Honor Killings Still Terrorize India's Young Lovers

Even in sophisticated Delhi, honor killings on the rise.

DELHI, India June 23, 2010— -- After a pair of gruesome attacks on young men and women – known as "honor killings" – shocked India's capital in the past two weeks, a group has asked the government to protect couples in socially-taboo marriages and relationships.

Shakti Vahini, a non-governmental organization, filed a petition this week in India's Supreme Court to ask the government to provide protection for couples who undertake inter-caste, inter-religious and "contentious" marriages.

The human rights group urged the courts to create safe areas in eight states where there have been a particularly high concentration of honor killings.

Honor killings are murders in the name of protecting the honor of a family or village. These killings often occur when young men and women choose a partner with whom their family disapproves – likely because they are from different religious backgrounds or castes – and the murder will somehow reverse or remove the shame or dishonor for the family.

In recent years, it has been rare for these murders to occur inside of Delhi where the population is considered to be more educated or culturally sensitive than in remote villages. However, in the span of a week there appear to have been two such killings.

Early last week a young woman, 19, and her fiancé, 20, were brutally murdered by her family because they came from different castes. The young couple were tortured for hours then electrocuted to death, according to the Hindustan Times.

The woman's father and uncle were arrested after confessing to the crime.

"The family didn't regret killing them," a police officer told the newspaper.

Another murder on Sunday resulted in the death of a couple that had been married for four years. Again, the couple's families disapproved of the marriage because they came from different castes.

In this case, the 26-year-old husband was found shot to death in his car while his 23-year-old wife died after being attacked by a "sharp object" in their Delhi home, according to the Indo-Asian News Service.

Delhi Police Slow to Acknowledge Honor Killings

Laws exist to protect couples who choose a "love" marriage over an arranged one, but the rules are rarely enforced. Even with the recent cases in Delhi, when relatives even confessed to the murders, law enforcement is slow to categorize the murders as honor killings.

"These are murders like all murders and we are investigating them with an open mind and still have not concluded if there is an increase in honor killings in Delhi," Rajan Bhagat, a Delhi police public relations officer, told ABC News.

Ravi Kant, president of Shakti Vahini, hopes the recently-filed petition will begin to change what he considers an unacceptable attitude towards honor killings by law enforcement and the government.

"In some cases, couples have approached the police for protection, but nothing is done," Kant, a lawyer in India's Supreme Court, told ABC News. Kant said there is also a "deafening silence by the politicians" who are too concerned about votes than protecting couples.

"The killing of couples and individuals in the name of honor is violation of the fundamental right of individuals to live with dignity and it is the duty of the state to protect them, " Shakti Vahini stated in its Public Interest Litigation (PIL). A PIL is filed when something urgent needs intervention of the judiciary.

As India moves into its position as the world's next "superpower" a younger, educated generation is finding itself at odds with the powerful traditional values held by their parents and grandparents. India may be considered the world's technology center, but at its heart, family still plays a protective – but sometimes oppressive – role.