No one can obstruct an inter-caste marriage by choice, says Supreme Court

By Prarthana Mitra

In a significant ruling that followed the apex court’s decision to firmly deal with moral policing and honour killing, the Supreme Court set aside the Kerala High Court’s judgement that annulled an inter-caste marriage in the infamous Hadiya case. A bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra declared on Thursday that Hadiya, alias Akhila Asokan, who had married Shafin Jahan in May 2017 and subsequently appeared before the court to testify, was entitled to “pursue her future endeavours according to law”.

The Court’s ruling in the Hadiya case comes a day after it said it would lay down guidelines to protect couples in inter-faith and inter-caste marriages who face societal opposition. Couples in inter-faith and inter-caste marriages often face societal ostracisation, or worse. The three-judge bench, led by the chief justice, said, “If two adults get married by consent, whatever be their caste, religion or gotra, no one can interfere in such a marriage, neither the relatives nor panchayats.” The Court’s pronouncement came during a hearing of a petition filed by NGO Shakti Vahini in 2010 against khap panchayats. The court reserved its verdict in the matter, saying it would give a detailed judgement.

Cognisable and punishable offence

According to The Times of India, additional solicitor general Pinky Anand, who appeared for the Centre, told the Court that the Centre is against violence unleashed on couples who marry out of choice. Further, she said the states should be directed to ensure that “no person or assembly of persons or family members shall harass, torture, subject to violence, threaten, intimidate or cause harm to any couple wishing to get married by their own choice or couples who have got married. Any person or assembly of persons committing such act as aforesaid shall be criminally prosecuted under the penal laws”.

According to the Hindustan Times,  the government is also in the process of enacting a stringent law to make crimes driven by “honour” a cognisable offence.

‘Fear of physical annihilation’

Shakti Vahini’s 2010 petition seeks some form of legal redressal or recourse from the tyrannical diktats of the khaps. The PIL cites all the complaints they had received from couples expressing a “fear of physical annihilation”. Given the rise of honour killings across rural districts, the Court had earlier issued a directive to khap panchayats to refrain from acting like “conscience keepers of society” by terrorising young couples who are legally and consensually married. The Court has also suggested that complaints by couples should only be investigated by police personnel with a rank of superintendent or above.

The Court’s guidelines are also likely to include a suggestion for protection homes and setting up a special cell at the district level to look into complaints and cases that require assistance and security.

Hadiya case

In May last year, the Kerala High Court had declared Hadiya’s marriage null and void, and directed that her custody be handed over to her parents. The high court ruled on a habeas corpus petition filed by Hadiya’s father.

Hadiya, born a Hindu, had converted to Islam and married Jahan in 2016. Although her family has repeatedly said she was forced into conversion and the marriage, Hadiya has maintained that she embraced Islam and married of her own free will.

The Court’s ruling keeps with its previous statements on Hadiya’s marriage.

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