Members of village Panchayat convicted for forcefully taking a minor out of lawful guardianship and compelling her for marriage

Bombay High Court: In an incident where the members of the village Panchayat were held liable for extortion and kidnapping of minors and forcing them to marry each other just because they believed that meeting of young persons of opposite sex and talking with each other or having an affair is immoral and harmful to the society, the bench of Mridula Bhatkar J., upheld the decision of the trial court to convict nine accused for violating the provisions of IPC and Child Marriage (Restraint) Act, 1929.

The Counsel for the appellant challenged the jurisdiction of Sessions Court on the ground that as per the provisions of Child Marriage (Restraint) Act, 1929, the Judicial Magistrate of Ist Class is a competent Court to take cognizance or try any offence under the Act, and hence the charge framed by the learned Sessions Judge is without jurisdiction and illegal. The Counsel also questioned the minority of the girl. The Counsel for the State contended that the accused acted like a ‘Khap’ Panchayat and dictated their terms on minors and their parents by way of extortion and kidnapping.

The Court found that in the present case, the learned Magistrate observed that Section 366 IPC is triable by the Sessions Court, and hence committed the case to the said court on its discretion. The Court relied on State of M.P. v. Bhooraji (2001) 7 SCC 679, where it was held that denovo trial should be a last resort and that too only when there is extreme exigency of ‘failure of justice’, and hence the objection taken by the learned defence Counsel that the trial was vitiated for want of jurisdiction of the Sessions Court is not sustainable.

The Court observed that there was no doubt from the evidence on record that the girl was minor at the relevant time, and that the girl was taken forcefully out of the lawful guardianship of her mother and the marriage was performed, as the girl was given green saree, there was homa, they performed all rituals before the priest, and that after marriage she started residing at groom’s house. Accordingly, the Court upheld the decision of the trial court to convict the accused, as the right to choose his/her partner for marriage was violated by the decision of Panchayat. However, the Court reduced the amount of sentence because though there was extortion and kidnapping, this was out of regressive, orthodox and social norms existing at that time in the village. Shri Vilas Arjun Patil v. State of Maharashtra, 2015 SCC OnLine Bom 2433decided on 29.04.2015

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