‘Khap panchayat’ interference in marriage of two consenting adults absolutely illegal, rules SC
Supreme Court said remedial and preventive measures will be taken to deal with instances of interference in marriages between two consenting adults.india Updated: Mar 28, 2018 07:20 IST
The SC on Tuesday ruled it was illegal for so-called khap panchayats, or assemblies of village elders, to interfere in marriage between two consenting adults, and to summon and punish them, as it laid down preventive, remedial and punitive measures to stop honour killings.
Right of an adult to choose his or her life partner is above “class honour,” a three-judge bench headed d by chief justice Dipak Misra said. It ordered the guidelines – to check unlawful interference in the lives of inter-faith and inter-caste couples by khap panchayats — will remain in force until a suitable legislation is put in place.
Khaps are community groups — usually comprising elderly men from the Jat community — in northern parts of India that act as quasi-judicial bodies and have a say on several issues, including marriage, dowry and the education of children, based on traditional customs. Khap panchayats have in the past handed down harsh punishments to couples for same-gotra (sub-caste) marriages, and even marriages between a man and a woman belonging to the same village. The initial reaction of khaps in western UP to the court ruling was one of defiance.
Khap panchayats should not take the law into their hands and cannot assume the character of a law implementing agency for that authority has not been conferred upon them under any law, the court said.
The law has to be enforced by the agencies that have been vested with the right to do so.
“Honour killing guillotines individual liberty, freedom of choice and one’s own perception of choice,” held the bench. The right to choose a partner is part of the fundamental rights under Articles 19 and 21 (free speech and life and liberty). And a constitutional right needs to be protected and cannot succumb to the conception of “class honour” or group thinking conceived on an illegal notion.
The court’s judgement came on petition filed by non-government organisation (NGO) Shakti VAhini in 2010. The petitioner had sought directions to states and the Centre to put in place a plan to curb honour killings. As many as 288 cases of honour killing were reported between 2014 and 2016. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 28 honour killing cases were reported in 2014, 192 in 2015 and 68 in the year 2016.
Giving six weeks to states to comply with its directions, the SC directed that the trial in all cases of honour killing, including the ones pending, should be speeded up and completed in six months from the date of taking cognizance of the chargesheet filed. Only designated courts must hear instances of honour killings, the court said. SC’s verdict is based on suggestions given to it by senior advocate Raju Ramachandra, who had assisted the bench in the case.
Heads of khaps from Western Uttar Pradesh expressed dismay over the top court’s order. “We can’t accept marriages in same ‘gotra’ or village as it is a centuries old tradition started by our forefathers,” said Subhash Baliyan, secretary of Sarv Khap Panchayat. A meeting would be convened to discuss the issue, he said.
Rajendra Malik of Malik Khap said SC should have examined the advantages and disadvantages of such marriages before issuing guidelines. “It’s a tradition which was started for the good of the society. We have been following it for centuries. How can we go against it,” asked Malik.
Head of the Latiyan Khap, Virendra Latiyan, said they were ready to face the consequences but would not accept marriages in the same ‘gotra’ or village. “Even the members of different ‘gotra’ can’t marry in the same village though it is acceptable if they belong to different villages,” Latiyan said.
According to the court’s directives, if a Khap Panchayat issues a diktat against a couple/family of an inter-caste or inter-religious marriage or any other marriage, a police officer shall immediately lodge a first information report. The superintendent or deputy superintendent of police of the area shall ensure an effective investigation and promptly take it to its logical end. Immediate steps should be taken to provide security to the couple and family. If necessary the couple must be placed in a safe house within the same district or elsewhere.
“The intolerant groups who subscribe to the view of superiority class complex or higher clan cannot scuttle the right of a person by leaning on any kind of philosophy, moral or social, or self-proclaimed elevation,” said the Bench.
It said: “The consent of the family or the community or the clan is not necessary once the two adult individuals agree to enter into wedlock. Their consent has to be piously given primacy. If there is offence committed by one because of some penal law; that has to be decided as per law which is called determination of criminality.
States need to establish a safe house at each district headquarters to accommodate young bachelor-bachelorette couples whose relationship and marriage is being opposed by their families/local community/Khaps. A jurisdictional district magistrate and the SP shall supervise the safe houses.
SC also ordered state governments to create special cells in every district comprising the SP and district social welfare officer to receive petitions/complaints of harassment of and threat to couples in inter-caste marriages. The cells shall start a 24x7 helpline to receive and register such complaints and to provide necessary assistance/advice and protection to the couple.
(With Inputs from S Raju, Meerut)