Honour Killings outlawed by the Indian Supreme Court

In a much needed intervention by the highest court of law, the Supreme Court on April 19, 2011, outlawed the evil practice of of protracted illegal honour killings by Khap Panchayats in India. The responsibility for controlling and eliminating such acts of the rural Khap Panchayats, many of which have a huge following, was placed on the State governments and the SC ruled that heavy penalties would result in the event of non-compliance.

The operative portion of Arumugam Servai & Ors. v. State of Tamil Nadu,

16. We have in recent years heard of `Khap Panchayats’ (known as katta panchayats in Tamil Nadu) which often decree or encourage honour killings or other atrocities in an institutionalized way on boys and girls of different castes and religion, who wish to get married or have been married, or interfere with the personal lives of people. We are of the opinion that this is wholly illegal and has to be ruthlessly stamped out. As already stated in Lata Singh’s case (here), there is nothing honourable in honour killing or other atrocities and, in fact, it is nothing but barbaric and shameful murder. Other atrocities in respect of personal lives of people committed by brutal, feudal minded persons deserve harsh punishment. Only in this way can we stamp out such acts of barbarism and feudal mentality. Moreover, these acts take the law into their own hands, and amount to kangaroo courts, which are wholly illegal.

17. Hence, we direct the administrative and police officials to take strong measures to prevent such atrocious acts. If any such incidents happen, apart from instituting criminal proceedings against those responsible for such atrocities, the State Government is directed to immediately suspend the District Magistrate/Collector and SSP/SPs of the district as well as other officials concerned and chargesheet them and proceed against them departmentally if they do not (1) prevent the incident if it has not already occurred but they have knowledge of it in advance, or (2) if it has occurred, they do not promptly apprehend the culprits and others involved and institute criminal proceedings against them, as in our opinion they will be deemed to be directly or indirectly accountable in this connection.

It was about time that there was some definite stand was taken on these patently illegal acts and in the absence of affirmative governmental action, it looks like the SC has yet again assumed the mantle of governance in India.

As expected, this judgment has not gone down very well with the Khaps.

Providing a fillip to this judgment, the same bench of the SC in Bhagwan Dass v. State of NCT, Delhi, laid down that honour killings satisfy ‘the rarest of the rare’ doctrine so as to attract the death penalty for its perpetrators.

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