SC Issues Slew of Directions to Prevent Honor Killings in India

March 28, 2018

Case name: Shakti Vahini v. Union of India & ors.

Date of Judgement: March 27, 2018

A noteworthy judgement has been passed by Three-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra on the prevalent practice of honor killing in India. While condemning the inhuman practice, the Bench made some striking remarks as under:

“When the ability to choose is crushed in the name of class honour and the person’s physical frame is treated with absolute indignity, a chilling effect dominates over the brains and bones of the society at large. The question that poignantly emanates for consideration is whether the elders of the family or clan can ever be allowed to proclaim a verdict guided by some notion of passion and eliminate the life of the young who have exercised their choice to get married against the wishes of their elders or contrary to the customary practice of the clan. The answer has to be an emphatic “No”.

The Petitioner in the case was authorized for conducting Research Study on “Honour Killings in Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh” by the National Commission for Women and contended that there has been a spate of such honour killings in Haryana, Punjab and Western Uttar Pradesh and the said trend is on the increase and such killings have sent a chilling sense of fear amongst young people who intend to get married but do not enter into wedlock out of fear.

It is set forth in the petition that the actions which are found to be linked with honour based crimes are- (i) loss of virginity outside marriage; (ii) pre-marital 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 family or marital home without permission; (ix) causing scandal or gossip in the community, and (x) falling victim to rape.

In the petition, it is alleged that Khap Panchayats are responsible for increase in the practice and have cultivated and nurtured the feeling amongst themselves that their duty is sanctified and their action of punishing the hapless victims is inviolable.

Taking a serious note of the situation and killing in the name of honor, the Supreme Court in the case has issued preventive steps to combat honor crimes in India:

(a) The State Governments should forthwith identify Districts, Sub-Divisions and/or Villages where instances of honour killing or assembly of Khap Panchayats have been reported in the recent past, e.g., in the last five years.

(b) The Secretary, Home Department of the concerned States shall issue directives/advisories to the Superintendent of Police of the concerned Districts for ensuring that the Officer Incharge of the Police Stations of the identified areas are extra cautious if any instance of inter-caste or inter- religious marriage within their jurisdiction comes to their notice.

(c) If information about any proposed gathering of a Khap Panchayat comes to the knowledge of any police officer or any officer of the District Administration, he shall forthwith inform his immediate superior officer and also simultaneously intimate the jurisdictional Deputy Superintendent of Police and Superintendent of Police.

(d) On receiving such information, the Deputy Superintendent of Police (or such senior police officer as identified by the State Governments with respect to the area/district) shall immediately interact with the members of the Khap Panchayat and impress upon them that convening of such meeting/gathering is not permissible in law and to eschew from going ahead with such a meeting. Additionally, he should issue appropriate directions to the Officer Incharge of the jurisdictional Police Station to be vigilant and, if necessary, to deploy adequate police force for prevention of assembly of the proposed gathering.

(e) Despite taking such measures, if the meeting is conducted, the Deputy Superintendent of Police shall personally remain present during the meeting and impress upon the assembly that no decision can be taken to cause any harm to the couple or the family members of the couple, failing which each one participating in the meeting besides the organisers would be personally liable for criminal prosecution. He shall also ensure that video recording of the discussion and participation of the members of the assembly is done on the basis of which the law enforcing machinery can resort to suitable action.

(f) If the Deputy Superintendent of Police, after interaction with the members of the Khap Panchayat, has reason to believe that the gathering cannot be prevented and/or is likely to cause harm to the couple or members of their family, he shall forthwith submit a proposal to the District Magistrate/Sub-Divisional Magistrate of the District/ Competent Authority of the concerned area for issuing orders to take preventive steps under the Cr.P.C., including by invoking prohibitory orders under Section 144 Cr.P.C. and also by causing arrest of the participants in the assembly under Section 151 Cr.P.C.

(g) The Home Department of the Government of India must take initiative and work in coordination with the State Governments for sensitising the law enforcement agencies and by involving all the stake holders to identify the measures for prevention of such violence and to implement the constitutional goal of social justice and the rule of law.

(h) There should be an institutional machinery with the necessary coordination of all the stakeholders. The different State Governments and the Centre ought to work on sensitization of the law enforcement agencies to mandate social initiatives and awareness to curb such violence.

The Supreme Court Bench in the case has also issued remedial and punitive measures. The Bench has also directed that any failure by either the police or district officer/officials in complying with the directions would be considered as an act of deliberate negligence and/or misconduct for which departmental action under service rules would be initiated against the concerned authority.

This landmark judgement is a welcome move by the Supreme Court taking India ahead towards a nation where adults have been conferred with a free choice to choose their partners. If implemented in true spirit, the directions would also aid in combating the heinous crime of honor killing in India.

The entire case can be accessed here.

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