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Community Courts Cannot Prevent, Annul Marriages - India's Top Court

© AP Photo / Ajit Solanki / Indian brides pose for photograph before a mass wedding in Surat, India, Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017
Indian brides pose for photograph before a mass wedding in Surat, India, Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017 - Sputnik International
Community courts of village elders, known in India as "Khap Panchayats," are notorious for having perpetuated caste prejudices and honor killings, in addition to issuing diktats that contravene marriage laws in India.

New Delhi (Sputnik) — The apex court of India has declared it illegal for "Khap Panchayats" (community courts) to impede marriages between consenting adults. Khap Panchayats are the self-styled community courts of castes, comprised of elders, and have been notorious in India for issuing diktats forbidding couples from marrying outside their castes.

"Khap Panchayats are present largely in rural north India and they act like self-styled authorities which tend to declare punishments for couples who go against their set norms. Most of the cases where Khap Panchayats have dictated terms have been reported from the Indian provinces of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan," social analyst and renowned Gandhian Professor T. K. Thomas told Sputnik.

The Supreme Court in its important verdict has pronounced that any assembly which intends to scuttle a marriage between two consenting adults is also illegal. A 3-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India, comprising of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A. M. Khanwilkar and D. Y. Chandrachud, pronounced the order on Tuesday. 

READ MORE: Ordinary Women Rise Against Patriarchal Practices in India and Make a Difference

The court also laid down guidelines to prevent such interferences and have now shifted the onus to the lawmaking body, the Parliament of India, to come out with a suitable legislation in this regard. 

However, a women's rights activist says the implementation of the law is going to be a challenge, as Khap panchayat leaders were quick to react to the Supreme Court's decision, saying that they will not allow such marriages to take place as this is against their traditions. 

"The court's judgment today is a welcome beginning but the law enforcement agencies and the lawmakers have to be honest in implementing it. In most cases these elders of the Khap Panchayat also have strong clout with the political establishments and the culprits go scot free. The implementation part has to be focused on," Annie Raja, general secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women told Sputnik. 

The ruling of the country's highest court came following a plea from a non-governmental organization called Shakti Vahini. The organization had approached the court in 2010 seeking the protection of couples from honor killings by such panchayats or caste gatherings.

READ MORE: Indian Techie Forced to Marry at Gunpoint (VIDEO)

During the arguments in the apex court, the representatives of the Khap Panchayats had claimed that they were performing their duties as conscience keepers of society, while the court, in its observation, had said that they cannot be self-appointed conscience keepers when there is a law and there are courts to deal with marriages that may be prohibited by law.

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