NEW DELHI: Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh have joined 18 other states to empower the Centre to bring a legislation against honour killings, in what could be a turnaround moment for the effort to curb the powers of caste and community bodies which seek to be the final arbiter of social mores and arrogate unto themselves the power of judiciary.
In its affidavit to the Supreme Court the Union law ministry has said besides Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Kerala, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Rajasthan,, West Bengal and UTs like Chandigarh, Dadra and Nager Haveli, Daman and Diu, Lakshwadeep and Puducherry, have supported the “Prohibition of interference with the freedom of matrilineal alliances bill.”
Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh — all marked by poor sex ratio and high incidence of gender inequality — have been among the sites of gruesome instances of honour killings in the recent past. For them to sign up to the campaign against honour killings is significant because of the political class’s diffidence thus far about taking on powerful khaps. All the three states opposed an earlier move for a central legislation against against honour killings. In fact the group of ministers set up by UPA on honour killing could barely meet a couple of times in the absence of unanimity on the issue.
The development is also significant because states can be extremely reluctant to delegate their law making powers to the Centre on matters concerning law and order.
Law ministry’s affidavit, comes in response to a writ petition by Shakti Vahini which is scheduled to be heard on November 19.
The proposed bill drafted by the law commission in 2012, was expected to check the high-handed and unwarranted interference by caste assemblies or panchayats with sagotra, inter-caste or inter-religious marriages. In view of the rising number of incidents where young couples were excommunicated, tortured and killed for marrying within the gotra under orders from the Khap panchayats, the law commission recommended a threshold bar on congregation of people for condemning a marriage on the basis that the marriage has dishonoured caste, community or brought disrepute to the family or community concerned.
The penal provision for such unlawful assembly was proposed at imprisonment of six months to a year and a fine of Rs 10,000. The bill elaborated that criminal intimidation of the couple or their families would invite imprisonment ranging between one to seven years and a fine of Rs 30,000. The bill also proposes to make all offences cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable.