New Delhi: Self appointed village courts like khap panchayats cannot stop a marriage between two adults, said the Supreme Court, which is hearing a plea to rein-in the self-appointed bodies that wield enormous influence in villages of several states, and are often seen as responsible for the growing frequency of honour killings.
Today, the court laid down a set of guidelines meant to stop interference by khap panchayats. The guidelines will be in place till the government comes up with a law, the court said. The centre told the top court that it would enact a law to deal with honour killings, after the court, in an earlier hearing, warned that it would step in if the government failed to control the situation.
The court took up the matter after a non-profit approached it in 2010 following repeated incidences of honour killings. Investigations established that many of the deaths occurred after khap panchayats expressed their disapproval. The non-profit had asked the court to issue directions to the centre and state governments to prevent the deaths.
The frequent diktats of khaps, which dot almost every corner of some northern and southern states, have pushed critics to accuse of them of hanging onto patriarchal, medieval values. But because they can influence political views of people in the area, successive governments have refrained from undertaking any determined crackdown.
Earlier, the court had issued scathing strictures, advising khaps against behaving like conscience keepers of the society. No khap panchayat or society can question an adult man and woman who get married, the court had said, calling such interference "illegal".
During the last hearing last month, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra -- who is leading the three-judge bench -- said "Whether it is parents, society or anyone, they are out of it. No one, either individual or collective, or group, has the right to interfere with the marriage".
Khap panchayats argue that they are not against inter-caste or inter-faith marriages, but only against marriages within the same gotra, or blood-related clan.