In a remarkable move, the Supreme Court has taken a tough stance against khap panchayats and asked the Centre to protect couples whose marriages are opposed by these organisations.
They have observed that khap panchayats cannot be the “conscience keepers of the society” or play law-keepers against adult women and men who marry each other.
The apex court is also considering appointing a high-level police committee appointed to protect couples from different castes, religion, or other “opposed” marriages. They have directed the Centre to take steps towards this decision.
The bench was headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and included Justice AM Kanwilkar, and Justice DY Chandrachud.
They were hearing a petition seeking help from the court to put an end to the trouble caused by khap panchayats who take the law in their own hands and commit crimes against couples who have married outside their caste. The petition was filed by NGO Shakti Vahini in 2010.
“Where two consenting adults agree to enter into matrimony, no individual rights, group rights or collective rights shall interfere therein or harass couple. You don’t have to play the conscience keeper of the society. Law and courts will take care of all relationships. Whether it is parents, society or anyone, they are out of it,” the bench told counsel Narinder Hooda who represented the Sarv Khap Panchayats of Rohtak.
This list of directives explicitly includes parents and society to stay out of adults who have consented to marry each other.
As Hooda pointed out, “[the] main culprits of honour killings are not the representatives of khaps but the near and dear ones of the affected couples and more so the relatives of the girls.”
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“They [khaps] are only against same gotra marriages for which they had made a representation to the Central government seeking an amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, which was a democratic act. Religious scriptures had prohibited such marriages, and as such, it should be part of [the] law,” Hooda said. He claimed that Khaps don’t go after couples from different religions, caste, creed or regions.
To this, the CJI replied, “The law will take its own course. Who are you to interfere?”
“We are conscience keepers,” responded the counsel
“When two adults get married, it is for the law to declare the marriage null and void and khaps cannot resort to violence against the couple,” the CJI retorted.
In one such incident about radical prejudices resulting in violence, a Facebook page had called for violence against over 100 interfaith couples in India. The post carried the names of men and women, along with links to their Facebook profile.
Fortunately, the post, as well as the page, were taken down from the social media site. If the Centre follows the directives by the SC, such radical outbursts could be brought under stringent laws.
Pinky Anand, who serves as the Additional Solicitor General of India, represented the Centre in this case and assured the court that the government would submit its proposal over this petition within a week.
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