Two adults are free to marry and “no third party” has a right to harass or cause harm to them, said Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, speaking against honour killings on Monday.
“When two people get into wedlock, no one should interfere. Neither parents, society, khap or panchayat… no one at all,” said Chief Justice Misra, leading a three-judge Bench that upheld the fundamental right of two people who wish to marry and live peacefully.
When activist Madhu Kishwar brought up the issue of Ankit Saxena, a young man who was allegedly murdered by his lover’s parents, the Chief Justice said, “We are not into that. That is not before us.”
Ms. Kishwar said “honour killing” was “too soft a word” for such crimes against young people. “They should be called hate crimes,” she submitted.
But the Chief Justice repeated that no one has any individual, group or collective right to harass a couple.
A senior counsel, who represented the khap panchayats, objected to them being portrayed as “inciters” of honour killings.
“Just don’t be,” the Chief Justice replied.
The counsel said such panchayats were age-old traditions and they did encourage inter-caste marriages now. He argued that the objection of khaps to marriages between people from the same gotra was upheld in Section 5 of the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955. The Section said, “Sapinda should be removed by five degrees from the father’s side and by three degrees from the mother’s side.” He said only 3% of honour killings were linked to gotra. The remaining 97% were due to religion and other reasons.
Marriage within the same gotra led to genetic deformity in children, the counsel argued.
“We encourage inter-caste marriages. In Haryana, because of the skewed gender ratio, we get women from other States,” the counsel said.
Freedom of adults
But the Chief Justice said the court was not concerned about khap panchayats either. “We are not writing an essay here on traditions, lineages, etc. We are only concerned with the freedom of adults to marry and live together without facing harassment,” he said.
The counsel for khaps agreed that “custom is not above human lives”.
The court is hearing a petition filed by Shakti Vahini, an NGO, to make honour killing a specific crime.