A slap for the khaps

It would seem that the abomination called khap panchayats are headed by individuals who could rival Gregor Mendel, given the way they are able to predict genetic flaws in same caste marriages up to seven generations. The Supreme Court has made it clear that it has no time for the bizarre excuses to murder young people who dare to oppose the khaps and marry a partner of their choosing.

The latest Wild West version of justice is the killing of a couple four years after their inter-caste marriage, ostensibly by the girl’s brother. The seven states where these so-called honour killings are prevalent have been directed by the apex court to demonstrate their responses to this regressive social trend. The court should also set a deadline for this as further delays will mean the deaths of more innocent people.

That these self-appointed custodians of morality have no fear of the law is seen from the manner in which they proudly proclaim their determination to put ‘offenders’ to death in full view of television cameras.

Apart from one court verdict awarding life to five people found guilty of murdering a married couple from the same gotra in March, the killers have got away for want of effective prosecution and lack of evidence and witnesses. This cavalier attitude on the part of the law has emboldened the Torquemada-like justice dispensers to include same village marriages in their lengthening list of taboos.

The khap advocates had earlier tried to get the government to amend the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 to include a ban on same gotra marriages. The government wisely refused to cave in to pressure. The same, however, cannot be said for several elected representatives who have directly or indirectly signaled their approval of khap justice on the grounds that these panchayats are traditional bodies devoted to community service. And, these are people bound by the Constitution to serve the people. Mercifully, the law has been unequivocal in its condemnation of this barbarism and this is reflected in the Supreme Court’s latest directive.

Of course, there must be efforts to change social attitudes. That many couples are willing to risk death to marry a person of their own choice shows that the society increasingly does not accept this medieval morality.

But it is only when the khaps understand that murder under the law is just that, whatsoever be their perverted logic, that the real fight against these backward elements will be joined. The first step in this is to ensure that the police keep aside personal prejudice and do their duty to protect young couples and politicians at least refrain from making half-baked statements with an eye to votes.

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