Shakti Vahini v. Union of India

Author: Ritika Sharma


Bench: Former CJI Dipak Misra, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud

Petitioner: An organisation named “Shakti Vahini”

Respondent: Union of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Women & Child Development

Date of Judgement: March 27, 2018

Introduction: Shakti Vahini v. Union of India is a case in which the court directed the state governments and the police department to make a robust mechanism that can help the society to eliminate the crime of Honour Killing. Further, the court has laid down certain preventive, punitive, and remedial measures for the states and the police administration in order to build a strong system. This case is a glaring example that reflects the victory of dynamic and free-thinking over the stagnant and irrational concepts prevailing in society.

In this case, the petitioner which is an organization named “Shakti Vahini” was authorized to conduct a Research Study on Honour Killings in Haryana, Punjab, and Western U.P. in which they have come across the fact that these instances are rising by leaps and bounds in the society. The petition has been filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India, seeking directions of the court to the Government (both State and Central), Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Women & Child Development. The Union of India stated that in order to tackle this issue a bill named “The Prohibition of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances Bill” has been recommended by the Law Commission. Further, several state governments have filed affidavits and have given their responses towards the writ petition.

Background: Honour Killing is a serious issue which has been flourishing rapidly in several parts of the nation. Panchayats in many areas consider it as their duty to punish the ones who perform marriages outside their caste or community and without the consent of their elders and they call it“Honour Killing”. This Panchayat has the nomenclature of “Khap Panchayat”.  The concept of honour has many facets. Sometimes, a young man can become the victim of honour killing or receive violent treatment at the hands of the family members of the girl when he has fallen in love or has entered into marriage. Various actions are connected with the Honour Killing such as (i) loss of virginity outside marriage; (ii) pre-marital pregnancy; (iii) infidelity; (iv) having unapproved relationships; (v) refusing an arranged marriage; (vi) asking for divorce; (vii) demanding custody of children after divorce; (viii) leaving the family or marital home without permission; (ix) causing scandal or gossip in the community, and (x) falling victim to rape. All these instances give rise to either crime or create some sort of instability/imbalance in society.

Judgement: Dipak Misra in his judgment quoted some lines of French philosopher and thinker, Simone Weil which are:

“We don’t live in a world in which there exists a single definition of honour anymore, and it’s a fool that hangs on to the traditional standards and hopes that the world will come around him.”

Former CJI Dipak Misra has also quoted the important extracts of the 242nd Report of Law Commission which concludes the scenario of “Honour Killing” or “Honour Crimes”. The draft bill recommended by the commission refers to ‘Khap Panchayat” and this term includes any person or group who gathers, assembles or congregates with an intention to condemn any marriage. Further, various significant cases have been highlighted which includes Lata Singh v. State of U.P. and Another[1], in which writ of certiorari/ mandamus was allowed to give protection to the petitioner and her husband who were under constant danger of “Honour Killing”. Few lines from the judgment in the case Asha Ranjan v. State of Bihar[2] “the choice of a woman in choosing her partner in life is a legitimate constitutional right. It is founded on the individual choice that is recognised in the Constitution under Article 19, and such a right is not expected to succumb to the concept of “class honour” or “group thinking”. Further, In the State of U.P. v. Krishna Master[3], the accused convicted of “Honour Killing” were given rigorous imprisonment for life and a fine of Rs. 25,000/- was imposed on them.

The court in this case observed that, “The choice of an individual is an inextricable part of dignity, for dignity cannot be thought of where there is erosion of choice. True it is, the same is bound by the principle of constitutional limitation but in the absence of such limitation, none, we mean, no one shall be permitted to interfere in the fructification of the said choice. If the right to express one’s own choice is obstructed, it would be extremely difficult to think of dignity in its sanctified completeness”. The major argument on behalf of the counsel of “Khap Panchayat” that this body is playing an important role of spreading awareness about the prohibition of ‘sapinda’ and ‘sagotra’ marriages was rejected by the court by stating that in case of recognition of matrimonial status, the parties can approach court and law shall take note of it. Moreover, the Court has provided preventive, remedial and punitive measures to construct a strong mechanism that could spot and punish the supporters of “Honour Killing” and directed the states to carry out these instructions within 6 weeks.

Also Read, Parivartan Kendra v. UOI

Comments: Even after the spread of education and the laws ensuring equal status to both men and women, women are still considered inferior to men. The society still treats wives, daughters, and sisters subordinate, even servile or self- sacrificing. Choosing the life partner is no crime and in the name of caste, community, gotra, and several other parameters, it is completely unjust to punish anyone. The court in this case has rightly condemned the whole scenario of “Honour Killings” which violates the Fundamental Right enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution of India and has seminal importance in the laws of our nation. It is completely pathetic and intolerable to follow any such process of giving punishment under the veil of one’s family name and pride.

Secondly, neither Panchayat nor the family members have any authority to give punishment to the couples who are treated as sinners and suffer irreparably at the hands of these groups. Society should understand that autonomy is individualistic. The only way to provide punishment to anyone is by following judicial mechanisms and in the eyes of law, it is no offence to perform marriage even when the two persons belong to distinct caste, community or religion. The directions are given by the court to eradicate the practice of “Honour Killing” is an essential step which can eliminate or decrease the gruesome phenomena of such incidents.

[1] (2006) 5 SCC 475

[2] (2017) 4 SCC 397

[3] (2010) 12 SCC 324