The recent judgement by the Supreme Court in the case of Shakti Vahini vs Union of India comes with an air of finality on the proposition which has lingered over for long. The NGO had approached the court to seek remedy in cases of honour killings wherein the three-judge bench emphatically stated that the fundamental right to life and personal liberty includes right to choose a life partner and any attempts to scamper the marriage between two consenting adults is illegal. However, it is not the first time that the SC has upheld this perspective and therefore, the longevity of this judgement’s impact is an extremely grave concern.
It was in the case of Ravi Kumar vs State and ANR that the Delhi high court held the right of a person to choose his/her partner for the very first time. The next year, Lata Singh vs State of UP became a landmark decision by the Supreme Court. The court heavily berated the Khap panchayats for their brutal atrocities on couples marrying outside the caste or religion on their volition and categorically stated that right to life includes right to live without threats to life and right to personal liberty includes right to choose one’s partner. However, the decision did not prove very effective in curbing honour killings. Following the Lata Singh judgement was the 2012 verdict of Manoj Babli Honour Killing wherein, to create a deterrent effect, the accused were given death penalty (later commuted to life imprisonment). However, this “strict punishment” could still not create the desired deterrence. Following this, in 2014, the Delhi HC bench comprising of justices Gita Mittal and JR Midha deciding the Nitish Katara Honour killing case restated the fundamental right to choose a life partner. Later in 2017, Kerala High Court stated that “a major girl may opt for a criminal, convict, a person of different religion/caste to marry, court or anyone else can’t resist her choice”. But clearly, all these decisions by various courts could not eradicate the menace, the cases of honour killing have never ceased to come up regardless of all the judicial decrees. From the most contentious Nitish Katara murder case of 2002 that perfectly presented the deeply rooted false sense of pride irrespective of class to the Deepti Chikkara murder of 2012 or the most recent Athira murder case, just four days prior to the present verdict wherein the father stabbed his daughter after assuring police that he consented for the wedding to a lower caste man.
Belonging to a certain section of society is not an issue, the problem is restrictive and orthodox indoctrination of certain patriarchal principles that run throughout the nation.
It can be thereby gathered that judicial precedents alone cannot help resolve the crisis. The strong need for a legislation to curb honour killings has always been felt, however, the attempts at legislation seemed to lose track midway. The Law Commission in its 242nd report titled “Prevention of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances (in the name of Honour and Tradition): A Suggested Legal Framework” had proposed the draft bills: The Prohibition of Unlawful Assembly (Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances) Bill, 2011 and The Endangerment Of Life And Liberty( Protection, Prosecution And Other Measures) Act, 2011 that mainly aimed to curb the brutality by the Khap panchayats. It set a threshold on the number of people who would gather to deliberate on the couple’s fate and ruled that any threat to the couple’s life by any means would be punishable with three to five years of imprisonment and a fine of rupees 30,000. This proposed legislation could not be formulated and implemented ever and the cases of honour killings continued to soar. In the present case, the central government submitted before the court that it has been engaging state and union territories to consider an amendment to IPC or to create the separate legislation recommended by the Law Commission.
Though this claim by the government seems promising, the extreme delay in considering the recommendations show how the government has paid no heed to this issue and trivialised it. the legislative vacuum in this issue has always cast a blow to judicial activism: for judgements alone cannot alter the mental block prevalent in a large section of society. It is high time to realise that the intended deterrent effect shall remain incomplete without a legislative backing.
Another facet of this entire issue is that enforcing judicial decrees and certain legislations, if they are implemented at all, is a typical Top-Down approach. Though having a solution in itself is a boon, attempts at curbing this menace through Bottom-Up approach might lead to better results. It is a well-known fact that the issue is the mental block among those set of people who have always regarded themselves above law and those who will definitely not be discouraged by a fine or punishment. For them, they are upholding their principles which, according to them, is no wrong. Therefore, sensitising these people about how a marriage outside the demarcations is not a sin that would morally corrupt the clan can be a good way to deal with this quandary. People should be given educative sessions at lower levels, the orthodox haute monde can be dealt with media campaigns working in reversing the indoctrinated superiority. Such initiatives, though difficult to implement, when coupled with a strict legislation would solve the problem at the grassroots level. By this judgement, the SC has done the maximum it could possibly do. after providing the directives to the government, all that is to be done is to formally make the law without much brainstorming. Still, the question that persists is and how long will the government actually take to formulate a solid law to protect couples from the wrath of honour killings? how much and how long will this judgement have an effect on the country or will this decision also will be forgotten for good?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Archita Prawasi is a first-year student pursuing B.A.LLB (Hons) from NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad. She has a profound interest in reading up judicial developments, laws, articles. She likes reading critiques of judgements, government policies and analysing them through different perspectives. Her other interests include dancing, listening to music, Facebooking and procrastinating.