According to its Bill, such offences will be cognisable, non-bailable

Rejecting the government's proposal to amend Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code to include ‘honour killings' within the definition of murder on the ground that the existing provisions are adequate to take care of the situations leading to such killings, the Law Commission has drafted fresh legislation that seeks to declare such panchayats unlawful.

The Prohibition of Unlawful Assembly (Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances) Bill, 2011 proposes no person or any group of persons shall gather with an “intention to deliberate on, or condemn any marriage, not prohibited by law, on the basis that such marriage has dishonoured the caste or community tradition or brought disrepute to all or any of the persons forming part of the assembly or the family or the people of the locality concerned.”

Marriage, according to the draft law, includes a proposed or intended marriage. The Collector or the District Magistrate has been entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring the safety of the persons targeted in case any illegal decision is taken by the khap panchayat and he/she shall take necessary steps to prohibit the convening of such illegal gatherings.

Any violation of the Bill will attract imprisonment up to three years and a fine of up to Rs 30,000. All offences under the proposed Act will be cognisable, non-bailable and non-compoundable. The cases will be tried in Special Courts presided over by a sessions judge or additional sessions judge. The Special Court can take suo motu cognisance of the cases.

Illegal intimidation

There has been a spurt in illegal intimidation by self-appointed bodies for bringing pressure against sagotra (same gotra) marriages and inter-caste, inter-community and inter-religious marriages between two consenting adults in the name of vindicating the honour of family, caste or community.

In a number of cases, such bodies have resorted to incitement of violence and such newly married or couples desirous of getting married have been subjected to intimidation and violence which has also resulted into their being hounded out of their homes and sometimes even murdered.

“Although such intimidation or acts of violence constitute offences under the IPC, yet, it is necessary to prevent assemblies which take place to condemn such alliances,” the proposed Bill says, adding it seeks to nip the evil in the bud and prevent spreading of hatred or incitement to violence through such gatherings. Criminal intimidation will have the same meaning as is given in Section 503 of the IPC.

The Bill further says that any member of an unlawful assembly who alone or in association with other such members counsels, exhorts or brings pressure upon any person or persons so as to prevent, or disapprove of the marriage which is objected to by the said members of the unlawful assembly, or creates an environment of hostility towards such couple shall be deemed to have acted in endangerment of their liberty.

The Law Commission's consultation paper says panchayats gathered on caste lines assume to themselves the authority to deal with “objectionable” matrimonies and exhibit least regard for life and liberty and are not deterred by the processes of administration of justice. The penal law lacks direct application to the illegal acts of such caste assemblies and needs to be amended.

Pointing out that the same gotra marriages are not prohibited by law, whatever may be the view in old time, the Law Commission says the Hindu Marriage Disabilities Removal Act, 1946 was enacted to dispel any doubts in this regard.

Vindicating honour

The Act expressly declared the validity of marriages between Hindus belonging to the same gotra, different sub-divisions of the same caste. “The view of village elders or family elders cannot be forced on the willing couple and no one has the right to use force or impose far-reaching sanctions in the name of vindicating community honour or family honour,” it says.

Drawing attention to the proposals to amend Section 300 of the IPC, the Commission says the motive behind killing a person did not furnish real justification to introduce a separate provision in this Section, as the addition of such a clause may create confusion and interpretational difficulties.

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