A three-judge Bench of the Apex Court gave its judgment on a petition filed by NGO Shakti Vahini on the general issue of hindrances caused in marriages of two consenting adults by a group of people, also called as Khap Panchayats. Passing a slew of directions, the Supreme Court rightly held that no person can cause any obstruction in the valid marriage of two consenting adults. However, there was no need for this judgment. The law in this regard has been laid down by Apex Court earlier, and it would have been better if the Court had seen if its earlier directions were being followed. But alas. Nonetheless, it would be profitable to seek an answer to the following questions

 

Can an NGO commissioned by a Govt. Body (in this case NCW) file a PIL before the Apex Court on the same subject matter?

Interestingly, the judgment itself at para 3 notes, "The petitioner-organization was authorized for conducting Research Study on "Honour Killings in Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh" by order dated 22.12.2009 passed by the National Commission for Women." Does that not make this whole litigation a subject matter of policy? It is also clear that the NGO did not wait long, and filed the petition in 2010 itself, hence decrying any possible argument of inaction by the executive. 

 

Is it really the task of Supreme Court to pass directions, even as there is law in the making?

The Prohibition of Interference in Matrimonial Alliances Bill has already been suggested by the Law Commission in the 242nd Report. Moreover, the judgment itself notes, "It has also been set forth that several advisories have been issued to the State Governments from time to time regarding the steps needed to prevent crimes against women including special steps to be taken to curb the menace of honour killing." Yet, the Apex Court has passed directions that make little sense. In any case, if the answer to the law-making power is yes, why did we not see any directions regarding privacy and data protection? The nation is witnessing that the downtrodden, who are forced to live on subsidies are being mandatorily saddled with Aadhaar. It is downright hypocritical of the Apex Court to now say "Commitment to the constitutional values requires this Court to be sensitive and act in such a matter and we shall do so within the permissible boundaries and framework because as the guardian of the rights of the citizens, this Court cannot choose the path of silence." The selectiveness of Apex Court is baffling, both for jurists and laymen. 

 

Are judgments meant to repeat pleadings? 

Union of India, NCT of Delhi, Bihar, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana filed their affidavits before the Apex Court. A good number of the pages were consumed, without any inference coming from such pleadings. If being mechanical is the new art of judgment writing, I humbly believe in the good old days. The short and crisp opinions of the yesteryears containing a wealth of jurisprudence have been replaced by long pages of an endless saga.

 

What that a judgment distinguished? 

The present judgment itself relies on Lata Singh v. State of U.P. and another, Arumugam Servai v. State of Tamil Nadu, Bhagwan Dass v. State, Re: India Woman says Gang-raped on Orders of Village Court published in Business & Financial News dated 23-1-2014, Vikas Yadav v. State of Uttar Pradesh and others, Asha Ranjan v. State of Bihar and others and State of U.P. v. Krishna Master and others. Remarkably, all the above were distinguished in the following manner, "The observations were made and the directions were issued in cases where a crime based on honour was required to be dealt with. But, the present case, in contradistinction, centres around honour killing and its brutality and the substantive measures to be taken to destroy the said menace." So, in essence, what the Apex Court says is that the earlier cases dealt with individual cases whereas now they had a larger problem at hand. Does that alone allow the Court to deal with the issue separately, or should not the Court have re-iterated the law at the threshold and disposed off this petition? Distinguishing judgments merely for the sake or writing another opinion is a practice that needs a hard look and even greater introspection. 

Do we need more laws?

 The judgment of the Supreme Court is binding upon all courts as per Article 141 of the Constitution. In the present case, the Apex Court has given certain directions, most of which are applicable to the District Magistrate and Deputy Superintendent of Police. It has been envisaged that the young couples who want to marry should be given protection from persons creating hindrances in their marriage. While the though is indeed noble, how exactly it is not covered within the ambit of present penal laws? More criminalisation is directly proportional to the lawlessness in our society. What we need is not more laws, but the proper execution. 

 

Economic Capacity of States

In a move that is absolutely bizarre, States have been asked to provide safe houses to couples who want to marry. In a nation where malnutrition is high, unemployment on a surge, does it really fall back upon State to get a person married? The Apex Court has suggested, "The State Government may consider of establishing a safe house at each District Headquarter for that purpose. Such safe houses can cater to accommodate (i) young bachelor-bachelorette couples whose relationship is being opposed by their families /local community/Khaps…" In all sincerity, even hotels in most parts of the country do not allow unmarried couples to stay together. The Guest Houses of States are a dream for most, and are reserved for VVIPs. It will be great to see the States that take initiative in this regard and actually build the safe houses. 

 

All in all, the Apex Court spent much time on an issue that needed no fresh outlook. The sheer wastage of time and the utopian suggestions may bring no change. Khap in itself is a societal concept that needs deft handling through education. Reports of compliance by the States have to be filed in the Registry of Supreme Court within six weeks. It will be really good if SC takes note of any compliance and acts accordingly. That will be a landmark action, not 54 pages that make no change. 

 

The judgment is available at http://sci.gov.in/supremecourt/2010/18233/18233_2010_Judgement_27-Mar-2018.pdf 

 

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