The Law of Honour-Killing: A British Innovation in the Criminal Law of the Indian Subcontinent

In Pakistan and India, hundreds of women are killed every year in the name of honour. Such a barbaric and heinous custom has existed in the subcontinent for many centuries yet under the pre-colonial criminal justice system of India; the perpetrators of such killings were dealt with like the other offenders of murder; without any exception or impunity from prosecution and punishment. However, it was the Indian Penal Code drafted by the British in 1860 that brought in the tradition of treating the offenders of honour killings with leniency and latitude. In 1990, Pakistan introduced its version of ‘Islamic’ criminal law which allowed for compromise between the parties of a murder case. The ‘new law’ reconceptualised the law of culpable homicide and murder in this country. Under the ‘new law’ the offence of murder was not defined as a crime against the legal order of the State but as against the legal heirs of the victim. Since in most honourrelated crimes the women are killed by their family members, the new law provided a virtual immunity to the culprits of honour killings. During the past few years, thousands of men and women have been killed in honour-related crimes. This research surveys the history and escalation in honour killings after the enforcement of Islamic criminal law in Pakistan. In this research, I shall explore if it is the Sharia that encourages such killings or its misunderstanding and misapplication that sanction such a practice and fails to deal with its perpetrators effectively.


Dr Tahir Wasti (SOAS, LaWise Solicitors)