In a strongly worded judgement, the Supreme Court ruled today that it was “absolutely illegal” for khap panchayats (self-appointed village courts that have no legal sanction) or any such assembly of people to interfere in the marriage of two consenting adults.
Led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, the three-judge bench also laid down strict guidelines meant to prevent khap panchayats from interfering in such matters till the Parliament passes legislation on the same.
As recent reports suggest, these khap panchayats wield tremendous influence across many village societies serving as quasi-judicial bodies which often decree or encourage honour killings or other institutionalised atrocities against adult couples stepping out of the bounds of faith and caste.
The apex court was ruling on a 2010 petition filed by NGO Shakti Vahini following repeated incidents of honour killings sanctioned by these khap panchayats. To prevent such deaths from happening again, the non-profit sought the court’s intervention.
When asked what it was doing to address these concerns, the Centre responded that it would frame legislation to deal with honour killings.
Under the law, “if people decide to marry, they are adults, and you are nobody to interfere,” Chief Justice Misra had said. Responding to the court, the counsel for khap panchayats said that they supported inter-caste and inter-faith marriages but were uncomfortable with ‘Sapinda’ relationships or marriage between close Hindu blood relatives.
The khaps also claimed that they are the “conscience keepers” of society. However, the court responded that issuing threats and conducting attacks on adult couples in the name of being “conscience keepers of society is absolutely illegal.”
Earlier in the case, the court had made its position known. “Whatever the amicus curiae say 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.
This isn’t the first time the Supreme Court has come down heavily on khap panchayats.
“This is wholly illegal and has to be ruthlessly stamped out. There is nothing honourable in honour killing or other atrocities and, in fact, it is nothing but barbaric and shameful murder. Other atrocities in respect of the personal lives of people committed by brutal, feudal-minded persons deserve harsh punishment. Only this way can we stamp out such acts of barbarism and feudal mentality. Moreover, these acts take the law into their own hands, and amount to kangaroo courts, which are wholly illegal,” an apex court bench said in 2011.