The Supreme Court on Friday invited 'Khap Panchayats' to hear their views before issuing any order to stop them from harassing and killing couples, particularly women in name of family's honour for entering into inter-caste or intra-gotra marriages.
The Centre, however, fervently pleaded with the apex court to put in place a mechanism to monitor the crime against women by Khap Panchayats, the caste-based councils, as the police has not been able to protect the women facing ordeal at their hands.
A bench of justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Prakash Desai, however, said before passing any order it would like to hear the views of Khap Panchayats and said they can come before it on the next date of hearing on January 14.
In the meantime, the bench said as a pilot project it would examine the situation in three districts where the Khap Panchayats are very active and summoned the superintendents of police of Rohtak and Jind districts of Haryana and that of Baghpat in Uttar Pradesh to apprise the court of the situation there.
The bench asked the petitioner, Shakti Vahini, an NGO, to inform various Khaps' elders to come before it to express their views.
"These statements are being attributed to them but we do not know their views. There may be many Khaps and there may be variations in their opinions," the bench said when the petitioner and Centre referred to media reports carrying views of Khaps on various issues.
"We would be more satisfied if we get views from the Khaps. At moment we are hearing views which are hostile to them," the bench said adding "We do not want to fall into the act of giving a dog a bad name and hang it."
"You identify the prominent Khaps and inform their elders today or tomorrow that the court is willing and ready to hear them," the bench said while posting the matter for further hearing on January 14.
The apex court also directed additional director generals of police (law and order) of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to be present before it on January 14.
Pleading for its guidelines to stop Khap Panchayats' dictates, Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising told the court that a mechanism is needed as they indulged in many acts which cannot be prevented under the law as some of them are not unlawful.
She referred to the cases where the women are ostracized and their heads tonsured for going against their dictates and said even the Law Commission has described Khap Panchayats as unlawful assemblies.
"There has to be declaration of law that certain violence against women is against law," she said, adding "there has to be a monitoring setup on what happens on complaint filed by women to ensure that law is activated."
She further pleaded that "a mechanism should be put in place in terms of the apex court guidelines to deal with such cases" as it cannot be left to be dealt with only by police.
The bench, which in the beginning of hearing indicated that it might issue guidelines, said it would not be possible to monitor all such cases.
It, however, said it would examine three districts as "pilot project."
Senior Advocate Raju Ramachandran, who is assisting the court as amicus curiae said the police must restrain any such meeting of Khaps if they assemble for the purpose of passing any dictate against women.
The Supreme Court had in June 2010 issued notices to the Centre and states on the growing cult of "honour killings" being reported from across the country.
The NGO complained that though there was a spurt in such killings in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Haryana, neither the Centre nor the state governments were taking steps to curb the menace due to "vote-bank politics."