Understanding Honour Honour is the most cherished value in the Indian sub-continental patriarchal families irrespective of caste, regional and religious identities. Families gain and lose honour through money, power and improper behaviour of women.  Emphasis on family honour is basic to the Indian social framework since the family still constitutes a very potent force in the social structure.[1]… Read More »

Understanding Honour

Honour is the most cherished value in the Indian sub-continental patriarchal families irrespective of caste, regional and religious identities. Families gain and lose honour through money, power and improper behaviour of women. Emphasis on family honour is basic to the Indian social framework since the family still constitutes a very potent force in the social structure.[1] It is the duty of an individual within a social group. Margaret Visser observes that in an honour-based society “a person is what he or she is in the eyes of other people[2]

According to Baker and others, “A person’s honour depends on the behaviour of others and that behaviour must be controlled”. It means that other people’s behaviour becomes a key component of one’s own self-esteem and community regard.

According to Mernissi, honour is directly linked with family as it is the core unit that an individual identifies. Campbell says that in the Mediterranean societies, honour is the whole worth of family and it is symbolized through blood. The purity of bloodline bestows honour and is related to the chastity of women. The honour of the family lies in the purity of women. All decisions dealing with the women of the house are taken by the male members of the family and caste. This honour is shared by the whole caste, clan and community as the ties of the family extend to them as well. Once the family honour is damaged, then it becomes the responsibility of the male members to restore it. For that, if blood is needed to be shed then that is also accepted.

Schneider understands honour in terms of power. According to him, it is the ideology of holding a group that struggles to define, enlarge and protect its patrimony in a competitive area. Honour is also about the social boundaries of a group that defends the claim against the competing groups. According to him, the interest in honour arises when the definition of the group is problematic, i.e., when social boundaries are difficult to maintain and when internal loyalties are questioned. For example, in Pakistan, social boundaries and ideas like loyalties among the kin are directly related to the concept of honour.

In a study done by Campbell in Sarakatsan, a Christian community in Greece, it was found out that the definitions of honour is different for men and women and contrasted with one another. For men, honour was related to a condition of integrity and if that was violated accidentally or otherwise, then it should be responded at once and with violence if the question of reputation arises whereas, for women, honour was related to shame particularly sexual shame. As honour is something which is claimed by others always, so a women’s reputation and respect depends upon the reputation that the community wants to give her and not upon the evidence of facts.

The fear of losing the honour of the family leads to violence and justify masculine aggression on the women.

This often leads to supporting caste divisions. Even if the family wishes to accept the inter-caste marriage concept, it is not allowed by the society to allow to settle the matter of inter-caste marriage affirmatively but they are forced to take the matter as a matter of honour by the community. If the family supports the marriage, the community takes the effort to force them to boycott their daughter as she has gone against their preferred norms of marrying within the caste as a collective interest of the caste group. Basically, the concept of honour works at the cost of human emotions, sentiments and values.

A man’s respect in society depends upon the women’s purity and respect. So it is expected that a woman will behave modestly so as to save her husband’s and in-law’s honour. A classic example in this context is honour killing in Pakistan where sometimes the acts are perpetrated on the slimmest suspicion of shameful conduct on the part of the women. Thus, women should have shame if the manliness of the men is not to be dishonoured.

In Arab societies, it is found out by Ginat that if a woman brings shame upon the family, the man of the family must respond immediately otherwise it is taken as if he is adding more shame and damaging the honour of the family.

Schneider agrees that code of honour and shame are central to the notions of the family, historically and immediately. In this respect, Kandiyoti says that any undesirable actions of women which are different from the normal moral values can bring dishonour to the whole family, lineage and community. Radford suggests that honour, in a family is maintained by the males in the society. They dominate the women and treat them as an object so that they can have control over them. It is usually a women’s behaviour that is questioned, blamed and scrutinized against the men’s idealized constructions of felinity and standards of female behaviour. The most suitable example of this idea is Pakistan’s Shamia’s case.

Prohibition of inter-caste, inter-religious, intra-gotra marriages, inter and intra-regional marriages are an indication of forcible imposition of the male-dominated hierarchical patriarchy rigidly segmenting the whole mankind into various mutually rival groups. The concepts of ‘honour’ and ‘shame’ operate to restore male dominance which is presumed to have been compromised and endangered by the post-colonial legal empowerment of women in India.[3]

According to Abu Odeh, honour crime means killing a woman by the family or caste group members for engaging or suspected to be engaged in erotic practices before or outside marriage. This leads to harm to their honour and reputation. So in order to compensate for it, the women are tortured to assault, confinement, imprisonment, etc.

By invoking the twin notions of honour and dishonour, the families try to regulate the inappropriate behaviour of the woman. What is sacred and inviolable is izzat or ghairat i.e., honour and it is always presumed to be justified to kill and die for honour. An action to uphold honour or izzat is always a male prerogative while women may only incite action.[4] In India, a strong belief of honour and punishments are given in violation to honour are seen in Northern India especially in Haryana where the people still clinches to the caste and kinship honour ideologies.

The notion of honour is only related to particular relations in which each individual plays a social persona. When the actors are anonymous, honour is not involved.[5] Honour is about the way in which an individual’s name, his family’s name is tied with. By protecting honour, the man raises the family name in society.

A folk in Pakistan said, “Daulat khone par kuch nahi khota, sehat khone par kuch kho jata hai, ghairat khone par sab kuch kho jata hai“.[6]This means that when wealth is lost, nothing is lost, when health is lost, something is lost and when honour is lost then everything is lost.

Love Marriages in India: Problems and Perspectives

Love marriage is a term that is primarily used in South Asia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. It is a marriage that is decided upon by the two individuals with or without the consent of the parents or families. These marriages are generally against Caste, Community and religious barriers and hence are considered socially unacceptable. Love marriages are considered as a lack of social presence or acceptance. In the eyes of society, it is not considered marriage at all. If a male marries by his choice, he is considered to be weak in character.

‘There is happy, socially acceptable love which leads to marriage and families, and it is unhappy, unattainable love, coupled in literature with suffering or death, the antisocial, engulfing passion, which sets people at odds with the world and their own social interests”.[7]

For instance in one of the popular top-grossing Hindi film, ” Hum apke hain kaun?” the sister of the heroine asks her brother-in-law, ‘Prem’ (the hero of the film), whether he wants love marriage or arranged one to which he aptly replies, ‘It is a love marriage that you have to arrange’. This neatly sums up the concept of love marriage, which lies well within the parameters of traditional norms of caste/community as well as family approval.[8]

The mindset of the people residing in most parts of the country is that the girl should belong to the same community, economic background and caste so as to avoid any sort of conflict within the family. It was a presumed notion that a self-chosen bride will not be able to adjust to the way of living of the groom’s family and it may bring shame and a matter of dishonour upon the groom’s family. The other fact is that the bride is always expected to be married off to a groom of a higher caste than them. So if the bride chose her own groom, the person may not belong to a higher caste and that is again a matter of dishonour for the family which in many situations may lead to honour killing in order to save the prestige, honour and name in the society.

The film industry in India has expanded in recent times as there are a plethora of choices available to the audiences. Their structures and systems have also undergone a sea change with new innovative concepts and truths trying to portray through the films to reveal the truth and one such genre of films are the romantic films which portray the actual scenes that happen around the world in many places when love marriages or marriage by self-choice occur. The film industry has been able to transcend borders and look at issues more holistically. Hence, these developments are bound to affect the manner in which a person has the conception of the acceptance of a self-chose bride or groom.

Hindi commercial cinema; colloquially known as ‘Bollywood’, is now the focus of rapidly escalating interest both amongst the youngsters or media and in the academic community. Skillfully choreographed dances, moving songs, aesthetically pleasing or lavish sets and costumes and the plots that are mostly taken from the conceptions of the people about the things happening around the world and characters have invited the attention of newer and wider audiences and, in tandem, given rise to a literature that seeks to explain, or to explain away, the popularity of Hindi films.

Films are believed to be the opium of the Indian masses as people rely on this medium to help them escape to a world of fantasy and to show the reality of their surroundings. In a very explicit way, cinema has shaped the cultural, social and political values of the people of this country[9].

Based on many research works, the researcher has adopted to explain the concept of love marriage and its acceptance from the perspective of the film industry. From an interview about films to the people published in a leading magazine, it is considered that films actually portray the reality of the world because usually honour killings and situations that arise after choosing a partner by self-choice is not witnessed live.

Most of the time, the perspectives that are formed are the ones that get embedded in the mind either after reading a newspaper or by watching films and based on that it is inferred what reactions can be usually expected from love marriages even leading to honour killing.

A classic example of love marriage leading to honour killing is ‘NH10’ which is based on a road trip on a national highway connecting Delhi with Punjab. This film is an acute example of love marriage where the main problem that is shown is that the boy belonged from a lower caste and was poor as compared to the girl as the girl belonged from a family where her mother was the penchant of the village. Basically, here, it is considered that the girls are property for the family and they are married off to those families with whom they can gain in some of the other ways.

In this film it is shown that a girl falls in love with a boy of low caste and who is not wealthy and what usually happens, the family does not accept their love and moreover, they get furious at the fact that how can a girl have such audacity to love a boy and their run away with him. This led to the brutally killing of the boy and the girl “pinky”, honour killing.

Talking about how the films show about the conceptions of love marriages in the Indian society, there are many Bollywood films but to name a few, the researcher had taken, “Rishtey”, Golliyon ki Raasleela Ramleela, and Bombay.

Talking about Rishtey, differences in financial status is shown where the girl, Komal is the daughter of a wealthy father and she is in love with Suraj, a middle-class youth. Their relation is not accepted by the family because of the differences in the society and the father applies all the ways to separate them. Thus, from this, an idea can be drawn about the reactions of the family towards love marriage. This is the way how the world is aware of the notions towards love marriage.

The financial difference is a major reason that leads to honour killing besides caste differences that make the family members think that their daughter or son has brought shame and dishonour to the family and harm to the reputation. To save their respect and honour in society they either disown their children or kill them and adding to that they take pride in doing that.

Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ramleela is an Indian Romantic Tragedy film set up in the Gujarati village of Ranjhar dealing with the two rival castes, Rajadi and Sanera which is infamous for its uninhibited manufacture and sale of arms and ammunition and is in rival terms with each other for past several years.

Ram and Leela fall in love with each other but their family is on the verge of killing each other and not accepting their feelings for each other. It is a typical example of the caste differences in love marriage. It is at the end when it is seen that the mother of Leela, Dhankor, is happily ready to accept their love but it is too late as they both kill each other so that they can die together if not live together. There are many cases which every day come in the news that the caste differences lead to the killing of the couples by their family members.

Bombay is an Indian drama film that shows the differences in religion between Shekhar, a son of an orthodox Hindu and Shaila, a daughter of a Muslim. They both fall in love with each other but needless to say, their love is not accepted by their family because of the differences in religion they belong from. This also leads to fighting among the two families because of their relation. But they run away.

Thus, all these movies show that films had either created the image of reacting such in case of self-chose marriages or have just shown the reality of the world because it happens very less when such cases of honour killing or torturing daughter to save their reputation and respect in the society can be livelily witnessed. The films create an artificial world of fantasy but show the harsh realities of life. The concept of love marriage is also portrayed very nicely so that it does not hurt the sentiments of the people.

The problem that usually crops up in love marriage is the acceptance of the family. The family members are more concerned with the reputation and honour of the family. The family honour usually lies with the females of the house and if it is broken, the only way to resolve it is by dishonouring that member of the family and that happens by killing.

The more astonishing point is that the family members take pride in doing so because according to them they are reestablishing the honour in the eyes of society and that can be done by shedding blood. This mainly happens because either the boy or the girl belongs from a different caste or is lower in caste than each other or even if they belong from the same gotra, they are considered to be brothers and sisters and such marriage are prohibited according to them and thus leads to honour killing as seen in the case of Dharmender Barak and Nidhi Barak honour killing case. Other than any problems that have emerged so much, the caste-based differences are one of the major problems and perhaps the only problem which is stealing the limelight of honour crimes these days

The other problem is the influence of society on the family. For everyone almost, the reputation, respect and honour in the eyes of society matter because it is they who create the social norms of what is right and wrong. It is not every time that the relation between the boy and the girl are taken as a crime by their families.

In some cases, the family support such relation but it is the society that takes it as a crime and has set such standards of marriage. This is very much evident from the recent case of N. Ashitha and Shakeel Ahmad case. This case deals with inter-religious marriage in Mandya district of Karnataka with took place in April of 2016. The families of both, the boy and the girl did not have any problem with their relations as the two families’ shared close relations with each other.

On the day of their marriage, the society people, especially, Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad, activists launched statewide campaigns against them, including a Bandh in Mandya. Their notion was that this inter-religious marriage could lead to love Jihad which means that the Muslims marry Hindu women so as to convert them into Muslims.

The other problems emerging in a love marriage could be the differences in the financial status between the girl and the boy which could be fairly termed as power inequality. The differences in financial status give power to the hands of the rich and so they think their status does not match with those who are financially not stable. They consider it as a matter of dishonour and disrespect to marry their daughter or son to that of a person who is not at par with their status and to uphold the respect and status in the society they disown their child leading to honour killing.


Thus, it is seen through many examples and cases that only to save the respect and honour in the society, the family can even kill their child. The main problems that crop up for Honor killing are the caste-based differences that are seen in most parts of the country. It is a misconception that such killing happens only in Muslim dominated countries. It is true that it is maximum in Muslim dominated countries but there are also honour killing cases in parts of India like Haryana, UP, Bihar, Rajasthan as mentioned above.

With the developments of technology and inventions of new concepts, the rigid beliefs that earlier held a great value and dominated society are changing in most parts of the country but some places are still rigid about their beliefs. One such belief is about marriage.

Even today in most parts of the world, the honour of the family is connected with the daughter, more specifically their purity of the blood. If they break the norms prevailing in the society, they are considered to have brought shame and dishonour to the family thus leading to harming the reputation in the society. Therefore self-chose pairs are not allowed in many places are they are considered to bring dishonour to the family because either the boy or the girl belong from either from low caste or is poor or belongs from different religion from the other.

[1] Vishwanath Jyothi, Palakonda C Srinivas, “Patriarchial ideology of honour and honour crimes in India” January – December Vol. 6 (1&2): 386–395

[2] Doris, Jim (2003-01-05). “A conversation with Margaret Visser: diagnosing that feeling of helplessness”. Catholic New Times. Retrieved 2011-03-10

[3] Vishwanath Jyothi, Palakonda C Srinivas, “Patriarchial ideology of honour and honour crimes in India” January – December Vol. 6 (1&2): 386–395

[4] Vishwanath Jyothi, Palakonda C Srinivas, “Patriarchial ideology of honour and honour crimes in India” January – December Vol. 6 (1&2): 386–395.

[5] Amir H. Jafri, “Honour killing; dilemma ritual, understanding” Oxford university press,1st edition, 2008

[6] Amir H. Jafri, “Honour killing; dilemma ritual, understanding” Oxford university press,1st edition

[7] Sarsby, Romantic love,5

[8] Prem Chowdhury, “Contentious Marriages, Eloping Couples” Oxford University Press, 2007,Pg- 3

[9] Nidhi Shendurnikar Tere, Gender reflections in Mainstream Hindi Cinema, Global Media Journal, June 2012, vol.3/no.1.



  1. Prem Chowdhury, “Contentious Marriages, Eloping Couples” Oxford University Press, 2007,Pg- 3
  2. Amir H. Jafri, “Honour killing; dilemma ritual, understanding” Oxford university press,1st edition


  1. Nidhi Shendurnikar Tere, Gender reflections in Mainstream Hindi Cinema, Global Media Journal, June 2012, vol.3/no.1.
  2. Sarsby, Romantic love,5
  3. Satnam Singh Deol),”honour killings in India: a study of the Punjab state”, International research journal of social sciences, vol. 3(6), 7-16, June(2014)
  4. Vishwanath Jyothi, Palakonda C Srinivas, “Patriarchial ideology of honour and honour crimes in India” January – December Vol. 6 (1&2): 386–395
  5. Doris, Jim(2003-01-05) A conversation with Margaret Visser: diagnosing that feeling of helplessness”. Catholic New Times. Retrieved 2011-03-10
  6. Dr. P Neeraja, ‘Honour killing: an insane to human mind’ International journal of scientific research, vol.2, November 2013.
  7. Vipin Kumar Singhal, ‘Honour killing in India: an assessment’, Indian council for social science research, March 7, 2014

Internet Sources:

  1. http://www.firstpost.com/india/indias-list-of-shame-bhavna-yadav-nitish-katara-and-other-honour-killing-victims-1812129.html
  2. http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/no-regrets-says-man-who-killed-daughter-beheaded-her-friend-for-family-honour-535178

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Updated On 11 Dec 2021 12:22 AM GMT
Sagnika Banerjee

Sagnika Banerjee

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