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Shakti Vahini Vs. Union of India

STATEMENT OF THE CASE Due to rise in the number of honour killings in Haryana, Punjab and Western Uttar Pradesh, petitioner organization was authorized for conducting Research study on honour killings in Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh dated 22/12/2009 passed by the National Commission for Women.
HISTORY Panchayats (referred to as Khap Panchayat) in certain areas consider it their duty to punish (with violence or by killing) those who indulge in a relationship, get married, have an extra marital affair, pregnancy without wedlock, etc. with someone outside their caste/ community without the permission of elders.
STATEMENT OF THE FACTS Writ petition had been filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India seeking directions to the respondents- the State and the Central Governments to take preventive steps to combat honour crimes, to submit a National & State Plan of action to curb crimes of the said nature and further to direct the State Governments to constitute special cells in each district which can be approached by the couples for their safety and well-being. Also, prayers had been made to issue a writ of mandamus to the State Governments to launch prosecutions in each case of Honour killing and take appropriate measures so that all such honour crimes and embedded evil in the mindset of certain members of the society could be dealt with appropriately.
LEGAL ISSUES:
1. Whether an individual has a right to choose life partner of his/her choice?
2. Whether honour killings undertaken by Khap Panchayats are legal?
PETITIONER’S CONTENTIONS:
A) The actions which are found to be linked with honour based crimes are:
i) Loss of virginity outside marriage ii) Premarital pregnancy iii) Infidelity iv) Having unapproved relationships v) Refusing an arranged marriage vi) Asking for divorce vii) Demanding custody of children after divorce viii) Leaving the marital home without permission ix) Causing scandal or gossip in the community x) Falling victim to rape
B) Murder in day light and brutal treatments like beating, shaving of heads or putting the victims on fire in full public gaze of the members of the society reflect that the victims are treated as inanimate objects totally oblivious of the law of the land and absolutely unconcerned with the feelings of the victims who face such cruelty and eventually succumb to it.
C) The parallel law enforcement agencies consisting of leading men of a group having the same lineage or caste comprise themselves into an assembly and deal with the problems that affect the group in the manner they want to and nurture the feeling that their duty is sanctified and their action of punishing the hapless victims is inviolable. They are known by the names Panchayats or Khap Panchayats and try to adopt the chosen course of ‘more vigilantism’ and enforce their diktats by assuming to themselves the role of social or community guardians which have the power to punish for the crimes and direct for social boycott or killing by a mob. For them, it is the projected honour that rules supreme and the lives of others become subservient to their desires and decisions.
D) These extra constitutional bodies which engage in feudalistic activities have no compunction to commit such crimes which are offences under the Indian Penal Code.
E) Article 21 which provides for protection of life and personal liberty and guards basic human rights and equality of status has not been taken care of by these bodies.
DEFENDANT’S CONTENTIONS:
A) Honour Killings are treated as murder as defined under Section 300 of the IPC and punishable under Section 302 of the IPC. As the police and public order are state subjects under the Constitution, it is primarily the responsibility of the states to deal with honour killings.
B) Central Government is engaging various States and Union Territories for considering a proposal to either amend the IPC or enact a separate legislation to address this menace.
C) Since the matter of the 242nd Law Commission Report falls under list 3 i.e. Concurrent list of the seventh schedule to the Constitution of India, consultation with the governments of the states and UTs is a sine qua non for taking a policy decision in this regard.
D) Although some states have formed an action plan in the name in pursuance of the directions issued by this court, yet they have failed to effectively implement the same in letter and in spirit.
E) And so, effective guidelines to the police and law enforcement agencies to curb the menace of honour killings need to be formulated and implemented.
JUDGEMENT On 27th March, 2018 the Apex Court gave a landmark ruling that any attempt by Khap Panchayats or any other assembly to destroy or prevent two consenting adults from marrying is absolutely ‘illegal’ and laid down certain preventive, remedial and punitive measures in this regard.
The judgment was delivered by the three-judges’ bench comprising the Chief Justice of India, Mr. Justice Dipak Misra, Mr. Justice A.M Khanwilkar and D.Y Chandrachud.
The court held, “the criminal cases pertaining to honour killing or violence to the couple(s) shall be tried before the designated Court or Fast Track Court as felt necessary by the authority for that purpose. The trial must proceed on a day to day basis to be concluded preferably within six months from the date of taking cognizance of the offence. We may hasten to add that this direction shall apply even to pending cases. The concerned District Judge shall assign those cases, as far as possible, to one jurisdictional court so as to ensure expeditious disposal thereof.”
The judgment also says that Khap Panchayats should not take the law into their hands and cannot assume the character of a law implementing agency, for that authority has not been conferred upon them under any law.
REFERENCE CASES:
1. Lata Singh v. State of U.P.
2. Asha Ranjan v. State of Bihar and others
3. Kartar Singh v. State of Punjab
4. Arumugam Servai v. State of Tamil Nadu

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