Victims and survivors silenced

Context: A recent case of a couple being flogged at a Kangaroo court in Chopra (West Bengal) because of alleged extramarital affair has brought back the debate on kangaroo courts and vigilante justice in various parts of India.

About Vigilante justice

  • Vigilante justice refers to the act of individuals or groups taking the law into their own hands to enforce justice which is outside the established legal system. 
  • It involves apprehending, punishing, seeking retribution, or even lynching to death against perceived wrongdoers without proper authorization or due process.
  • Vigilantism generally arises when individuals feel that the formal legal system is ineffective, corrupt, or unable to deliver justice. Vigilantes may believe they are acting in the best interest of their community or seeking to right perceived injustices that the legal system has failed to address.

Constitutional and Legislative Position:

  • Violative of Article 14 (equality before law and equal protection of law), Article 15 (3) Special provisions for women and children, Article 19, freedom of speech and expression, Article 21(right against self-incrimination) and Article 21 i.e. Right to life with dignity of the victims.
  • Violation of provisions of Protection of women from Domestic violence act.
  • Provisions of Special Marriage Act.
  • Section 103 of BNS (Punishment for murder)

Reasons for vigilante justice in Indian Society:

  • Breakdown of law and order: In areas where law enforcement is weak or corrupt, vigilante groups take matters into their own hands, leading to instances of mob violence and vigilantism.
  • Inefficiency or corruption in the legal system:  Sometimes, people feel disillusioned with the slow pace of justice delivery, bureaucratic hurdles, and corruption within the legal system. When they believe that authorities are unable or unwilling to address crimes effectively, some fringe elements resort to taking matters into their own hands.
  • Lack of trust in law enforcement: Trust in law enforcement agencies is low in certain communities due to instances of corruption, inactiveness, and perceived bias.
    • When people feel that the police are not responsive to their needs or might be complicit in criminal activities, they feel compelled to seek justice independently.
  • Cultural and religious factors: Vigilante justice may be motivated by cultural or religious beliefs, where communities take it upon themselves to enforce moral codes or punish perceived transgressors.
    • This can lead to instances of mob violence or lynching based on accusations of blasphemy, inter-caste relationships, extramarital affairs, or other perceived offenses against social norms.
  • Perception of impunity: Individuals engage in vigilante actions because they believe they can act with impunity; it is due to a lack of enforcement of laws or a sense of community and political support for their actions.
  • Political manipulation: Vigilantism has been exploited by various political groups to advance their agendas and mobilize support. In some cases, politicians and radical organizations have incited violence in the name of protection of social order to polarize communities and garner political mileage.
  • Perceived threat to cultural identity: Some advocates of vigilantism perceive extramarital affairs as a threat to India’s cultural identity and view themselves as defenders of traditional values.

Way forward:

Court Judgements:

  • In Naz Foundation vs. Govt. of NCT of Delhi, 2009 Delhi High Court stated that constitutional morality supersedes public morality, in this case, khap panchayat could not be defended in the name of public morality.
  • In Arumugam Servai Vs State of Tamil Nadu (2011), Supreme Court directed that “If any such incidents happen, apart from instituting criminal proceedings against those responsible for such atrocities, the State government concerned is directed to immediately suspend the District Magistrate/Collector and the SSP/SPs of the district as well as other officials concerned and chargesheet them and proceed against them departmentally if they do not prevent the incident if it has not already occurred but they have knowledge of it in advance, or if it has occurred, they do not promptly apprehend the culprits and others involved and institute criminal proceedings against them, as, in our opinion, they will be deemed directly or indirectly accountable in this connection.”
  • In Shakti Vahini vs Union of India, Supreme Court gave guidelines to deal with honor killing and extrajudicial punishments.
1. The State Governments should identify Districts, Sub-Divisions and/or Villages where instances of honour killing, or assembly of Khap Panchayats have been reported in the recent past (5 years)
2. If information about any proposed gathering of a Khap Panchayat comes to the knowledge of any official he shall inform his immediate superior officer and simultaneously intimate the jurisdictional Deputy SP and SP.
3. The DSP should immediately interact with the members/ elders of such Khap convey that convening of such meeting/gathering is not permissible in law and to go ahead with such a meeting.
Create Special Cells in every District comprising the Superintendent of Police, the District Social Welfare Officer and other concerned to receive petitions/complaints of harassment of and threat to couples of inter-caste marriage.
The criminal cases pertaining to honour killing or violence to the couple(s) shall be tried before the designated Court/Fast Track Court earmarked for that purpose.
24-hour helpline to receive and register such complaints and to provide necessary assistance/advice and protection to the couple.

Legislative reforms:

  • Law commission in its 242nd report has recommended barring a person from contesting election if found a part of such khap panchayat. Similarly, anyone proved to be part of such khap panchayat assembly shall attract criminal liability and should be punished accordingly.
  • The amendments in the Special Marriage Act, 1954 are required to decrease the registration period window from one month to one week. So that the marriage could get legal validity sooner, for getting protection from the law sooner in case of inter caste relationships.
  • Amendments to the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 are necessary for shifting the burden of proof from the prosecution to accused to prove their innocence in case of honour killings or related crimes.
  • Introduction of a new class of crime: Honour killing as a special crime punishable as a rarest of rare case. This amendment would widen the scope and ambit of BNS Section 103 so that it would include cases of death due to instigation, due to harassment or cruelty.

Administrative reforms:

  • Separate data collection: As of now, the NCRB does not categories the incidents of honor killing or punishments khap panchayats as a separate category of crimes, this should be done to have a database for the same.
  • Address delay in filing FIR: Police officials shall not delay in filing of F.I.R. under the appropriate provisions of the Penal Code.
  • Provision of protection: Immediate steps should be taken to provide security to the persons facing threat of persecution and, if necessary, move them to a safe house.
Share this with friends ->