SC calls for khaps’ views, Centre pushes for guidelines

The Supreme Court on Friday solicited the views of prominent khap panchayats across different states even as the Centre vehemently called for issuance of guidelines to prevent their "unlawful assemblies" and "illegal diktats" against couples, especially women, in the guise of protecting family honour.

A Bench led by Justice Aftab Alam noted that the court could not straight away pass any directive, which could have an impact on these khaps — or caste-based councils — since they had not been heard by it and it was the call of principles of natural justice to hear their views before issuing any order to stop them from allegedly harassing and killing couples for inter-caste or intra-gotra marriages.

Granting them time till January 14 to come before the court, the Bench asked the petitioner, NGO Shakti Vahini, to inform various prominent khaps' elders about the court's mandate, enabling them to counter the allegations.

"Various statements and actions are being attributed to them but we do not know the exact position and also their views. There may be several khaps and so there could be variations in their opinions. We would be more satisfied if we get views from the Khaps," said the Bench when the counsel for the NGO and the Centre cited media reports indicting the khaps for illegal actions.

The court said that in the meantime, it would, as a pilot project, examine the situation in three districts where khap panchayats are very active. The Bench has summoned the SPs of Rohtak and Jind districts of Haryana and that of Baghpat in Uttar Pradesh to submit their reports regarding the situation in their areas. It also directed ADGPs (Law and Order) of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to show up on January 14.

Meanwhile, Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising requested the court to put in place a strong mechanism to check the khap panchayats since there were several instances where police found their hands tied in the absence of appropriate legal provisions to deal with an act. She gave examples of ostacising a woman and tonsuring their heads to buttress this point.

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