On Monday, the Supreme Court told khap panchayats not to be the “conscience keepers of society”, once again telling them to abstain from interfering in the marriage of two consenting adults. The view was made by a bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra that is hearing a plea pursuing a ban on khap panchayats and also guidelines to stop “honour killings”.
“We can’t say which marriage is null or void, which marriage is good or bad…just stay out of it. Two persons marry…they are adults….you are no one to interfere in it,” the CJI said. The lawyer appearing for khap panchayats said that they were not against inter-caste or inter-religious alliances but only opposed same gotra marriages because they were the conscience keepers. “Don’t be the conscience-keepers of society,” the CJI replied to it. Khaps are caste or community-based groups that exercise considerable influence in rural areas of north India. They are common to hold kangaroo courts that dissolve marriages, dictate a dress code, mostly to women, ban cell phones and even force rape victims into marrying rapists. They oppose marriages on the basis of caste or religion and it has also led to murders.
The wittiest fact is that one khap panchayat leader in Haryana had caused chow mein for the increase in rape cases in India. It was the second time in less than a month that the top court came down hard on khaps. The court said during the previous hearing that khap panchayat cannot threaten adults for marrying each other. The bench had said, “If an adult man and woman marry, no khap, panchayat or society can question them.” The senior counsel Raju Ramachandran, who is supporting the court in the matter, has said in a report that khap panchayats were influential and the SC should take steps to control them. The will be heard now on February 16.