Khap Panchayat: Individual Liberty over Collective Oppression

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In a constitutional democracy like India, the citizens are governed by the law of the land. The constitutional protection guarantees citizens basic human rights and freedom. The Courts have the duty to uphold the guaranteed rights and check upon any violation. The fundamental rights guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution of India guarantees basic rights to the citizens such as liberty, equality, dignity, etc. These rights are protected and remedial measures are provided by the guardian of the Constitution i.e. the Apex Court whenever there is an infringement by the State or any extra-constitutional bodies.

Recently, the hon’ble Supreme Court of India delivered a landmark judgment to protect individual liberty and dignity. The Court in its judgment dealt with many severe issues that had been in direct contradiction with the sanctity of the constitution. In the case of Shakti Vahini v Union of India, the Court upheld the individual right to marry without external interference. The practice of inter-caste and inter-faith marriages have been violently suppressed since time immemorial. The individuals are subjected to collective violence often resulting in brutal deaths by the like-minded and self-proclaimed conscience keepers. These practices justify brutal acts of violence in the name of ‘honour’, and present the example of orthodox patriarchy.

The Khap Panchayat or Kangaroo Courts, extra-constitutional bodies, actively functioning in states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, etc are the groups of individuals acting as caste agents denouncing individual dignity and rights. They are not only responsible for devaluing basic human rights, but also carrying violent measures to uphold their caste supremacy by resorting to unlawful activities. Young individuals have been the victim of their rage for choosing to live a life with dignity and freedom. These organizations are against gender equality and have been a major impediment to the progress and upliftment of the women.

The sad state affairs came before the bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice DY Chandrachud. The petition filed by public-spirited NGO Shakti Vahini sought corrective measures to stop extra-constitutional bodies to act as conscience keepers. The issue of grave sensitivity had been given due consideration. The Court in its judgment ordered the right of individuals to decide their partner for marriage without any external interference. The Court directed corrective and protective measures to safeguard individuals from falling prey to caste-based violence. The strict enforcement of criminal laws was ordered to stop the menace of honor killing.

The Court has been clear that right of the individual to marry cannot be infringed by anyone. The question of freedom to marry with liberty and dignity has been wide clear but does the said judgment opened another door to deliberate upon the need to legislate a law to curb the menace of honor killings. The Bill proposed by the 242nd report of the Law Commission of India titled “Prohibition of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances” raises a moot question that whether a special law to protect individuals from freely forming matrimonial alliances can be useful to curb the menace of honor killings in India?

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