Khap panchayats have been acuused of abuses, including sanctioning of “honour killings” of couples
NEW DELHI: No khap panchayat or society can question an adult man and woman who get married, the Supreme Court said today. Such interference, especially in case of inter-caste marriage, is “absolutely illegal”, the court said while hearing a petition against khap panchayats, that wield enormous influence in villages in Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, and are often seen as responsible for the growing frequency of honour killings.
The top court today warned that ‘if the Centre does not act towards banning khap panchayats”, it would step in.
In villages across north and south India, khap panchayats are all powerful. In Tamil Nadu they are known as “kata panchayats”. Their frequent decrees on various aspects of personal life — including jeans and cellphones for women – have led to accusations of patriarchy and feudal mindset.
In parts of north India, khap panchayats have made headlines for their alleged encouragement to killing of couples who defy traditions to get married. Although they have no legal sanction, they are also known to hand down public beatings and other punishments for perceived crimes.
But despite this, politicians across party lines have refrained from taking steps to curb them, given their influence on people.
In January 2016, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said khap panchayats are a “useful instrument” of society and carry out social reforms. Asked about the various controversies that have cropped up over khap panchayats’ diktats, Mr Khattar said, “One or two mistakes or incidents don’t make Khap Panchayats wrong as a whole.”
The Supreme Court had earlier called khap panchayats illegal and said the honour killings they order or abet are “shameful” and “barbaric”. The court had even said bureaucrats and police officers who fail to curb them should be punished.
In an order of 2011, Chief Justice Markandey Katju who is now retired, had said, “Atrocities in respect of personal lives of people committed by brutal, feudal-minded persons deserve harsh punishment.”