SC on Khap Panchayats

Kashmir Times. Dated: 2/10/2018 6:01:47 PM

It is a sad state of affairs that courts need to keep curbing interference in love and marriages of two consenting adults

With local village Panchayats taking a retrograde stand on the issue of love and marriages, the highest court of the country Supreme Court is impelled to remind them and the society at large that they have no business interfering in the life and choices of individuals. After every violent incident of some regressive nature, the SC has to intervene and tell such bodies that such practices have no place in a civilized world and it is a sad commentary on our times. The frequency with which one hears the court's warnings against groups and individuals obstructing inter-faith or inter-caste relationships reaffirms the fact that the social milieu continues to be under the sway of the medieval-minded. The Supreme Court's latest observations that Khap Panchayats should not act as though they are conscience-keepers of society and that no one should interfere in relationships between adults came while it was hearing a writ petition seeking a ban on such community organisations and guidelines to put an end to "honour killings". In fact, killings of some married couples or either of the two spouses for entering into a marriage against the norms laid out by the Khaps have come to notice of the courts after petitions were filed by the aggrieved parties. Despite previous directions to the central as well as the state government to check the illegal activities of such bodies, the Khaps Panchayats continued to harass and issue verdicts against couples of the same castes or same clans. In 2011, the highest court termed such Khaps Panchayats "kangaroo courts", declared them illegal and wanted them stamped out ruthlessly. Similar observations were made in other cases too, some of them in the context of "honour killings". It is unfortunate that parents and self-appointed guardians of social mores continue to use coercion and harassment, and even resort to murderous violence, as a means to enforce their exclusionary and feudal prejudices. The recent murder of Ankit Saxena, a photographer, who was in love with a Muslim girl, allegedly by members of her family, is one more extreme indication of families choosing the penal consequences of violence over the perceived dishonour caused by an inter-religious relationship. While the popular narrative situates community pride as a source of unconscionable violence in rural India, such murders are a reality in cities and among educated and presumably socially advanced sections too.
Another dimension is that these Khap organisations in north India seek to enforce age-old taboos such as the prohibition on 'sagothra' marriages among Hindus. At present, their grouse is that the present law on Hindu marriage allows 'sapinda' relationships up to a particular degree; they would prefer a limitless bar on any degree of such relationship in lineal ascendancy, which would prevent any marriage with one presumed to be descended from an ancestor belonging to the same 'gothra'. Such views can only be eradicated with a change in social attitudes. Apart from this, there is a need for creating awareness among the people that such retrograde thinking has no place in a civilized society. The Law Commission in 2012 prepared a draft bill to prohibit interference in marriage alliances. Key provisions that seek to address the problem of Khap Panchayats in this draft say such informal groups would be treated as an 'unlawful assembly' and decisions that amount to harassment, social boycott, discrimination or incitement to violence should be punishable with a minimum sentence. But as such no sentence or punishment has been meted out to any of these Khaps during the past six years and they continue to rule the roost in having their way against love relationships and marriages between two adults in any group of people. Whether the solution is social transformation or legislative change, high-handed mediation or interference should brook no sympathy. It is also time that such activities need to be curbed with a heavy hand by the governments in order to ensure that there is no interference in the lives of the people or two adults so far their relationship and marriage is concerned in any part of the country for promoting social harmony.

 

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