SC rules, ‘Interference of Khap Panchayat in Marriage of consenting adults is illegal’ (Read Judgment)

The Supreme Court on Tuesday said any interference by the Khap panchayats to scuttle marriage between two consenting adults is illegal.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra has also laid down certain punitive and remedial measures to be followed till a legislation is put in place.

The court was ruling a 2010 petition by NGO Shakti Vahini against khap panchayats and seeking directions to the centre and state governments for preventing honour crimes.

On 7 March, the court reserved its judgment on a plea alleging interference by khap panchayats in inter-caste and inter-faith marriages of adults.

The top court has repeatedly adopted a tough line against interference by khap panchayats in inter-caste and inter-faith marriages, and advised them against behaving like the conscience keepers of society.

“If people decide to marry, they are adults and you are nobody to interfere,” Chief Justice Misra had said in response to a plea seeking to ban khap panchayats and establish guidelines to check growing instances of honour killing taking place in the name of caste and religion.

Misra had said that under the law, when two people marry, no third party could interfere in an individual or collective capacity.

Khap panchayats, through their counsel, had said they had been encouraging inter-caste and inter-faith marriages and were not against such marriages. They were, however, wary of marriages among sapinda relationships or close blood relatives among Hindus. The counsel argued that khaps had been performing their duties as the conscience keepers of the society.

Threatening and attacking adults in inter-caste or inter-faith marriages in the name of being “conscience keepers of society is absolutely illegal”, the court had observed in an earlier hearing.

Justice Misra had said that a khap panchayat could not summon adults and question their choice of a marriage partner and warned that the court would step in if the centre failed to take steps to stop such interference.

Khaps are caste or community organizations in villages which at times act as quasi-judicial bodies and pronounce punishments based on customs and traditions.

The Bench given Punitive Measure till the time legislature is ready. The bench said:

(a) Any failure by either the police or district officer/officials to comply with the aforesaid directions shall be considered as an act of deliberate negligence and/or misconduct for which departmental action must be taken under the service rules. The departmental action shall be initiated and taken to its logical end, preferably not exceeding six months, by the authority of the first instance.
(b) In terms of the ruling of this Court in Arumugam Servai (supra), the States are directed to take disciplinary action against the concerned officials if it is found that (i) such official(s) did not prevent the incident, despite having prior knowledge of it, or (ii) where the incident had already occurred, such official(s) did not promptly apprehend and institute criminal proceedings against the culprits.
(c) The State Governments shall create Special Cells in every District comprising of the Superintendent of Police, the District Social Welfare Officer and District Adi-Dravidar Welfare Officer to receive petitions/complaints of harassment of and threat to couples of inter-caste marriage.
(d) These Special Cells shall create a 24 hour helpline to receive and register such complaints and to provide necessary assistance/advice and protection to the couple.
(e) The criminal cases pertaining to honour killing or violence to the couple(s) shall be tried before the designated Court/Fast Track Court earmarked for that purpose. The trial must proceed on day to day basis to be concluded preferably within six months from the date of taking cognizance of the offence. We may hasten to add that this direction shall apply even to pending cases. The concerned District Judge shall assign those cases, as far as possible, to one jurisdictional court so as to ensure expeditious disposal thereof.

The measures we have directed to be taken have to be carried out within six weeks hence by the respondent states. Reports of compliance be filed within the said period before the Registry of this Court.

Read & Download detailed Judgment here: