Millennium Post

End to kangaroo courts

The Supreme Court has rightly taken cognisance of the problem posed by khap panchayats. A Supreme Court appointed committee that examined the ill-effects of khap panchayats has now submitted a report to the apex court that, if implemented, should help curb this menace. Though they may have played a role in the distant past as a decision-making body in rural areas, khap panchayats are now mostly self-appointed bodies that are not part of the governance  structure. They have nothing to do with judicial pronouncements or with law enforcement yet have been carrying out both functions and imposing particularly regressive versions of the law based primarily on outmoded caste rules and prejudices. They gather along caste lines and assume to themselves the authority to deal with 'objectionable' marriages. Their victims in recent times have mostly been young couples who have taken decisions regarding their marriages which may be in defiance of local custom but do not violate of the law of the land. There has been illegal intimidation of such couples by the
khap panchayats,
which have brought pressure against same gotra marriages and inter-caste, inter-community and inter-religious marriages between consenting adults, in the name of vindicating the honour of family, caste or community. In a number of cases, such bodies have resorted to incitement of violence and such couples have been subjected to intimidation and violence which has also resulted into their being hounded out of their homes. They have also imposed harsh punishments, such as the death penalty, on the violators  exhibiting the least regard for life and liberty and not deterred by the processes of administration of justice. Needless to say that such intimidation or acts of violence constitute offences under the IPC and cannot be allowed. The
khap panchayats
therefore represent backward and reactionary forces that are doing great harm to society. They need to be controlled and couples need to be protected from them.

The Supreme Court appointed committee has suggested some measures for doing so. They have said that the district administration must be held responsible for allowing such villagers' conclaves. Their report suggests that the police and district magistrates must act proactively to end this menace. They have suggested that the police use its powers under the criminal procedure code to prevent commission of cognisable offences. As is known, the police has been empowered to arrest a person, even without a warrant, if it knows of a design to commit any cognisable offence. The committee has said that it was very necessary for the police to take timely steps so as to prevent any physical harm to couples. There is much that can be done to protect these couples within the existing law, even without amendments to the law. It is now for the government to take these observations seriously and to implement them.
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