sam was part of a clinic team which visited Vikalp in spring 2011, and she returned in the summer with fellow-student Meredith Williams to serve as an AP Peace Fellow.



In the name of honor

09 Jul

I want to make clear that this post isn’t meant to reflect on Indian society as a whole. The practice discussed is an extreme example of violence that most Indian people, and indeed the Supreme Court, find barbaric. The following discussion is meant to illustrate the sometimes life or death consequences of defying a community’s sense of what is culturally appropriate.

So-called “honor killings” occur when an individual or couple is killed for defying tradition or family honor. The murders frequently occur in cases of inter-caste marriage, but have also been reported in the LGBT community. In April, two widows who were accused of being lesbians were publicly bludgeoned to death as hundreds of villagers looked on. The murderers had threatened the villagers of dire consequences if they tried to save the victims. Honor killings are usually committed by members of the victim’s own family. In this case, one of the murderers was the nephew of one of the victims. Honor killings are sometimes sanctioned or even encouraged by village-based caste councils.

Village panchayat. Photo: BBC.

The Supreme Court of India has recently been making efforts to crack down on honor killings. The more recent opinion categorizes honor killings as one of the “rarest of rare” cases that deserve the death penalty. Given the lack of remorse in the perpetrators of honor killings, even those sentenced to life in prison, and the questionable deterrent effect of capital punishment, it is unclear whether the opinion will have any impact. Another recent opinion directed state governments to hold police accountable if they failed to ensure that caste panchayats were investigated for their role in honor killings. If enforced, this opinion may have an effect over time as families will no longer be under direct pressure from community leadership to take the drastic action of killing one of their own.

Supreme Court of India. Photo: India Today

Supreme Court of India. Photo: India Today

For every confirmed honor killing there are many more that go unreported or unsolved. In Gujarat, Parma has been involved in several cases that could have been instances of honor killing, but it is unlikely that anyone will ever know for sure. In one case, the grizzly murder of a known lesbian went unsolved. Her partner had disappeared years earlier after the two disclosed their relationship to the public. The other case was closed as a double suicide, but the circumstances surrounding the case leave doubts as to whether the couple really took their own lives. Because there were suicide notes, there was never a proper investigation. The couple was known to be deeply in love.

Posted By Samantha Syverson (India)

Posted Jul 9th, 2011

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