It has to be stated at the very outset that the Supreme Court has rendered a landmark judgment in the case of Shakti Vahini v Union of India and others on March 27, 2018 whereby it held that the right of adult individuals to choose their life partners was above class honour and that it was illegal for khap panchayats to summon and punish couples for this! The Apex Court categorically ruled that any attempt by khap panchayats or any other assembly to scuttle or prevent two consenting adults from marrying is absolutely “illegal”. It also ordered that such activities of khap panchayats “are to be stopped in entirety” and called upon Parliament to come up with a suitable legislation. It also laid down “preventive, remedial and punitive” measures.
To put things in perspective, while delivering a landmark judgment in the PIL filed by NGO Shakti Vahini in 2010 on the issue, a Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice DY Chandrachud also laid down a slew of measures to protect inter-faith and inter-caste marriages generally objected to by the khap panchayats. It ordered authorities to take steps to protect inter-caste and inter-religious couples from honour crimes. The NGO had sought directions to state governments and the Centre to take preventive steps to combat honour crimes.
It may be recalled that on , during the hearing the Bench said that when two consenting adults agree to enter into matrimony no individual, group or collective rights shall interfere to harass the couple. It had asked the Khaps or Indian Kangaroo courts not to behave like the conscience keeper of society, pointing out that a marriage between two adults was governed by the law. The court had said that it would set up a high-level committee consisting of senior police officers to deal with issues relating to intervention in marriages by bodies such as khap panchayats.
As things stand, a Bench of CJI Dipak Misra and Justices DY Chandrachud and AM Khanwilkar while disposing of a petition filed by NGO Shakti Vahini in 2010 sent out a very loud and firm message that, “Honour killing guillotines individual liberty, freedom of choice and one’s own perception of choice. It has to be sublimely borne in mind that when two adults consensually choose each other as life partners, it is a manifestation of their choice which is recognized under Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution. Such a right has the sanction of the constitutional law and once that is recognized, the said right needs to be protected and it cannot succumb to the conception of class honour or group thinking which is conceived on some notion that remotely does not have any legitimacy.”
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,
s/o Col BPS Sirohi,
A 82, Defence Enclave,
Sardhana Road, Kankerkhera,
Meerut – 250001, Uttar Pradesh.