On Honor Killings

Honor killings — generally understood to constitute an intentional ending of the life of someone who has brought shame on a family or to one’s self due to perceived or actual infidelity, unfaithfulness, or betrayal — regrettably occur in the Sikh community.

Indeed, Sikhs have been charged with engaging in both forms of honor killings. With respect to an honor killing where the family has been allegedly shamed, just days ago Reema discussed the case of Gurparkash Khalsa — a man who heard rumors that his daughter had been impregnated by Ajmer Singh Hothi and, “driven by humiliation over his daughters soiled reputation,” now stands accused of killing Hothi. With respect to an honor killing where the self has been allegedly shamed, Jaspal Sohal was “battered to death by her husband with a hammer. He saw killing her as preferable to having her leaving him and ‘damaging his izzat‘ (personal honour).”

The Khalsa matter took place in the United States while the Sohal incident in the United Kingdom. There may be a temptation to think that honor killings are a uniquely “foreign” or immigrant problem that happens to be taking place in Western societies. See for example this article entitled “‘Honor’ killing comes to the US.” But honor killings may be more universal than Western societies may want to admit. In fact, America has a long history of tolerating, at least to some extent, such killings.

As Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor and respected constitutional scholar, pointed out when discussing a report about a Pakistani man strangling his daughter in the United States:

very similar practices are common in many cultures, including our own.

To begin with, it remains the law in America… that if a spouse — who will usually be the husband — kills the other spouse shortly after discovering the spouse’s adultery, the killing may be classified as a manslaughter rather than a murder. Manslaughter is generally treated as a far less severe crime, with far lower penalties.

[M]y sense is that much of people’s sympathy with the killers has to do with the fact that they were dishonored, and not just distressed or angered for reasons unrelated to their sense of their own honor. [Link]

He notes, however, that America’s tolerance for honor killings appears to be partial — the American legal system’s special consideration regarding honor killings may be limited to situations involving personal honor (e.g., the killing of Sohal) and it is unclear whether it reaches family honor (e.g., Khalsa’s actions): “the voluntary manslaughter theory has not been applied in the U.S. to parents killing their children because of their children’s misconduct[.]”

While both types of honor killings involve some apparent sense of shame, it seems odd to recognize one to be so different as to require separate legal treatment. As Professor Volokh states:

I’m not sure that there’s some vast gulf between a jealous passion again, a jealous passion that might be based in part on a man’s sense that the wife has dishonored him (by “cheating”) and a father’s passion stemming from his sense of family honor…. I don’t think we can see the outraged father’s actions as uniquely barbaric, while the outraged husband’s actions are unfortunate and criminal but radically different. Both, unfortunately, reflect a longstanding tradition of vast and heinous overreaction to perceived sexual impropriety, especially by women, a tradition that is present in some ways in our country as well as in Muslim countries. [Link]

In either case, honor killings appear to be an unfortunate human, but not exclusively immigrant, Sikh, or Muslim problem. That said, Sikhs should do their part to ensure that such killings, when based on hard evidence or on something so trivial as rumor, are viewed as reprehensible and inconsistent with Sikh values, even if they are explainable.


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15 Responses to “On Honor Killings”

  1. Jaspreet says:

    When are we going to kill a man for cheating on his wife and thus call it an honor killing? Adultery, when it happens, in the punjabi sikh community seems to be more acceptable when a man commits the sin, rather than when a woman is blamed for the same. Sikhism is a progressive religion, it is the punjabi culture that holds us back. When we, as a community, stop being sexist in every aspect, that is when khalsa raj will prevail.

  2. Jaspreet says:

    When are we going to kill a man for cheating on his wife and thus call it an honor killing? Adultery, when it happens, in the punjabi sikh community seems to be more acceptable when a man commits the sin, rather than when a woman is blamed for the same. Sikhism is a progressive religion, it is the punjabi culture that holds us back. When we, as a community, stop being sexist in every aspect, that is when khalsa raj will prevail.

  3. Publius says:

    Jaspreet, many thanks for your excellent comment. An example of an extant distinction in Sikh society based on gender: Harmohinder Kaur Sanghera was dating this man and, after learning that he was married to and had impregnanted another woman, she killed the other woman — not the man. This despite the fact that it was the man who admitted that he was the one who was responsible for any shame.

    Regardless of the law and the possible universality of "honor killings", the Sikh community retains its own obligation to declare that, in its society, such killings are not tolerated — irrespective of the gender of person who has allegedly brought shame on a family or to another person.

  4. Publius says:

    Jaspreet, many thanks for your excellent comment. An example of an extant distinction in Sikh society based on gender: Harmohinder Kaur Sanghera was dating this man and, after learning that he was married to and had impregnanted another woman, she killed the other woman — not the man. This despite the fact that it was the man who admitted that he was the one who was responsible for any shame.

    Regardless of the law and the possible universality of “honor killings”, the Sikh community retains its own obligation to declare that, in its society, such killings are not tolerated — irrespective of the gender of person who has allegedly brought shame on a family or to another person.

  5. Roop says:

    honour killings disgust me..fact, it not sikhi that encourages, or any other religion, it is the general Punjabi pcyche, thus Punjabi culture of male dominence that allows it..read Harjit Atwal's novel Southall

  6. Roop says:

    honour killings disgust me..fact, it not sikhi that encourages, or any other religion, it is the general Punjabi pcyche, thus Punjabi culture of male dominence that allows it..read Harjit Atwal's novel Southall

  7. Sher says:

    Much worse in haryana, western Uttar pardesh and Rajsthan.
    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/Honour-k

    Almost everyday here in North India you read headlines "Young couple slain in honour killings"

    where is 'honour' in killing helpless youth by lynch mobs?

    Situation in Haryana getting worse as Khap caste panchayats of jats now issuing, shall i say, 'fatwas' against intercaste, intergotra marriages and ordering killings in cold-blood. Punjab is still better.

  8. Sher says:

    Much worse in haryana, western Uttar pardesh and Rajsthan.
    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/Honour-k

    Almost everyday here in North India you read headlines "Young couple slain in honour killings"

    where is 'honour' in killing helpless youth by lynch mobs?

    Situation in Haryana getting worse as Khap caste panchayats of jats now issuing, shall i say, 'fatwas' against intercaste, intergotra marriages and ordering killings in cold-blood. Punjab is still better.

  9. Dosanjh says:

    "To begin with, it remains the law in America… that if a spouse — who will usually be the husband — kills the other spouse shortly after discovering the spouse’s adultery, the killing may be classified as a manslaughter rather than a murder. Manslaughter is generally treated as a far less severe crime, with far lower penalties."
    ^ Well yes because American Law (as well as Canadian, Australian and Indian law) is based on English common law and in the English system (Note : 'English' NOT 'British', because Scotland, although part of Britain, has a more European / French system of Law)…in countries using the English common law system killing a spouse shortly after finding out he / she had committed adultery may well fall under the category of diminished responsibility…in which case the mens rea of 'intent' needed for murder cannot be proven.
    Diminished responsibility is a phrase that can just about sum up honour killings. If the perpetrators sat back for one moment and thought about what is right and wrong…if they thought straight…they would not do what they do.

  10. Dosanjh says:

    "To begin with, it remains the law in America… that if a spouse — who will usually be the husband — kills the other spouse shortly after discovering the spouse’s adultery, the killing may be classified as a manslaughter rather than a murder. Manslaughter is generally treated as a far less severe crime, with far lower penalties."
    ^ Well yes because American Law (as well as Canadian, Australian and Indian law) is based on English common law and in the English system (Note : 'English' NOT 'British', because Scotland, although part of Britain, has a more European / French system of Law)…in countries using the English common law system killing a spouse shortly after finding out he / she had committed adultery may well fall under the category of diminished responsibility…in which case the mens rea of 'intent' needed for murder cannot be proven.
    Diminished responsibility is a phrase that can just about sum up honour killings. If the perpetrators sat back for one moment and thought about what is right and wrong…if they thought straight…they would not do what they do.

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