The case of Shakti Vahini vs Union of India is a landmark case when it comes to the matter of Honour killing. Honour killing is the homicide of a family member by other family members for believing that the victim violated the principles of a community and that the victim has brought shame to the family. It has been a prevalent practice in India, especially in the North. In this case, the Court laid down certain guidelines that are to be implemented by the government in order to curb the practice of Honour killing in India.
In this case, the Petitioner organization, Shakti Vahini was authorized to conduct a research survey on Honour killing in Haryana, Punjab and Northern U.P. by the National Commission for Women. They filed a Writ Petition under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution seeking directions to the State and Central government so as to take preventive measures to eradicate the practice of honour killing and to submit a National and State Plan of action to curb such crimes. They further requested the Court to direct the State governments to constitute special cells in each district that are easily approached by the couples for their safety and well being. The Petitioner organization seeked protection for the couples to marry outside their communities. Further, the Petitioners prayed for an issue of writ of mandamus to the State governments to launch prosecutions in each case of honour killing and do the needful.
The only issue which was brought up in this case was whether an individual has the right to choose his or her life partner and whether the elders of the family or the Panchayats possess the right to kill the young couples for marrying out of their own will.
The Petitioner organization, i.e, Shakti Vahini contended that the Khap Panchayats or the elders of the family do not have a sense of guilt or hesitation while committing such crimes because there is no appropriate statute or provision for Honour crimes in the IPC. They further contended that honour killing is a violation of the provisions of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. To support their argument, they said that it is the right of every individual to choose a spouse of their choice and the actions of the Panchayats and the other family members for the sake of their honour is inhumane and illegal. They argued that for the Panchayats and the elders of the family, it is projected that honour rules the supreme and the lives of others become subservient to their desires and decisions.
The Respondents, on the other hand argued that the crime of Honour killing is treated as murder under Section 300 of the IPC and the punishment for the same has been laid down under Section 302 of the IPC. They contended that it is the working of the State government to either amend the existing provisions of the IPC or to introduce a new separate legislation to deal with this menace. Further, the Respondents submitted that it has also planned to introduce a Bill called “The prohibition of interference with the Freedom of matrimonial alliance bill” which was recommended by the Law Commission in the 242nd report to deal with the said issue.
Former CJI Dipak Misra quoted the important extracts of the 242nd report of the Law Commission which concludes the scenario of honour killing. The 3- judge bench held that two consenting adults do not require the consent of anyone to get married. It held that ant action taken by the Khap panchayat or the family members to restrain the two consenting adults to get married is illegal. The Court said, “Class honour, howsoever perceived cannot smother the choice of an individual which he/she is entitled to enjoy under our compassionate Constitution”. It observed that any type of honour- based crime with an intention to suppress a person’s choice to love marriage is illegal. Doing so, would be violative of his dignity which is against the provisions of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The Court held that when two adults get married out of their own will, they choose their relationship, they have been given this right under the Constitution. So, any infringement of the said right is a violation to the Constitution. Further, the Court laid down the various causes of this crimes and also said that such violent crimes are seen mostly against the women. The Court said that the crime of honour killing is also a violation of the Human Rights of an individual as addressed by the international institutes across the globe.
The Supreme Court further cited the case of Lata Singh vs State of UP and said that there is no bar for inter-caste marriages under the Hindu Marriage Act or any other law for that matter. It said that India is a democratic country and after attaining the age of majority, i.e, 18 an individual can marry whoever he/ she likes. Also, the Court referred to the case of Kartar Singh vs State of Punjab wherein it was held that Honour killing hinders individual’s liberty, freedom of choice and one’s own perception of choice.
This judgement of the Supreme Court received a lot of appreciation but the problem in India is usually not the enactment of the guidelines or the law but the implementation of it. For the same, the Delhi Commission for Women had filed a Writ Petition in Delhi Commission for Women vs Union of India, 2019 demanding for proper implementation of these guidelines. Even though the Courts have observed the illegality of such actions, it is still prevalent in the villages and young couples still live with the fear of this.
I believe this was a long- due step by the judiciary and it needs to be celebrated as no individual should be deprived of his rights.