NEW DELHI: Despite hundreds of couples marrying against social barriers being hounded out or killed at the behest of Khap Panchayats in northern India, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana have prepared no legal framework to counter the menace; the Supreme Court was informed on Monday. UP government in its affidavit admitted that “There was no specific legal framework to address the problem of honour killings but the Director General of Police and additional DGP have issued directions to ensure compliance with the provisions of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.”
Rajasthan was relying on two circulars – one issued in 2001 and another in 2006 – to check activities of caste panchayats. Haryana, on the other hand, said it had put in place an action plan to combat honour killings. This information was collated by amicus curiae Raju Ramachandran from the affidavits filed by the states in response to a PIL by NGO “Shakti Vahini” seeking the apex court’s intervention to protect couples, who were forced to annul their inter-caste marriages or killed for defiance. The Centre said it was actively planning to amend the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to make honour killing a specific offence.
Ramachandran’s report said there was a legislative vacuum in countering Khap Panchayats and honour killings dictated by them. “Therefore, it would be appropriate for the Supreme Court to give appropriate directions to prevent atrocities in the name of honour and tradition,” he said.
He suggested that the states must be directed to immediately identify areas, where Khaps are active and the police officers in charge of these areas must take every step possible to protect any inter-caste marriages, including protection to the threatened couple. The amicus said the police must act in advance and prevent Khap Panchayat meetings aimed at taking decisions against couples in the name of honour and if required arrest key members to foil the gatherings.
Haryana, which has seen several honour killings in the past, said its action plan mandated the police not to take action for alleged kidnapping of girl by a boy till the girl’s statement was recorded by a Magistrate. The action plan directs police to provide adequate security to couples and take strict action against those who harass, intimidate or harm couples in the name of honour, it said.
The Law Commission has already circulated a proposed legislation – Prohibition of Unlawful Assembly (Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliance) Bill, 2011 – and sought public response. It proposes upto one-year imprisonment and Rs 10,000 fine for those who participate in Khap meetings convened to condemn any inter-caste marriage.
The Bill also proposed punishment of upto two years of imprisonment and Rs 20,000 fine if one was found taking steps to prevent such marriages; a three-year jail term and Rs 30,000 penalty for anyone resorting to criminal intimidation of such couples.