March 27, 2018

Khaps cannot interfere in marriage of consenting adults: SC


On March 27, the Supreme Court declared the Khap Panchayats "illegal" saying that no assembly can interfare in a marriage between two consenting adults.

A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, also comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud, said, "the punitive measures to deal with such an unlawful assembly will be in force, until a legislation comes into force".

Khaps wield considerable influence over society wherever Jats are the dominant caste, and the institution has inv¬ited opprobrium for imposing sanctions defending caste orthodoxy from social change. In fact, the word ‘khap’ is most closely associated in the public mind with the phrase ‘honour killing’—brutal, cold-blooded murders of couples who seek to marry outside their caste, or within the gotra (clan), whose members are considered by the khaps to be consanguinous either by actual kinship or historically close ties.

The Apex Court had earlier in January termed "absolutely illegal" any attack by khap panchayats or associations against an adult man and woman opting for inter- caste marriage.

The Apex Court had said that if an adult man and woman marry, no khap, panchayat, individual or society can question them.

"Whatever the amicus curiae says about khap, we are not concerned with that. What we are concerned is that if an adult girl or boy gets into marriage, no khap, no individual or no society can question them," the bench had said.

The bench told the Centre that it will not give its suggestion on the suggestion given by amicus curiae, assisting the court in the matter, and the court would contemplate passing an order based on the amicus' suggestion.

The Apex Court had earlier sought suggestions from an NGO 'Shakti Vahini', amicus curiae and 'Khap Panchayats' on the issue.

Khaps are caste or community organisations in villages which at times act as quasi-judicial bodies and pronounce harsh punishments based on regressive and age-old customs and traditions.

The NGO had moved the Top Court in 2010 seeking directions to the central and state governments to prevent and control honour crimes by taking a number of measures.

Earlier, the Apex Court had invited 'Khap Panchayats' to hear their views before issuing any order to stop them from harassing and killing couples and women in the name of honour.

The Centre had pleaded with the apex court to put in place a mechanism to monitor crimes against women by Khap Panchayats, as the police was not able to protect women facing ordeal at their hands.

The Top Court had also said that as a pilot project, it would examine the situation in three districts of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh where Khap Panchayats were active.

It had summoned the Superintendents of Police of Rohtak and Jind districts of Haryana and that of Baghpat in Uttar Pradesh to apprise the court of the situation there.

The Apex Court had also asked khap panchayats not to behave like "conscience keepers of the society" and said that a marriage between two adults was governed by the law.

'Khap panchayats' had earlier told the court that they were encouraging inter-caste and inter-faith marriages and had referred to provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act which prohibit a union between 'sapinda' relationships or close blood relatives among Hindus.

They had claimed that they were performing their duties as conscience keepers of the society.

The court had invited 'khap panchayats' to hear their views before issuing an order to stop them from harassing or killing couples purportedly to protect the honour of a family, caste, community or faith.

The Centre had earlier pleaded with the Apex Court to put in place a mechanism to monitor crimes against women by khap panchayats, saying that the police was not able to protect such women.

The top court had also said that as a pilot project, it would examine the situation in three districts of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh where khap panchayats were active.

In 2007, a Haryana court had awarded death to five people and sentenced one person to life for killing a couple on the orders of a self-styled 'khap panchayat' for marrying against societal norms.

In April 2015, the khap of Notara Bhopat village had ordered a woman from Rajasthan to live with a man whose wife had eloped with her husband.

In 2014, a community panchayat in Uttar Pradesh had banned girls from wearing jeans and keeping mobile phones, claiming that these had a "bad" effect on them and were responsible for sexual harassment incidents.

(Credits: Outlook)

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