For a complete central law

IN its historic judgment in lata Singh vs State of UP and another (2006) in 2018, the Supreme Court clarified that a woman has the “right to choose her life partner” and that marrying outside the caste is not a crime. “Disturbing news is coming from several parts of the country that young men and women who undergo intercaste marriage are threatened with violence or are actually victims of violence. In our view, such acts of violence or threats or harassment are completely illegal and those who commit them must be severely punished,” the court said.

In Bhagwan Dass against the State (NCT) of delhi (2011), the Supreme Court observed, “This is yet another horrific case of honor killing, this time by the accused-appellant of his own daughter”. He said, “Many people feel disgraced by the behavior of the young man/woman, who is related to them or belongs to their caste because he/she marries against their will or has an affair with someone, and therefore they take justice into their own hands and kill or physically assault that person or commit other atrocities on them…. If someone is not satisfied with the behavior of his daughter or another person, who is his/her relative or caste, the maximum he can do is to cut off social relations with her/him, but he/she cannot do justice to itself. committing acts of violence or uttering threats of violence”. In Tamil Nadu, a young Dalit, Shankar, was murdered in Udumalpet in Tiruppur district in March 2016 by the friends and relatives of his Hindu caste wife, Kausalya, to avenge his marriage to her. The media highlighted the incident and social activists seized on the matter. Kausalya fought against the accused perpetrators of the violence and murder, who were none other than her father, her mother (acquitted by the trial court) and other friends and relatives. Shankar and Kausalya were adults and educated and lived alone without parental support.

Unfortunately, the feudal mindset, encouraged by caste understanding, caused Kausalya’s parents to prowl the couple for several months and eventually brutally attack them in a public place. While Shankar died, Kausalya suffered serious injuries. Although social activism has helped bring offenders to justice and some of them have been punished, the larger question of how the state should deal with “honour killings” remains unanswered.

The issue was raised in the Tamil Nadu Assembly by members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) but received a lukewarm response from the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government. Distressed by the killing of young couples in the name of family honor, Madras High Court Judge V. Ramasubramanian ordered the state government to implement measures to protect intercaste couples. The court’s nine directives, issued in 2016, provided for the establishment of a special cell in each district to receive complaints of threats from couples marrying across caste. The cells, the court said, should be set up in three months and include the superintendent of police, the district social affairs officer and the district social affairs officer Adi Dravidar.

The High Court of Punjab and Haryana passed a similar order to tackle honor killings in 2018. It followed the instructions given by Justice K. Kannan of the High Court of Punjab and Haryana in Manmeet Singh v State of Haryana and Ors (2015) that “there should be a separate cell in each police district to receive complaints from couples expressing fear of physical annihilation from parents, relatives and khaps”.

The only action taken by the Tamil Nadu government regarding honor killings was to set up a special police cell in Madurai district. Previously, the courts handled these issues with kid gloves. In a Maharashtra case, the Supreme Court found brotherhood in the murder of his sister for marrying out of caste and reduced his sentence. The observation made by the Supreme Court (Dilip Tiwari v State of Maharashtra2010) is a shocking reality.

Justifying the reduced sentence, the Supreme Court observed: “The murders were the result of a social issue such as marriage to a person of so-called lower caste. However, a time has come when we have to consider these social issues as relevant, while considering the death penalty in circumstances like these. Caste is a concept that grabs a person before he is born and does not leave him even after his death. The vicious hold of caste, community, religion, though totally unjustified, is a harsh reality. The offender’s psyche in the context of a social problem such as an inter-caste-community marriage, while totally unwarranted, must be considered in the particular circumstances of this case.

But later the Supreme Court, hearing a public interest petition filed by the non-governmental organization Shakthi Vahini against khap panchayats involved in honor killings, appointed a amicus curiae to help the court. Raju Ramachandran, the amicus, submitted a report calling for tough action, including the arrest of khap panchayat members. The Law Commission has recommended that offenses under this category of crime not be bailable. He also suggested the possibility of exploring the enactment of a new law banning illegal caste assemblies that condemn marriages that are not prohibited by law.

The report of the Steering Committee of the 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-2017) of the Planning Commission on “Women’s Action and Children’s Rights” stated that “the current provisions of the Indian Penal Code are inadequate to deal with “honour killings”, which seriously distort social norms, violate the rights of girls and women”.

“The Steering Committee is of the opinion that it is necessary to enact a comprehensive and self-contained law to deal with these murders and crimes, ostensibly in the name of ‘honor’, which not only punishes the culprits, but also protects the couple against the charges with false cases of kidnapping and abduction… Furthermore, the public glorification of any harassment and murder allegedly in the name of honor should be a punishable offence.

In its 2001 report, the Law Commission, then chaired by Judge PV Reddi, recommended the introduction of a bill “to provide, in the interests of the protection of individual liberty and the prevention of victimization, the prohibition of unlawful assemblies and other conduct interfering with the freedom of marriage alliances in the name of honor and tradition and for matters related or incidental thereto.

The Laws Commission in its 242nd Report recommended a bill entitled Prevention of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances (in the Name of Honor and Tradition) Bill, 2010. However, the government changed the name of the law and introduced it to Parliament as the “Prevention of Crimes in the Name of Honor and Tradition Bill, 2010”. However, the next Center government refused to set any deadline for putting in place a legal framework for a new law on the issue.

As the problem is not unique to Tamil Nadu, a comprehensive central law on the subject is needed. Pressure must be exerted on the central government so that the law is promulgated as soon as possible.

More than the law, the efforts of a growing number of caste-based political parties emphasizing caste pride and grouping members of their respective communities along narrow community lines must be thwarted by a broader social campaign. carried out by all the progressive forces of the country.

Justice K. Chandru is a former Madras High Court Judge.

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