Khaps shouldn’t be allowed to have their way

English: A locator map of Jind district, Haryana

Image via Wikipedia

D.R. Chaudhry in THE TRIBUNE

The Tribune report “How Haryana changed its mind on honour crime laws” (December 1, 2011) underscores the state’s political elites’ fear of loss of their vote bank. An editorial (The Tribune, December 2, 2011) rightly stresses that the Haryana Government “has shown a perceptible tendency to soft-pedal action on the alarming practice of ‘honour killings’ in the state.”

Several documents accessed through the RTI channel shed more light on the issue. The Centre’s Ministry of Home Affairs (vide its D.O. No. 12/24/2009-Judl.Cell dated July 8, 2010) asked the Haryana Government to send its views on the issue as the Centre was contemplating suggesting strict legal measures to curb the menace of honour killings perpetrated in connivance with khap panchayats by amending the Indian Penal Code. The Law Secretary-cum-Legal Remembrancer to the Government of Haryana, on being asked to give his opinion, replied that “honour killing is the most barbaric act….The introduction of the Indian Penal Code and Certain Other Laws (Amendment Bill, 2010) is indeed a step forward in this regard.” This expert opinion was subsequently overruled.

It is to be noted that the media, both print and electronic, has played a commendable role in highlighting the problem. However, the Haryana Government has decried its role. The Home Department, Haryana (vide its letter No.14/26/2010-31(C) dated 8.9. 2010 to the Centre), cautioned New Delhi “to be wary of motivational forces, more so in the present-day climate rendered extremely vulnerable by megalomaniac media”. The Chief Minister of Haryana (vide D.O. No. CMH-2010 PSCpi/3453 dated 30.9.2010, addressed to Union minister Pranab Mukherjee) also cautioned “to critically examine the different manifestations of ‘honour killing’ in a wider context without being overwhelmed by exaggerated media reports.”

The above-mentioned letter states that there is no need for fresh legislation to deal with the problem, and firmly asserts: “The proposed amendment gives an erroneous impression that panchayats either connive with or instigate ‘honour killing….these murders are reportedly committed by the family members of the boys and girls and not under the dictates of panchayats.” This claim needs to be examined dispassionately.

The khap panchayat is a clannish organisation, now largely a Jat outfit, with bhaichara (brotherhood) as its raison de’tre. All its members are supposed to be blood relations. This led to several marital taboos — no same-gotra and same-village marriage, no marital alliance between neighbouring villages even if they belong to different khaps. There are several gotras of Jats bound by bhaichara and no inter-gotra marriage is permissible in these cases. Then, there are several other marital restrictions too. This has made marital alliances difficult now, especially in view of the highly skewed sex ratio in Haryana. Brides are bought from distant places to meet the deficit and no one bothers about their gotra and caste.

The process of modernisation has exposed the youth to the wide world around and intimacy between the two sexes is on the increase in the rural hinterland, rendering bhaichara a myth. The moment it takes the form of marital alliance, it is taken as a threat to the age-old tradition by the elders and often invites barbarous punishment.

Khap elements zealously guard age-old marital restrictions. They have fostered a culture of intolerance, making a family pariah in village society if its member happens to violate khap marital norms. The family is subjected to repeated taunts, making its existence unbearable. This drives some of its members to commit murder to restore family honour. It is this social milieu spawned by khap elements which leads to honour crimes. Then, there is enough evidence of the direct involvement of khap elements in honour crimes in the form of inflaming passions, organising social boycott of the family and such other acts.

The same-gotra and same-village marriage is the most important marital taboo in the khap belt. There is only one such instance of well-publicised case of Manoj-Babli marriage which led to the couple’s brutal murder. Ved Pal of a village in Kaithal district married a girl of a different gotra belonging to a village in Jind district in Haryana. He was lynched by khap mobsters for violating the taboo of marital alliance between neighbouring villages. Pawanjit Bhanwala is an important community leader of Bhanwala Jats — a gotra of Ved Pal’s wife. In a documentary on khaps produced by Nakul, a Delhi-based film-maker, Pawanjit is asked whether murder is justified in a marriage not acceptable to khaps. He retorts angrily: “What to talk of murder, those who pollute sacred relations must not be spared”. He, an accused in the murder, was acquitted for lack of evidence. Moreover, Ram Dia, the Pradhan of Bhanwala khap, has been awarded life imprisonment in this case.

In the above documentary, Ganga Raj, an important community leader, is shown proclaiming the panchayat’s decision of social boycott of the boy’s family in the Manoj-Babli case with a fine of Rs 25000 on anybody having interaction with the boy’s family. He was given life imprisonment by the trial court but ac operate behind the scene and thus escape the rigour of law. Others become the victims of their lethal rhetoric.

A Gehlaut boy of Dharana village in Jhajjar district married a Kadian girl of a village in Panipat district. Some Kadian families of Dharana objected to this marriage. The Kadian khap panchayat, presided over by Kadian khap acting president Raj Singh Kadian, held a meeting, declared the marriage void and ostracised the family. The khap decision came under sever criticism by civil society groups and the media. The khap had to revise its decision but imposed permanent exile on the couple. This was in August 2009 and since then the couple has not been allowed to enter the village even to meet their aged and ailing parents despite the Constitution guarantying the right of residence to its citizens anywhere in India.

A big congregation of khap leaders took place at Kurukshetra on April 13, 2010. It was decided to collect Rs 10 from every family to help the killers of Manoj and Babli. Examples can be multiplied. Whether khaps have any role in honour crimes or not is left to the readers’ perception.

Those who occupy seats of power by taking the oath of upholding the Constitution should see that its provisions are not allowed to be flouted in the narrow consideration of garnering some more votes. Khap custodians have a democratic right to pursue their demand for a ban on same-gotra-same-village marriages peacefully but they should relax other restrictions which have become impractical in the modern age. However, if someone violates these norms, there should no killing and persecution of the family. Khap leaders should change their worldview in tune with the changing times and concentrate on larger social issues like the crisis in agriculture, mounting corruption, galloping inflation, growing unemployment, foeticide and such other problems if they wish to acquire legitimacy in society.

The writer, a retired Delhi University academic, is a specialist on Haryana affairs.

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