Attacks on couples by khap panchayats 'absolutely illegal': Supreme Court

New Delhi, Delhi, India Updated: Jan 16, 2018, 04:31 PM(IST)

Illustration showing the Supreme Court of India. Photograph:( Zee News Network )

The Supreme Court today said the attacks on those opting for inter-caste marriage were "absolutely illegal" and no 'khap panchayats, individual or the society can question any adult woman and man marrying of their own choice.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud also pulled up the Centre for not taking the matter seriously and not filing its suggestions on the issue, saying such panchayats or bodies cannot threaten adult women and men for marrying each other.

Khaps are caste or community organisations, particularly in the rural areas of north India, which at times act as quasi-judicial bodies and pronounce harsh punishments based on regressive and age-old customs and traditions.

Whenever there is any kind of collective attack on a boy or a girl, who are adults, it is absolutely illegal,' the court said

The bench told Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Pinky Anand, who represented the Centre, that if the government does not come out with its suggestions, then the court would pass order on the suggestions given by senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, who is assisting the court as an amicus curiae.

"You take it from us, whatever the amicus says about khap, we are not concerned with that. What we are concerned is that when an adult girl or boy gets into marriage, no khap, no individual or no society can question them," the bench said.

"Whenever there is any kind of collective attack on a boy or a girl, who are adults, it is absolutely illegal," it said.

The apex court also said such associations cannot collectively punish any men or women for marrying each other of their own choice.

When a man, who was appearing in person on behalf of the khap panchayats, told the court that khaps were not opposing such marriages and there was a social change now, the bench said they should not take it in a regressive manner.

"Even if panchayat is a collective body, they cannot threaten a girl or a boy from marrying each other. Whatever it is, it shall not be archaic. It should be alive," the court said.

During the hearing, the ASG sought some time to file a response to the suggestions given by Ramachandran, who opposed it saying the plea relates to the issue of honour killings and the government should not delay the matter.

The amicus said the Law Commission, in its report, had dealt with this aspect and suggested a legislation to deal with issue, but the Centre was "taking time" to get responses from the respective state governments as to whether such a law could be passed.

"If you (Centre) do not have suggestions, we will pass order on the suggestions of the amicus," the bench told the ASG, adding it might evolve a mechanism to deal with the issue.

The bench also reminded the ASG that the matter has been pending before the top court since 2010.

The ASG, however, said the government would respond to the suggestions and sought three weeks time for it.

The bench granted time to the Centre to file suggestions and posted the matter for hearing on February 5.

The apex court had earlier sought suggestions from the petitioner, an NGO 'Shakti Vahini', the amicus curiae and khap panchayats on the issue.

The NGO had moved the 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 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 earlier 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.

Several cases of women and men falling victims to khap diktats have been reported over the years, particularly in states like Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

In 2007, a Haryana court had awarded capital punishment to five persons and life sentence to one for murdering a couple on the orders of a self-styled khap panchayat for marrying against societal norms.

Similarly, a woman from Rajasthan was ordered to live with a man whose wife had eloped with her husband by the Khap of Notara Bhopat village in April 2015.

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

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