It is true that love knows no boundaries, but it is equally true that there are many enemies of the true love. The biggest obstacles that have been coming in the way of the love of two adult couples in the recent years are the Chap panchayats. These Khap Panchayats of Haryana, Rajasthan and western Uttar Pradesh wield enormous authority and influence, particularly in the Jat community. These Khap Panchayats not only decide the cases of community disputes but also take up the roles of cruel executioners. Such Panchayats do not have any legal sanctity, yet governments do not muster the courage to effectively implement the orders of the courts even if they come from the Supreme Court. Courts have expressed their resentments, number without times, on the crimes committed in the name of defending the honour of caste, clan or family and yet they are committed in various parts of the country. The Supreme Court has now come down heavily on those, who have been committing such crimes, without much fear, for the sake saving the honour of the family or caste. It is true that there are many well entrenched and abominable social prejudices and therefore, it is difficult to eradicate them overnight through law or judicial pronouncements.
The Supreme Court has said that when the ability to choose is crushed in the name of class honour and the person’s physical frame is treated with absolute indignity, a chilling effect dominates over the brains and bones of the society at large. The question that poignantly emanates for consideration is whether the elders of the family or clan can ever be allowed to proclaim a verdict guided by some notion of passion and eliminate the life of the young who have exercised their choice to get married against the wishes of their elders or contrary to the customary practice of the clan. The answer has to be an emphatic “No”. Class honour, howsoever perceived, cannot smother the choice of an individual which s/ he is entitled to enjoy under our compassionate Constitution. And this right of enjoyment of liberty deserves to be continually and zealously guarded so that it can thrive with strength and flourish with resplendence.
The petitioner-organization ’Shakti Vahini’ was authorized for conducting Research Study on “Honour Killings in Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh” by an order of the National Commission for Women. It is contended in the petition that the existence of a woman in such an atmosphere is entirely dependent on the male view of the reputation of the family, the community, and the milieu. The action of a woman or a man in choosing a life partner according to her or his own choice beyond the community norms is regarded as dishonour which, in the ultimate eventuate, innocently invites death at the cruel hands of the community prescription. The reputation of a woman is weighed according to the manner in which she conducts herself, and the family to which the girl or the woman belongs is put to pressure as a consequence of which the members of the family, on certain occasions, become silent spectators to the treatment meted out or sometimes become active participants forming a part of the group either due to determined behaviour or unwanted sense of redemption of family pride.
The pernicious practice of Khap Panchayats and the like taking law into their own hands and pronouncing on the invalidity and impropriety of Sagotra and inter-caste marriages and handing over punishment to the couple and pressurizing the family members to execute their verdict by any means amounts to flagrant violation of rule of law and invasion of personal liberty of the persons affected. Sagotra marriages are not prohibited by law, whatever may be the view in olden times. The Hindu Marriage Disabilities Removal Act, 1946 was enacted with a view to dispelling any doubts in this regard. The Act expressly declared the validity of marriages between the Hindus belonging to the same ‘gotra’ or ‘pravara’ or different sub-divisions of the same caste. The Hindu Marriage Act does not prohibit sagotra or inter-caste marriages. Earlier in Lata Singh’s case, the Supreme Court had opined about Khap Panchayats that we are of the opinion that this is wholly illegal and has to be ruthlessly stamped out. There is nothing honourable in honour killing or other atrocities and, in fact, it is nothing but barbaric and shameful murder. Other atrocities in respect of personal lives of people committed by brutal, feudal-minded persons deserve harsh punishment
As a matter of fact, the concept of liberty has to be weighed and tested on the touchstone of constitutional sensitivity, protection and the values it stands for. It is the obligation of the Constitutional Courts as the sentinel on qui vive to zealously guard the right to liberty of an individual as the dignified existence of an individual has an inseparable association with liberty. Without sustenance of liberty, subject to constitutionally valid provisions of law, the life of a person is comparable to the living dead having to endure cruelty and torture without protest and tolerate the imposition of thoughts and ideas without a voice to dissent or record a disagreement. The fundamental feature of dignified existence is to assert for dignity that has the spark of divinity and the realization of choice within the parameters of law without any kind of subjugation. The purpose of laying stress on the concepts of individual dignity and choice within the framework of liberty is of paramount importance.
Life and liberty sans dignity and choice is a phenomenon that allows hollowness to enter into the constitutional recognition of the identity of a person. The choice of an individual is an inextricable part of dignity, for dignity cannot be thought of where there is an erosion of choice. When two adults marry out of their volition, they choose their path; they consummate their relationship; they feel that it is their goal and they have the right to do so. And it can unequivocally be stated that they have the right and any infringement of the said right is a constitutional violation. The majority in the name of class or elevated honour of clan cannot call for their presence or force their appearance as if they are the monarchs of some indescribable era who have the power, authority and final say to impose any sentence and determine the execution of the same in the way they desire possibly harbouring the notion that they are a law unto themselves or they are the ancestors of Caesar or Louis the XIV. The Constitution and the laws of this country do not countenance such an act, and, in fact, the whole activity is illegal and punishable as offense under the criminal law.
The Supreme Court has now asked the State Governments to adopt preventive, remedial and punitive measures to stop this nefarious practice of honour killings. As far as preventive steps are concerned the State Governments should forthwith identify Districts, Sub-Divisions and/or Villages where instances of honour killing, or assembly of Khap Panchayats have been reported in the recent past, e.g., in the last five years. Home Department of the concerned States shall issue directives/advisories to the Superintendent of Police of the concerned Districts for ensuring that the Officer In charge of the Police Stations of the identified areas are extra cautious if any instance of inter-caste or inter-religious marriage within their jurisdiction comes to their notice
If despite the preventive measures any Khap Panchayat has taken place and it has passed any diktat to take action against a couple/family of an inter-caste or inter-religious marriage (or any other marriage which does not meet their acceptance), the jurisdictional police official shall cause to immediately lodge an F.I.R. under the appropriate provisions of the Indian Penal Code. Upon registration of F.I.R., intimation shall be simultaneously given to the Superintendent of Police/ Deputy Superintendent of Police who, in turn, shall ensure that effective investigation of the crime is done and taken to its logical end with promptitude. Additionally, immediate steps should be taken to provide security to the couple/family and, if necessary, to remove them to a safe house within the same district or elsewhere keeping in mind their safety and threat perception. And lastly, upon the 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. The State Governments shall create Special Cells in every District comprising the Superintendent of Police, the District Social Welfare Officer to receive petitions/complaints of harassment of and the threat to couples of inter-caste marriage.
Honor killings need to be consigned to the dustbins of history sooner than later.