New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday adopted a tough line against interference by khap panchayats in inter-caste and inter-faith marriages, and advised them against behaving like conscience keepers of society.
“If people decide to marry, they are adults and you are nobody to interfere," Chief Justice Dipak Misra 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.
A bench headed by justice Misra added that under the law, when two people marry, no third party can interfere in an individual or collective capacity.
“Whether the law prohibits or allows a particular marriage, the law will take its own course. Don’t be the conscience keeper (of society)," the bench, also comprising justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud, said.
The observation came when a counsel representing a khap panchayat 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 conscience keepers of society.
Due to Haryana’s skewed gender ratio, women from various states came to marry the local men, ignoring factors of caste and religion, the counsel told the court.
The bench noted that customs were not above human life and rights of persons concerned and even if there were problems between adults in inter-faith/caste marriages, khap panchayats still could not interfere.
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. This is the second time in the past month that the apex court has taken a tough stance on the khaps and warned them against interfering in matters pertaining to inter-faith or inter-caste marriages. On 16 January, it was declared illegal by the court for parents or khap panchayats to interfere in decisions of adult men and women of different castes to marry.
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.
The court had also asked the centre to respond to suggestions submitted earlier by amicus curiae (friend of the court) Raju Ramchandran on measures to prevent harassment and honour killings of men and women opting for inter-caste and intra-clan (gotra) marriages.
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 court was hearing a 2010 petition by an NGO, Shakti Vahini, against khap panchayats and seeking directions to the centre and state governments for preventing honour crimes.
The centre had also urged the court to put in place a mechanism to monitor crimes against women by khap panchayats.
The case will be heard next on 16 February.