Honour killings are a blot on the country’s image—apart from being obvious heinous crimes. Considering how they are linked to the diktats of caste councils known as khap panchayats, the Supreme Court direction to the khaps to stay away from marriages between consenting adults must be welcomed in the right earnest. The Supreme Court told the khaps that they had “no right to interfere”—in fact, the bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said that nobody had the right to interfere—in any marriage. The khaps had argued that they saw themselves as conscience-keepers in cases of consanguineous marriages, ironically, despite giving tacit endorsement to honour killings, social ostracism, etc, and issuing regressive diktats such as banning mobile phones for women. The SC told them not to fancy themselves as such, noting that intimidating adults and their families and even attacking them in case of inter-caste, inter-faith or inter-gotra marriages in the name of being “conscience keepers of society is absolutely illegal”.
There were 291 honour killings in India between 2014 and 2016, as per data from the National Crime Records Bureau. Meanwhile, khaps have not only continued to flourish, but also have found patronage from mainstream political leaders. Viewing communities as vote-banks and so-called khap leaders as the key actors which can swing the community’s votes, political leaders have steered clear of them even though courts have roundly criticised these extra-legal governments.
Taking a cue from the political leadership, the police, bureaucrats and administrators have also not crossed paths with the khaps—unless an actual crime is perpetrated—citing non-interference with a community’s internal affairs. However, what the regressive marriage diktats and intimidation tactics like ostracism, social boycotts, etc, end up doing is deny adults basic freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. While there is a medical argument against consanguineous marriages, best leave the matter to counselling such couples rather than encouraging hostility, even crimes , against them. The SC directive is therefore pertinent in this regard.