By Prarthana Mitra
The Supreme Court announced on Monday that any interference by assemblies like khap panchayats into inter-caste marriages is absolutely illegal.This historical judgement comes as the final verdict to a petition filed by the NGO Shakti Vahini in 2010 against khap panchayats, seeking some form of legal redressal or recourse from the tyrannical diktats of the khaps in the rural districts.
There has been a constant rise in crimes rates due to “honour killings” especially in the rural districts of India. The Supreme Court has previously directed the khap panchayats to refrain from acting as “conscience keepers of society” and added that such crimes will henceforth be tried as murder. It is up to the Court to decide whether a matrimonial alliance is null and void, or if children are legitimate or illegitimate.
The three-judge bench comprising of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud 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.”
Reserving its verdict earlier this month, the apex court had also observed that adults who were legally and consensually married did not require the khap’s approval, and no relative or third party can interfere in an individual’s personal decision, nor threaten to unleash violence against them.
Punitive measures in case of violation of basic rights
Furthermore, any attempt to obstruct inter-faith or inter-caste marriages are illegal and the Court will take care to firmly deal with such perpetrators, with punitive measures laid down by the bench. These detailed remedial and preventive will be in force until the government comes up with a statutory framework for the same, declared Misra in his concluding statement.
The Court suggested that complaints of retaliation will be looked into by the State government, and couples lodging these complaints will also be safely accommodated in protection homes. The guidelines also recommend setting up a special cell at the district level to look into complaints and cases that require assistance and security.
Absolutely and unequivocally illegal
Khap panchayats are quasi-judicial bodies present largely in rural North India, which adhere to casteist traditions very strictly. There have been innumerable cases of victimisation and violence inflicted by khaps over the years, particularly in states like Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
However, this judgement is not only aimed at the khaps but aims to address the general intolerance in Indian society against inter-faith couples. The fundamental right to marry out of one’s own choice must be respected and protected and the judgement is filling the legal vacuum by enabling citizens to do so.
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