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D R CHAUDHARY IN THE TRIBUNE
Union Home Ministry’s affidavit filed in the Supreme Court stating that it does not interfere in the personal laws of a community, and that the police and public order are state subjects is an attempt to evade its responsibility to tackle the menace of “honour” crimes in the country, especially in the khap belt comprising some districts of Haryana, Delhi dehat, western UP and parts of Rajasthan adjoining Delhi. The mandarins who have drafted this affidavit show colossal ignorance of the personal laws of different communities. There has been no tradition of “honour killing” in the past, especially in the khap belt where it has assumed alarming proportions. The khap panchayat, an endogamous, gotra-centric clannish institution, became a powerful organisation in the area around Delhi in medieval times in the face of the fragile nature of law and order as a consequence of frequent forays of foreign invaders in this belt. It had a two-fold purpose: to provide security to its members and settle disputes among them.
Sorem, a village in Muzzafarnagar district of western UP, is supposed to be the headquarters of the khap institution. This writer recently spent about a week in the village to consult the old records kept there. There is no evidence of “honour killing”, ostracising a family, declaring a married couple as brother and sister and such other outrageous decrees for which the khap has acquired notoriety in our times. The emphasis was on bringing the deviant elements in the mainstream by imposing nominal fine, or, at the most, organising social boycott in extreme cases.
Under the impact of modernisation, the traditional structure of rural society has undergone a qualitative change, making the concept of brotherhood, a raison d’etre of khap, a myth, fostering individualism in its narrow form. Thus, often the decisions taken in the khap conclaves are motivated by settling personal scores or grabbing the property of a particular family. Same-gotra and same-village marriages are a taboo in the khap belt.
Some time ago, a Gehlaut boy of Dharana village in Jhajjar district married a Kadian girl of a village in Panipat district in Haryana — a different gotra, a different village and a different khap. Yet some Kadian families of Dharana objected to this marriage on the ground as to how they could accept a girl of their gotra as a daughter-in-law. The khap panchayat declared the marriage null and void and asked the family to quit the village by selling their land at Rs 5 lakh per acre while the market rate was Rs 50 lakh per acre. In fact, some elements wanted to grab the concerned family’s land and house at a throwaway price. The decree could not be implemented due to pressure from civil society groups and the media. However, the married couple is not allowed to enter the village even to meet their aged parents. Examples can be multiplied.
The aforesaid affidavit of the Union Home Ministry is a retrograde step when, as rightly stressed editorially by The Tribune (July 8), “an issue as vital as honour killings is under consideration”. It is at variance with the Supreme Court judgment and the recommendations of the Union Law Commission.
A Division Bench of the apex court has characterised the crime of “honour” as “ rarest of rare cases deserving death punishment.” A copy of the judgment has been sent to the high courts and lower courts, state chief secretaries, home secretaries and the police chiefs of all the states. The Bench has further directed all state governments to immediately suspend the district magistrates and police chiefs if they fail to apprehend those responsible for “honour killing” and prevent such incidents despite having advance knowledge.
The Law Commission, following a request by the Union Law Ministry to suggest a draft law to apply a check on “honour” crimes, has proposed that “not only conviction in an honour killing, merely participating in a khap panchayat-like congregation would render a person ineligible to contest polls and would attract a prison term of up to two years”. As a preventive step, the Law Commission has also suggested that the district magistrate should take immediate steps to prevent any such unlawful assembly and ensure safety of the concerned couple
In the light of the apex court judgment and the recommendations of the Law Commission, the Centre’s affidavit is a serious climb-down. The Centre is planning to enact a fresh law to curb “honour” crimes. The ends of justice would be met if the contemplated law brings into its ambit those who glorify such killings along with the actual perpetrators of the crime and infringement of any of the rights of a citizen guaranteed under the Constitution.
The khap protagonists want a legal ban on the same-gotra marriage. This is largely because of a false scare. Only 3 per cent of the documented cases of honour crimes involve couples married in their gotra, according to the survey conducted by the Central Commission for Women. In about two dozen such cases in Haryana in the recent past, there is only one case of a same-gotra and same-village marriage. The couple was brutally murdered, inviting strict punishment for the killers by the court. The rest belongs to the inter-caste marriage or alliances violating some other age-old tradition.
A collective psychosis has been spawned by the khap elements over the issue of tradition. Tradition, when untouched by modernity, starts stinking and becomes a drag on society while modernity, cut off from tradition, is shallow and spurious. It is the harmonious blend of the two that takes society forward. This elementary understanding of the societal change is beyond the comprehension of the khap supporters, who wish to perpetuate the culture of intolerance, pushing a section of society into the dark zone of barbarity and depravity.
Besides a stringent law to curb “honour” crimes, there is a need to build a counter-culture of tolerance and compassion. Charles Darwin made an important discovery in his Theory of Evolution of Species that those species who were flexible, caring and compassionate towards each other — “compassion” is the word used by Darwin — flourished while their counterparts, who were rigid and devoid of compassion, became extinct. This is the fate awaiting the hardbound khap elements.
In spite of all the modernisation in the khap belt, there are elements still living in medieval times who call the shots in society. This explains the paradox of the material growth coupled with cultural stagnation in this belt. Societal change takes place with the intervention of human agency. There is an urgent need to build a vibrant civil society, fragile in the khap belt at present, to usher in an inclusive and humane social set-up.
The writer, a retired academic from Delhi University, specialises on socio-cultural issues.
The official position of the Centre, as reportedly stated in the affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, in relation to honour killing is a shocking case of subverting the basic constitutional position by none other than the supposed guardians of law themselves. I agree with D.R. Chaudhry in his write-up, “Centre’s retreat on ‘honour killing’ ” (July 29), that the mandarins, who have drafted this affidavit, show colossal ignorance of the personal laws of different communities.
Anyone with an elementary knowledge of the laws of the land knows fully well that it was the fundamental right to life, which was brutally infringed by rabid caste elements in honour killing cases.
The affidavit in question is, therefore, not only obnoxious and offensive but also in contravention of the moves of the Centre to enact a separate law against honour killings. So, the Union Law Minister must immediately order withdrawal of the illegal affidavit, submit a fresh one, and take strict action against those who were responsible for this blunder.
Inderjit Singh, Secretary, CPM, Rohtak
I share D R Chaudhry’s sensible and thoughtful concern over the controversial affidavit of the Union Home Ministry filed by it in the Supreme Court about the ever-increasing honour crimes taking place in the rural areas of Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan (Centre’s retreat on ‘honour killing’, July 29). In fact, this move is fraught with dangerous consequences.
I fully endorse the view that this affidavit is “a retrograde step”. This will embolden khap panchayat leaders to take the law into their own hands because of the Centre’s puzzling neutrality towards their unlawful activities.
In Haryana, the different Chief Ministers, irrespective of their political affiliations, have always adopted a soft and friendly attitude towards khap elements because of their obvious concern for keeping their electoral graph intact. Whenever journalists and civil society in the state, led by the Left parties and women organizations, have brought such honour crimes to their notice, they have expressed their helplessness by saying, “It is a social issue. What can the government do?” Such lackadaisical responses towards honour crimes do not add up much to the cause of positive social reforms in Haryana.
Dr RAJ BAHADUR YADAV, Fatehabad