Report No. 242
Several instances of murder of one or the other couple have been in the news. Social boycotts and other illegal sanctions affecting the young couple, the families and even a section of local inhabitants are quite often resorted to. All this is done in the name of tradition and honour. The cumulative effect of all such acts have public order dimensions also.
2.6 In a recent cas.- Arumugam Servai v. State of Tamil Nadu [reported in (2011) 6 SCC 405], the Supreme Court strongly deprecated the practice of khap/katta panchayats taking law into their own hands and indulging in offensive activities which endanger the personal lives of the persons marrying according to their choice. In another case, Lata Singh v. State of U.P. (2006 5 SCC 475), the Supreme Court observed and directed as under:
"This is a free and democratic country, and once a person becomes a major he or she can marry whosoever he/she likes. If the parents of the boy or girl do not approve of such inter-caste or inter-religious marriage the maximum they can do is that they can cut off social relations with the son or the daughter, but they cannot give threats or commit or instigate acts of violence and cannot harass the person who undergoes such inter- caste or inter-religious marriage.
We, therefore, direct that the administration/police authorities throughout the country will see to it that if any boy or girl who is a major undergoes inter-caste or inter-religious marriage with a woman or man who is a major, the couple are not harassed by any one nor subjected to threats or acts of violence, and any one who gives such threats or harasses or commits acts of violence either himself or at his instigation, is taken to task by instituting criminal proceedings by the police against such persons and further stern action is taken against such persons as provided by law.
We sometimes hear of `honour' killings of such persons who undergo inter-caste or inter-religious marriage of their own free will. There is nothing honourable in such killings, and in fact they are nothing but barbaric and shameful acts of murder committed by brutal, feudal minded persons who deserve harsh punishment. Only in this way can we stamp out such acts of barbarism".
2.7 Some proposals are being mooted proposing amendments to Section 300 I.P.C. by way of including what is called 'Honour Killing' as murder and shifting the burden of proof to the accused. These proposals have been studied. The views from various quarters at an informal level have also been ascertained. After a preliminary examination of these and certain other models of law, the framework of proposed law has been prepared and annexed to the Consultation Paper.
The Consultation paper together with the draft Bill prepared is at Annexure II. The views of the public were invited with reference thereto. We shall advert to the responses received and the Commission's views thereon. The draft legislation has been slightly recast by the Commission after further consideration. The draft Bill now proposed by the Law Commission is at Annexure I.
2.8 The idea underlying the provisions in the draft Bill is that there must be a threshold bar against congregation or assembly for the purpose of objecting to and condemning the conduct of young persons of marriageable age marrying according to their choice, the ground of objection being that they belong to the same gotra or to different castes or communities.
The Panchayatdars or caste elders have no right to interfere with the life and liberty of such young couples whose marriages are permitted by law and they cannot create a situation whereby such couples are placed in a hostile environment in the village/locality concerned and exposed to the risk of safety. Such highhanded acts have a tendency to create social tensions and disharmony too. No frame of mind or belief based on social hierarchy can claim immunity from social control and regulation, in so far as such beliefs manifest themselves as agents of enforcement of right and wrong.
The very assembly for an unlawful purpose viz. disapproving the marriage which is otherwise within the bounds of law and taking consequential action should be treated as an offence as it has the potential to endanger the lives and liberties of individuals concerned. The object of such an assembly is grounded on disregard for the life and liberty of others and such conduct shall be adequately tackled by penal law. This is without prejudice to the prosecution to be launched under the general penal law for the commission of offences including abetment and conspiracy.
2.9 Given the social milieu and powerful background of caste combines which bring to bear intense pressure on parents and relatives to go to any extent to punish the 'sinning' couples so as to restore the community honour, it has become necessary to deal with this fundamental problem. Any attempt to effectively tackle this socio-cultural phenomenon, rooted in superstition and authoritarianism, must therefore address itself to various factors and dimensions, viz, the nature and magnitude of the problem, the adequacy of existing law, and the wisdom in using penal and other measures of sanction to curb the power and conduct of caste combines.
The law as it stands does not act either as a deterrence or as a sobering influence on the caste combinations and assemblies who regard themselves as being outside the pale of law. The socio-cultural outlook of the members of caste councils or Panchayats is such that they have minimal or scant regard for individual liberty and autonomy.