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SC-appointed panel wants khaps outlawed

ABRAHAM THOMAS IN THE DAILY PIONEER

With State Governments reluctant to deal with the menace of khap panchayats, a two-member Supreme Court-appointed committee has recommended a slew of harsh measures against them.

Among others, it has called for terming such gatherings as unlawful assembly and the arrest of members of such groups that indulge in instigating honour crimes.

The interim report by senior advocate Raju Ramachandran and advocate Gaurav Aggarwal, acting as amicus curiae in a PIL dealing with honour killing, has come at a time when the “Talibani” diktats of a Baghpat khap panchayat in Uttar Pradesh have forced one and all to sit up and take notice. The report was recently submitted to the apex court.

The report suggested a set of preventive measures to be adopted by the State machinery and district police to ensure such meetings do not happen in the first place. Despite warnings from the police, if the members of khap panchayat still plan to hold a gathering, which may cause reasonable apprehension of harm to the couple, the SP of the district would be duty-bound to arrest those members, the report said.

Pointing to the vacuum in law existing on this subject, the amicus curiae suggested harsh measures after noting the impunity with which the khap members got away despite instigating deaths of couples who had inter-caste or same-gotra marriages, as pointed out in the PIL filed by NGO Shakti Vahini.

States of UP and Rajasthan informed the Court that circulars were issued from time to time to deal with honour killing. Haryana even had an action plan to combat such crimes.

The report comes even as the Law Commission of India is considering tabling a report on the unlawful interference of caste panchayats

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with marriages in the name of honour, based on which a proposed law called Prohibition of Unlawful Assembly Bill had been put in public domain for discussion.

Even the Centre has proposed amendments in the Indian Penal Code to classify honour killing as a separate offence with a view to make members of khap panchayats guilty of instigating the crime.

The report further highlighted the need for states to identify khap-prone districts in every state to ensure increased surveillance on convening of such “extra constitutional” body. In the event of failure to act against the culprits, the report said, “Any failure by the Officer Incharge (SHO) or SP would be considered as an act of negligence and/or misconduct for which departmental action would be taken under the Service Rules.”

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