, NEW DELHI, Jul 19 – Global rights monitor Human Rights Watch urged the Indian government Monday to crack down on village councils and local politicians linked to a spate of recent "honour" killings.
The New York-based watchdog said the authorities should not only prosecute those responsible but also strengthen existing laws to prevent religion and caste-based violence.
Most "honour killings" in India target young couples who marry outside their caste, and are carried out by relatives in an attempt to protect the family\’s reputation.
The murders are often sanctioned by village councils and prosecutions are rare because, critics say, local police and politicians choose to turn a blind eye.
"Officials who fail to condemn village council edicts that end in murder are effectively endorsing murder," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch.
The authorities "need to send these councils a strong message to stop issuing edicts on marriages," Ganguly said.
There are no official figures on "honour" killings, although a recent independent study suggested that as many as 900 such murders were being committed every year in the northern states of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.
Last month, police in New Delhi arrested the father and uncle of a girl who was stabbed, gagged and electrocuted along with her boyfriend in a suspected honour killing that caused widespread public disgust.
"Murder is murder, and customary sentiment should not prevail over basic rights and the laws of the land," Ganguly said.
India\’s Supreme Court has called on the federal government and several state administrations to file reports on killings believed to have been carried out by the victims\’ relatives.
The cabinet has considered introducing a new law to tackle the problem, and earlier this month appointed a panel of ministers to look into the possibility.