Following a sessions court ruling, which sentenced five people to death and another to life imprisonment for murdering a young married couple in Haryana on the orders of a khap (caste) panchayat, khap chiefs have demanded a ban on same gotra marriages. A khap mahasammelan in Kurukshetra has demanded an amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act and threatened a march to Delhi if its demands are not met. Its position is patently against the Indian Constitution, which was openly challenged by some of the khap leaders during their public demonstration. Such demands should be rejected outright and the police should come down heavily if khap leaders resort to breaking the law.
The young couple in Haryana was murdered in 2007 because they married despite belonging to the same gotra. This is no isolated incident. Same gotra marriages are a crime in the eyes of khap members. There have been several instances in the recent past where khaps have been party to honour killings. According to one survey, at least a hundred men and women have been victims of khaps for not adhering to traditional norms.
This cannot be allowed to continue. The sessions court verdict should be used as a springboard to launch vigorous action against khaps, which have been operating as a parallel judiciary and enforcing a medieval form of justice in parts of northern India. Unfortunately there are influential people, such as a former DGP and a prominent farmer leader, who are backing this form of medieval justice. If any allowance is made to khaps, this would open a Pandora’s box with different communities demanding that their customs and traditions be given legal status. This would be completely unworkable and against all principles of human rights and justice. Traditions and customs are fine, so long as they don’t infringe on the principle of the Indian Constitution and the laws of the land.
The government is rightly considering amending the Indian Penal Code to make honour killings a separate offence with appropriate punishment. This should go some way in deterring honour killings which are sanctioned not only by khaps but other groups too. Raising literacy levels and empowering women in parts of northern India where khap panchayats wield maximum power must accompany legal measures. The mother of one of the victims has led the fight for justice in this instance. That itself is a hopeful sign.