No institution has any right to interfere in a marriage between two consenting adults. In this time and age, it would be incongruous for anyone to assume the role of a conscience keeper of society and declare any marriage null and void. The Supreme Court’s unequivocal order, upholding the right of an adult individual to choose his/her life partner is a welcome move. The freedom to choose one’s partner is integral to the individual autonomy guaranteed under the Constitution. The court ticked off ‘khap panchayats’, the self-styled kangaroo courts, and told them not to interfere in marriages between two consenting adults. The apex court’s observations assume significance against the backdrop of the present social environment where personal relationships are targeted by self-proclaimed guardians of tradition. From khap panchayats that oppose intra-gotra marriages to the love jihad campaign by right-wing Hindu groups, the obstacles are many and come with varied intensity. The court’s latest directive was in response to a petition seeking a ban on khaps. It is a matter of collective shame that honour killings are on the rise across India. The recent honour killing of a Hindu man in Delhi by the family of his Muslim lover shows that bigotry runs deep in sections of both the communities. The governments must protect the rights of citizens to choose their lifestyle. The failure to do so would only embolden the regressive groups to impose their worldview on others.
Inter-faith couples face harassment from self-professed custodians of family honour. The provisions of the Special Marriage Act of 1954 are particularly intimidating for such couples and it is time these regressive provisions were done away with. It is ironic that fringe social groups have become more aggressive at a time when the country’s youth are eager to break away from the traditional mores that are stiflingly patriarchal. Individual liberty forms the bedrock of any modern society. The best way to break down the barriers of caste and community is to encourage inter-caste and inter-faith marriages through a sustained awareness campaign. It is unfortunate that no political party is willing to take a clear stand against khap panchayats who arrogate to themselves the power to sit in judgement over marriages in their communities. There have been several cases of cruel punishment being meted out to those found guilty by these panchayats. The excesses inflicted on hapless individuals are sought to be justified in the name of community honour. However, the very existence of these kangaroo courts amounts to violation of the basic freedom of choice guaranteed in the Constitution. As a vigilant guardian of individual choice and freedom, the judiciary offers the much-needed hope to the people.