Two noted advocates, appointed by the Supreme Court to assist it in tackling the malady of “honour killings” of young couples by ‘khap’ panchayats, has recommended a proactive role for the police and district magistrates to curb it. The key recommendation forms part of the guidelines, formulated by senior counsel Raju Ramachandran and counsel Gaurav Agrawal, apopointed by the apex court as amicus curiae to help it, to tackle the recurring social evil, often rearing its ugly head in the northern states. The two counsel has urged a bench of justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Prakash Desai to convert the guidelines into its directions to all states and Union territories until Parliament enacts a law on the issue. According to the guidelines, the police should play proactive role to thwart the khap (community) panchayat’s illegal diktat by providing timely help to the potential victims.
“Section 149 to 151 of the CrPC lay down the duties and powers of the police to prevent the commission of cognisable offences. The police has been empowered to arrest a person, even without a warrant, if the police officer knows of a design to commit any cognisable offence.
“In cases of Khap Panchayat, it is very necessary for the police to take timely steps so as to prevent any physical harm to the couple. Any gathering, which instigates commission of an illegal act, is an illegal gathering. It amounts to instigation to commit a crime, which may result in death of an individual.
“The State / police officials have to take preventive action / remedial action to ensure that the Fundamental Rights are protected, for which adequate powers are available in CrPC. The need is to effectively exercise those powers by the state officials,” it said.
The apex court had earlier appointed the amicus curiae while adjudicating a petition filed by NGO Shakti Vahini, which highlighted the growing phenomenon of “honour killings” and other human rights violations by extra-constitutional bodies like as khap panchayats. The report by advocates said the state governments should be directed to immediately identify districts, sub-divisions and villages which have had instances of honour killing and/ or assembly of khap panchayat in the past one year.
“The officer-in-charge of the police stations of the areas so identified should be issued directions by the district’s superintendent of police (SP) to immediately report to him if there is any instance of inter-caste marriage which comes to the notice of the local police and / or if there is any attempt by the villagers/ community to hold a khap panchayat.
“It would be the duty of the SP, as also of the district magistrate, to ensure the safety of the couple by taking such steps as may be required including, but not limited to, providing a safe house, police protection etc.
“It would be open to the SP/DM to take help of non-governmental organisations as notified by the state government,” the report said.
It said the officer in-charge/ SP may be advised to meet the self-styled decision makers of khap panchayat and reason with them that such a meeting/gathering should not be held as it is an illegal gathering and that if any decision is proposed to be taken then the police would be bound to arrest the members of khap panchayat.
“If the members of khap panchayat still plan to hold a gathering, which may cause reasonable apprehension of harm to the couple, the SP would be duty-bound to cause arrest of the members of the khap panchayat. “The Central government and the state governments as well as the National Legal Services Authority may be directed to conduct awareness programmes about the legal rights of individuals with regard to matrimonial choices,” the report added.