Supreme Court reserves order on khap panchayats’ interference in marriages

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its judgment on a plea alleging interference by khap panchayats in inter-caste and inter-faith marriages of adults.

• Chief justice Dipak Misra said that in this context, the main question to be decided will be whether a third party can interfere if two adults decide to marry each other.
• The court has repeatedly adopted a tough line against interference by khap panchayats in inter-caste and inter-faith marriages, and advised them against behaving like conscience keepers of society.
• “If people decide to marry, they are adults and you are nobody to interfere,” chief justice Misra had said in response to a plea seeking to ban khap panchayats and establish guidelines to check growing instances of honour killing taking place in the name of caste and religion.
• when two people marry, no third party can interfere in an individual or collective capacity.
• Khap panchayats, through their counsel, had said they had been encouraging inter-caste and inter-faith marriages and were not against such marriages. They were, however, wary of marriages among sapinda relationships or close blood relatives among Hindus. The counsel argued that khaps had been performing their duties as the conscience keepers of the society.
• Threatening and attacking adults in inter-caste or inter-faith marriages in the name of being “conscience keepers of society is absolutely illegal”, the court had observed in an earlier hearing.
• On 16 January, it was declared illegal by the court for parents or khap panchayats to interfere in decisions of adult men and women of different castes to marry.
• Justice Misra had said that a khap panchayat could not summon adults and question their choice of a marriage partner and warned that the court would step in if the centre failed to take steps to stop such interference.
• Khaps are caste or community organizations in villages which at times act as quasi-judicial bodies and pronounce punishments based on customs and traditions.
• The court was hearing a 2010 petition by NGO Shakti Vahini against khap panchayats and seeking directions to the centre and state governments for preventing honour crimes.

Khap panchayat
Khap panchayat is the union of a few villages, mainly in north India though it exists in similar forms in the rest of the country. Lately they have emerged as quasi-judicial bodies that pronounce harsh punishments based on age-old customs and traditions, often bordering on regressive measures to modern problems.
• A Khap is a community organisation representing a clan or a group of related clans.
• They are found mostly in northern India, particularly among the Jat people of Western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, although historically the term has also been used among other communities.
• A Khap Panchayat is an assembly of Khap elders, and a Sarv Khap is an assembly of many Khap Panchayats.
• Khaps are not affiliated with the formally elected government bodies and is instead concerned with the affairs of the Khap it represents.
• A Khap Panchayat has no official government recognition or authority, but can exert significant social influence within the community it represents.

Q.1 With respect to Khap Panchyat, consider the following statements
1) They are formally distinct from the lawfully elected village panchayats and their rulings have no legal sanctity in the eyes of court.
2) They are not exactly the caste panchayats. Instead, they are units of number of villages organized into a political council of the elders for the purpose of societal control and decision making on issues of social importance.

Choose the correct answer from the above
a) 1 only
b) 2 only
c) Both 1 and 2
d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: c.) both 1 and 2

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