NO LAW IN PLACE TO REIN IN KHAPS – SC TOLD

NO LAW IN PLACE TO REIN IN KHAPS - SC TOLD

DHANANJAY MAHAPATRA IN THE TIMES OF INDIA

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.

dhananjay.mahapatra@timesgroup.com

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Cops Must Curb Honour Killings: Advocates to SC

OUTLOOK

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.