As my pen starts running, I must note right now with great satisfaction that the Supreme Court on January 16 warned strongly in no uncertain terms that it would step in if the government didn’t bring a law to ban illegal activities of khap panchayats, saying no one had the right to question an adult’s choice of a marriage partner. Why government is always quick to label judiciary as crossing its Laxman Rekha and trying to tread in the territory which belongs exclusively to the executive but does nothing on its part even when the writing on the wall is clear? Why government displays complete inaction for decades but when judiciary tries to step in then spares no time in terming it as “judicial activism”?
While craving for the exclusive indulgence of my esteemed readers, let me inform them that the Apex Court said explicitly that, “Attacks on those opting for inter-caste marriage were absolutely illegal and khap panchayats cannot threaten adult women and men for marrying each other.” When an adult men and women are ready to both marry each other with consent then what business do khap panchayats have to poke their nose in between? How can attack by anyone at the behest of the khap panchayats be justified under any circumstances?
For my esteemed readers exclusive indulgence, let me also inform them that a Bench of Supreme Court led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra minced no words in sending out very firmly a loud and clear message that, “If they are not bringing a law, we will develop the concept and see to that these types of illegal activities are not carried out.” This was observed by the Bench led by the CJI while sparing no punches in pulling up the government for not responding to an eight-year-old petition seeking a ban on khap panchayats. What the Bench of Apex Court led by the CJI has said is absolutely right!
To put things in perspective, khaps are caste or community groups that wield considerable influence especially in rural areas of north India. They are notorious for holding kangaroo courts that dissolve marriages, dictate dress code, mostly to women, ban cellphones and even force rape victims into marrying rapists. They openly threaten with dire consequences all those who dare to disobey their whimsical orders which includes social boycott, expulsion from a village etc. It is known very well that these khap panchayats very strongly oppose inter caste and inter faith marriages and those who still dare to do it are sometimes murdered also and in many are terrorized by beating them brutally!
How can all this be allowed to go on indefinitely? Why have the khap panchayats been allowed to have their say on not just all important but also all trivial issues? Why did the government make no law to check this menace swiftly and strictly? Is the government not guilty of complete inaction on this score thus compelling the judiciary to step in?
It is noteworthy that khaps by virtue of enjoying tremendous political clout among all major political parties brazenly order attack on any couple who dare to marry inter-caste or inter-religion thus making a complete mockery of the legal and constitutional rights conferred by our legal system to all adults of marrying whomever they want and whenever they want with their own free choice! When the Bench of the Apex Court took up the matter, a khap leader present in the court said that it was incorrect to term the village body illegal.
Going forward, the khap leader also urged that khaps were changing and should be heard before passing an order. The Supreme Court Bench also made it loud and clear that, “What we are concerned is about the rights of an adult girl or boy. They can get involved in a marriage. No panchayat, individual, society or parents can question it.” All these so called khap panchayats, individuals, society and parents must fully understand and appreciate what the Bench of Apex Court has said so categorically.
Needless to say, the Apex Court has explicitly made it illegal for extra-constitutional organizations like the khap panchayats, society, a group of individuals and parents from forcing their marital choices on couples without their consent. When the khap leader said that panchayats were playing a crucial role to usher in change, the CJI Dipak Misra said that, “The changes don’t take in a regressive manner.” Absolutely right!
To be sure, senior counsel Raju Ramachandran, who is assisting the court in the matter has already submitted a report. Raju took the right stand that khap panchayats were influential and the court should take steps to control them. In a list of suggestions, Raju has said that state governments should identify districts, sub-divisions and/or villages that have reported instances of so-called honour killing or khap panchayats assemblies.
It was also observed that a superintendent of police must at regular intervals issue directives to the officer-in-charge of police stations to be extra cautious if any instance of inter-caste or inter-religious marriage comes to notice. Raju also said that a local police station should immediately inform the district police chief on getting to know about a khap gathering. The Supreme Court explicitly told Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand who represented the Centre that if the government would not come out with its suggestions then the court would pass an order on those given by Ramachandran.
Truth be told, Pinky Anand then sought three weeks to respond to the suggestions that was granted by the court which will now hear the case on . A non-government organisation, Shakti Vahini had filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in 2010 demanding a ban on khap panchayats. The PIL had highlighted specifically that khaps were against inter-caste and intra-caste, as a result several people had been killed in the name of honour.
All said and done, even if now Centre didn’t ban illegal activities of khap panchayats then it has no moral right to accuse the judiciary for stepping in as the Apex Court has warned also of doing so! Supreme Court must be applauded for sending the right message to Centre in no uncertain terms and for also making it absolutely clear that khap attacks or attacks by anyone else on couples is illegal and cannot be justified under any circumstances! It also has made clear that adult couple have every right to marry as per their choice and who are these khap panchayats to intervene in between when it is none of their business to do so!
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,
s/o Col BPS Sirohi,
A 82, Defence Enclave,
Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,
Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.