What is “KhapPanchayat”?
The “Khap” is an ancient concept which has written references found back from the Rig Vedic times. These are social- political groups, which usually comprise of the upper caste and elderly men from the Jat community, which are united by geography and caste. They consolidate their position and power covering area comprising a cluster of villages and set rules. These are social institutions are not sanctioned under the law and have no legal status.
What is their purpose?
Khap Panchayat regulates the khap formed under the same gotra [clans or sub-caste] families in the villages it covers. It basically asks for the amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 banning marriages within the same gotra or even gotra from the same village. According to this, a boy and a girl belonging to the same gotra are brothers and sisters. Love marriages are considered as taboo in the villages where the khap panchayat operates.
In what States do these khappanchayats mostly exist?
These khap panchayats exist mostly in the States of Western UP, eastern Rajasthan, but are most prevalent in the Rohtak, Jhajjar, Sonepat, Bhiwani, Karnal, Jind, Kaithal and Hisar districts of Haryana.
How do they function?
There are ten to fifteen people constituting Khap panchayat, who control and make the decision of the lives of the young people. Many people from the village also support these Khaps because of their efficiency in delivering the verdict in a single sitting as against court cases which linger on for years. These people possess undeniable faith in the decisions of khap, since everything is cross-checked to ensure there is neutrality in decisions, and so they can survive from courts where innocent people become subject to harassment of the police sometimes.
Khap Panchayat enforces its summons through socials prohibitions and sanctions, imposes heavy fines or even kills the victims or makes them commit suicide. A lot of young couples are being killed because of flouting the khap rules.
In a few villages of Haryana, young girls are made subject to jeopardy, threatened, killed and even forced to commit suicide as under the khap verdicts. Families even feed their teenage girls with pesticides and the burn their bodies to get rid of them without even a hint to the police. There is no question of rights as far as women are concerned in these khap ruled areas. The entire obligation for keeping such village honor lies on the girls’ shoulders. If a girl alters any of the rules, she is made to be the victim of the khap rules. These rules, however, are bent for boys sometimes. If a couple runs away trying to escape all this, their family has to suffer boycott and pay extensive amounts of fines. The other women of the same family are made subject to abuses and threats.
Because of these ruthless rules, the villagers keep the young boys and girls apart beforehand as a precaution, by having separate school timings for them. The girls are married at an early age so that they won’t go off track later on.
Why is the government not helping to curb their power?
The Khap Panchayats have been powerful due to the intrinsic weakness of the Panchayati Raj institutions which are democratically elected. Further, the Jats, who make up 25% of the Haryana’s population, are the State’s largest caste group, because of which Haryana has become the epicenter of the most horrible form in the rural villages, honour killings. The government has not been able to take proper steps so as to curb this menace.In many villages, because of no legal action against them, the authority of these khaps remains unquestioned. Even the police tend to ignore the khap verdicts, regarding the declarationof death for offenders, because of the strong power and influence that these have acquired on people in villages overtime.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF KHAP PANCHAYAT – A BRIEF ON HOW THIS HAS EVOLVED
The exact origin of khap panchayat is till date not known but is believed to start back in 600 AD. In ancient times, during the time when man was living a nomadic life, villages were being formed at a rapid rate and man was heading towards civilization and better standards of living. Even after this rapid modernization and civilization, a lot many villages and tribes continue to exist in all parts of India which have their own customs and traditions and different activities to deliver justice to their people. Sometimes, there is a council of five people of the elder classof the village for the matters of justice, which is called “Panchayat”. Sabha or Samiti, i.e., gathering or assembly are the forms of governing society in the village. The “Sabhapati” was elected, who is the president of sabha.
The term khap has been used in the geographical sense since it has covered areas and organizations in the north western Indian states such as Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh since ancient times. This political and social unit has been believed to be a group of 84 villages.
The “Sarv Khap Panchayat” is a term used for all Khaps. Every individual khap elect their leaders who choose delegates to be sent to the Sarv Khap level to be represented as khaps there. Since it is a socio-political organization, it comprises of the clans [ sub-castes ], castes and communities at the reginal level.
Corresponding to the present Thana area, a number of villages used to group themselves known as “Gohand”. A number of Gohands lead to the formation of “Khap”, which covers an area equal to from a “tehsil” to a district. And finally, a group of Khaps forms a “Sarva Khap” that covers a full province or state. For instance, a Sarva Khap was set for the whole of the State of Haryana. The decision that at which level the panchayat should gather depends on the gravity and magnitude of the problem in case and the area it involves. The larger the area or the enormous the problem, the higher is the level of panchayat gathering for the issue concerned.
These provide the right to attend the meetings and express their views equally to every one, whatever the level of the Panchayat. However, the members selected to be the representatives of the villages had to attend Panchayats of the ‘Gohand’ and the higher level. The leaders who were elected were appointed at ‘Khap’ and ‘Sarva Khap’ level. These leaders had the responsibility to maintain records of the decisions taken in the proceedings and possessed the authority to call an assembly.
Since, Khap is a bunch of consolidated villages which have been united by caste and geography. These are as old as 14th century which sort to provide the rules, the prime rule being that all boys and girls within the same khap or sub- caste are considered as siblings, i.e. they are related to each other.
Khazan Singh, who is the Dean of Social Sciences at Maharishi Dayanand University, Rohtak, Haryana, is of the view that Khaps are groups which were formed in ancient times by the groups of people from different villages which consented them to take decisions for the village people and their welfare, but these have now regained some sort of influential power which tends to exploit those very people. He says, “Khaps were socially relevant and renowned for amicable resolution of disputes only till the judicial system was established. Over time they lost their clout. But in the last decade, they have regained some sort of legitimacy through issues such as a ban on same-gotra marriages. They have become less transparent in functioning, oppressive and in conflict with the law of the land.”
THE DIRTY FORMS IT TAKES – HARD CORE REALITY OF KHAPS
The hard core reality of the khap can be seen in many of the forms which are being imposed on the people. These include:
1. FEMALE FOETICIDE : –
Despite the number of articles in newspapers, magazines and spread of awareness at a large scale by volunteers, social activists and government organizations, the female foeticide rate is growing at an increasing rate in the whole nation, especially in the north India, where it stand to be the highest. The cases of female feticide are recorded to be the maximum in the North Indian States of Haryana and Punjab. The sex ratio in these states are recorded to be a shocking figure of 722(females)/1000(males). Boys are comparatively considered superior to girls as per the people who support the practice of female foeticide. They believe the girl child to be liability and the male child to be an asset for the family. Giving a birth to a girl child is almost a sin in these regions. So these people resort to killing of the baby girl inside the foetus or the moment a mother gives birth to a girl child, the baby is killed.
2. HONOUR KILLING : –
Almost all the newspapers are these days filled with the rape or murder of the girls for defying the khap rule of marrying within the same sub- caste. These killings are given shape by the ruthless rules of the khap system which takes away their lives with barbaric ferocity. The female who becomes the victim to it is often raped, stoned, burnt or beaten to death, stabbed, cut at the throat, decapitated, suffocated slowly or even forced to commit suicide. All this is done in the name of honour. The murderers do not feel remorse, instead they defend their act with the belief that they have restored and saved the family’s honour which was earlier lost by the girl’s actions. Honours and morality are considered to be collective family matters amongst the various religions like Hindu, Muslim and Sikh. These killings have been increasing mostly in village areas like Haryana, Punjab and western Uttar Pradesh.
3. FORCED MARRIAGE : –
A marriage performed by pressurizing one or both the parties and without their free will and full consent is considered to be a forced marriage. The victims of such marriage are forced through coercion, fear, abduction, threat, inducement and deception. A forced marriage can be between people of any age group, children, an adult and a child, or between adults. It is considered to be a form of domestic violence and people falling prey to it have to undergo both mental and physical pressure. At times, they are even forced to leave the country and settle abroad. Even boys and men are made to forcefully marry against there will, so this is not limited to girls and women only. The victims [ men and women ] of forced marriage experience torture, abduction, threatens, mental and emotional abuses, physical violence, sexual abuse, false imprisonment, murder and at times are even forced to commit suicide.
KHAP PANCHAYAT NORMS CONSIDERED ABOVE INDIAN NORMS IN HARYANA – THE CRITICAL CASE STUDY OF VED PAL AND SONIA
Ved Pal who is a medical practitioner used to run a clinic opposite Sonia’s house. They fell in love with each other and used to have brief meetings as the girl returned from school to home everyday. The girl’s parents disapproved of the idea of getting Sonia and Ved married since they did not find him a suitable match. So they chose another groom for Sonia. However, just a week before the wedding, Sonia and Ved Pal eloped and got married in a court.
Both Ved pal and Sonia knew that they belonged to different gotras ( sub-castes ) and there was no inter-caste wedding between them as both belonged to the same caste, “Jat”. So the couple did not think that because of their wedding, they had caused any dishonour to their families by marrying each other.
But who knew that the dangerous mistake Ved Pal actually made was getting married to a woman of his own choice, who was from an adjoining village. Singwala, which was Sonia’s village, shared a boundary with village Mataur, which was Ved’s village.
What both of them did not know was the fact that according to the Jat tradition of medieval times, people who lived in adjoining villages or villages which sharea boundary, were considered to be belonging to the same clan, irrespective of the fact to which gotra they belong, and thus the main rule of brotherhood or ‘bhai chaara’ applies, which considered them to be related to each other as brother and sister. Marriage between a boy and a girl from adjoining villages is thus against the khap rules, and prohibited by the panchayat, and thus considered to be a ‘crime’.
A meeting was held in the village on March 19, 2009, to make the decision of the so- called ‘crime’ that Ved Pal and Sonia had committed. An emergency meeting was announced by the khap because their wedding was actually considered to be a “violation or dishonor of the caste traditions” by the khap panchayat as said by Paaramjit Banwala, the khap panchayat Head.
According to the panchayat, the marriage of Sonia and Ved Pal was concluded to be ‘a grave violation’ of the rules that had been committed since both constituted a part of the same clan which includes may families. So they both were “siblings” who could not be married together and by doing this, they had a committed a crime for which they had to be punished.
And with this the meeting concluded as the final verdict of the panchayat was announced, which was to sentence Sonia and Ved Pal to death, they have wrongfully brought dishonor to their respective castes.
“If young people live in our society they will have to adhere to and follow our age-old customs. Such relationships are unacceptable at any cost. Jat honour is supreme and must be preserved at any cost,” Banwala added this, thus giving justification to the verdict of the khap panchayat. The meeting took place with the Akhil Bharatiya Adarsh Jat Mahasabha (ABAJM), which is an association of Jats coming from all over India.
After the panchayat’s verdict, in order to save their lives, the couple ran away and went into hiding. Sonia’s parents approached the panchayat for help on June 22, 2009 and requested the family members of Ved Pal to send their daughter home for a few days. They allowed Sonia to go home, but her family never let her come back to her in-laws’ place.
Hearing no word of conversation from his in-laws for almost ten days, Ved Pal went to Sonia’s village to bring his wife back home with him, but her parents refused to let her go. On July 14, Sonia, through her friends, sent a word to her husband that her family was harassing her physically and mentally, and that her life was in great threat.
Ved Pal went to the court authorities to seek help again. He sought help from the High Court that provided him with police protection to bring back his wife to his home. Getting a little more involved in the case, the district administration also had by then issued a warning to the villagers of taking a legal action against them if they tried to commit an offence against the couple.
Finally, Ved Pal having the Punjab and Haryana High Court order which permitted him to go and bring his wife without any issues, along with four policemen and a court official, went back to Sonia’s village to fetch her back on July 22.
On reaching Sonia’s home, her family refused to tell them where they could possibly find her as they kept her hidden so that her husband could not take her back along with him. In the meantime, he saw a mob of almost hundred villagers who were fully armed advance towards him. Ved Pal could easily sense trouble then, and in order to save him, he locked himself in one of the rooms inside the house, but those people along with Sonia’s family broke open the door and dragged him out of the room.
The four policemen that accompanied him ran away, as the mob hanged Ved Pal, in front of the villagers of Jind and the court official, thus leading to his death.
Thus even court order and an armed police protection could not help Ved Pal in getting her wife back home, or even save his own life from the wrath of the brutal supports of Khap rules.
THE INCREASING CASES OF HONOUR KILLINGS IN INDIA – TILL KHAPS DO THEM PART
A number of such increasing cases like that of Ved Pal and Sonia have shown the truth of the khap panchayats in India where these notorious khaps have, in one way or the other, indulged in crimes by convincing people on how they have invoked the ire of their respective khaps.
1. THE CASE OF MONICA AND RINKU, HARYANA :
In the Nimriwali village of Haryana, Monica (18) and her lover Rinku, who belonged to the same Jat community were brutally killed by the girl’s father, brother, uncle and cousins, and were hanged as exhibits in front of their house. The family members of the girl gave a shape to this crime under the directions and guidance of the Khap Panchayat. After the murder of Monica and Rinku, the Supreme Court, on June 21, 2010 gave notices, to take action against these rapidly increasing killings, to the Centre, Haryana and six other State governments. But even this had no effect on the situation.
2. THE CASE OF HONOUR KILLING OF A JOURNALIST, JHARKHAND :
In April 2010, in Jharkhand, even a woman journalist was made subject to a ruthless murder in the name of honour. Nirupama, a 22-year old journalist, who comes from a Brahmin family, was in love with a boy from another caste and thus, was brutally murdered in the name of honour.
Even a journalist could not escape from this game of crime, then imagine what the girls in villages have to go through everyday?!
3. SPREADING ITS TENCTACLES IN SOUTH INDIA – THE CASE OF SIVAKUMAR AND MEGALA, TAMIL NADU :
The menace of honour killings under the pressure of these khap has undoubtedly spread its tentacles all over India. Yet another story, shockingly from a South Indian State, and not north India this time, in Tamil Nadu, goes where in Shivganga, a 20-year old girl, Megala was told that she could not marry her lover, 24-year old Sivakumar as they were related and so her family got their daughter married somewhere else in June, 2010 from where she eloped with her lover, ten days after the wedding. The couple was finally traced by the family and Sivakumar was cruelly killed with sickles. The family justified the killing of her lover on the grounds that she brought disgrace to their caste and family.
4. THE CASE OF RAVINDER, JHAJJAR DISTRICT :
In the Dhrana village of Jhajjar district, Ravinder Gehlawat had “dared” to marry a girl from the Kadiyan gotra. The norms of Kadiyan khap in 12 villages, which included Ravinder’s village as well, considered Kadiyan and Gehlawat to be of the same gotra and of the same family, and thus considered Ravinder and his wife to be related, as according to them they were brother and sister. Ravinder and his family were threatened by the girl’s family and asked to leave the village. For this the Gehlawat family had 500 policemen protecting the dozen member of their family but in no vain.
HARYANA GOVERNMENT STILL SUPPORTING KHAPS AS THEY PROVIDE
Though the criticisms against these self-styled khaps by the judiciary n social activists are increasing day by day, the Hooda government and the various politicians in Haryana still favour the functioning of these Panchayats and do not support the campaigns that aim to curb the power of these courts. Even though the frequency of these honour killing is increasing at a rapidly multiplying rate, policians from Haryana refuse to go against the functioning of these courts arguing that these have been set up for the welfare of village common masses. Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Chief Minister, Haryana, who approves of the working of these panchayats as age-old institutions, which have been embedded in the social customs and cultural traditions of the rural india which forms the heritage of the country.For him, these khaps have evolved as an “alternate dispute redressal mechanism and have been traditionally found helpful in maintaining social cohesion.” He even opposes the fact that there is a connection between the increasing honour killings and the Khap System adding, “the assumption that there is always a nexus between the panchayats and the so-called ‘honour killing’ does not seem to be well founded. In Haryana, there are 20 cases of murder attributed to ‘honour killing’ registered from 2000 till date. However, these murders are reportedly committed by the family members of the boys and girls concerned and not under the dictates of panchayats. Honour killings are reported from urban areas also where such panchayats are not-existent.”
In April 2011, in Bhiwani, Haryana, two widows were beaten to death while the whole village watched the scene. This was accused to be on the grounds of morality. Not presenting a very justifiable statement and calling this incident to be “unfortunate”, Hooda again remarked that such incidents were common in the villages, adding that though the law and order in the State have improved the situation a lot.
Anupam Gupta, a noted social activist and lawyer opposes the Haryana government’s statement. He believes the khap system to be solely responsible for this ever increasing rate of honour killings and adds, “’Haryana’s argument that there is no nexus between khap panchayats and honour killings is open to serious challenge. Khaps have definitely cast their pall of terror in many parts of the state. To acknowledge only the murder of an individual, but to shut one’s eyes to the forces behind the murder, clearly betrays lack of will in combating these forces. It is impossible to curb honour killings today without confronting the khap panchayats.”
SUPREME COURT’S CRITICISM ON KHAP PANCHAYATS – CALLS THEM “BARBARIC AND ILLEGAL”
On April 19 2011, Supreme Court wants a strict criminal action against people forming and ruling in khaps, emphasizing that the khap panchayats are illegal and the honour killings they enforce to be “Barbaric and shameful”, along with demanding action against the police authorities and bureaucrats who fail to prevent them. According to Supreme Court, these khap panchayats encourage honour killings or other atrocities in an institutionalized way on boys and girls belonging to different castes, who have been married or are going to get married. On grounds that these khaps interfere with the personal life of the people, Justice Katju said, “Atrocities in respect of personal lives of people committed by brutal, feudal-minded persons deserve harsh punishment”.
Even after the continued cruel practices of these khaps for long and the crucial judgement by the Supreme Court, the heads of these panchayats have disapproved of the decision of the Supreme Court and said that they have been denied justice. The supporters still stick tot heir view that these Khap Panchayats have been there since time immemorial under which laws have been formed by their forefathers for their own benefits and protection, and that the khaps do not aim to and nor they have harmed anyone. Even the Chief Minister supports this view. The Khaps thus decided to file a review petition in the apex courts after hearing the statement of the Supreme Court.
What Indian National LokDal[ INLD ] has to say on KhapPanchayat?
Indian National Lok Dal does not support the illegal orders of Khap Panchayats. The INLD Secretary General Ajay Chautala, when being interviewed about the decision of khaps for filing the petition after being addressed in the Supreme Court as ‘Barbaric and shameful’, said “If I recall, I don’t remember of a single instance where khap panchayats have issued an order to kill anyone or said something that was illegal. Khaps are part of our culture and tradition since the Mahabharta times. They have been doing a good work and given some very good decisions. But if somebody takes law into his hands, he should be punished.”
THE DIRTY SHAPE IT IS TAKING -CRITICISMS OF KHAP PANCHAYAT
In States where the various brutal murders in the name of honour are seen, which include North Indian states like Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and especially Haryana, there has been no doubt a rapid capitalist transformation, but here is a catch, that this has been coming up with the regressive feudal perception. Though there is a rapidly spreading awareness amongst the dalits, women and backward sections, regarding education and politics, but side by side there is a huge consolidation and strengthening of the khap panchayats in protecting the status quo. It has been observed that these totally unconstitutional khap panchayats have many a times declared verdicts which publically defy the law of land. The issuing of illegal diktas, attacks on young couples in the name of honour, molestation of the Dalits and people with progressive minds have been increasing manifold.
These cases have been most rampant in the state of Haryana, which is geographically a small state, but still comprises of people from different societies and cultures, which makes it heterogeneous. Even in this state, in some specific areas, intra- gotra marriages and marriage of a man and woman belonging to the same village is considered right. In contrast to this, such weddings are considered to be a criminal offence in certain other areas. Even the khap panchayats do not exist all over the state, but are a dominant feature of particular areas, specially villages. It can be clearly concluded that while half of the people in the State represent the law abiding citizens not involving in any kind of customs and traditions, while the other half just stands in contrast, which has evolved greatly to the brutal killing of those who defy their caste laws, not taking in consideration the laws of the land.
Demographically, Haryana is the State with the second largest per capita income of the country and on the other side, it is one of the states with the lowest sex ratios in the country, 821 females per 1000 males. The khaps that have settled in these states have not even once gathered to discuss such grave issues as female foeticide or dowry or even honour killings- the problems of the State which actually need to be looked upon. Rather, it is these khaps only which have encouraged such malicious practices.
In the Kaithal district of Haryana, Manoj and Babli who got married against the khap panchayat’s order in June 2007, were persecuted on the orders of Khap panchayat and this persecution was even supported by the family accusing their relationship to be incestuous. The couple had to seek local court’s help for providing them police protection, despite of which they were kidnapped and killed and their dead bodies were found floating in a canal after a long time.
In this case, a landmark judgment was made when five people accused of killing the couple in the name of honour were sentenced to death. The Court even made sure that they took serious action against the policemen deployed for the security of Manoj and Babli who were actually equal partners in crime for facilitating the accused in committing the crime. This court verdict left the panchayat leaders in shock, since they were reminded that their brutal killings were so not supported by the law of land, and that they were not above the Country’s Constitution.
After the final judgment in the “Manoj Babli honour killing” case, a sarv khap panchayat meeting was called on April 13 in Kurukshetra, where all the Jat people from the States of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan decided to fight for getting a legal status for the khaps, their rules and decisions. Here, they aimed to demand amendment of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 that would ban marriages within the same gotra, thus serving the purpose of the khap panchayats.
However, a shocking side to this is that though the khaps resort to honour killing when the boy and girl belong to the same gotra, but actually very few cases of honour killing have been due to intra- gotra marriage. This means that the khaps create a false impression and frame fake reasons to make the couple and their family believe that the marriage is against their norms on the grounds of the boy and couple being related in one way or the other, where actually what these khaps intend on doing is resisting their right to choose a partner for themselves for matrimony. In many cases in villages like Ludana, Singhwal, Asanda, Hadaudi and many more, wherein the married couples were declared to be related as siblings and suffer harassment, when actually not even a single marriage was among couples belonging to the same gotra.
A sad instance to this has already been discussed in detail about the honour killing of Ved Pal, in which having no reasonable grounds for the verdict, accused him with an absurd code invoked by the khap, which violated the marriage of boy and girl of neighbourhood villages, and ended up declaring them as siblings, giving death sentence to Ved Pal.
The real motive of these khaps becomes clear. Since they ban the people to marry the partners of their own choice on the grounds of their “rules and traditions”, this deterrence of their right of own choice marriages actually connects to the rights that women exercise in land and other property of their parents in these areas. Logically, if a woman is married in a village which is far off her own village, the possibility of exercising her rights in the parental property so inherited at her native village also becomes quite remote. So these khap panchayats target the couples selectively, and aim to control the sexuality of women so as to ensure that the property remains within the domain of patriarchal caste, which includes mostly the Jat community of Haryana.
For all those who dare to raise their voice against the illegal and unethical practices of khap panchayats, these khaps lead to the social boycott of these people. A former police officer in Haryana, who was also a caste leader in the khaps, threatened the people who criticized the existence and functioning of khaps. This has to be a full exploitation of people where a former police chief threatens the citizens who abide by the laws of the country, and yet he remains enjoying the hefty perks and pensions he gets for being a “public servant”!
These caste panchayat leaders have even planned to suppress any voice of assertion from the people belonging to backward classes. In Mirchpur Village on April 21,2010; these khaps burnt down more than 20 houses of Dalit colony, in the presence of a police force, in which an 18-year-old handicapped girl and her ailing father died. The Supreme Court however, took a strong view of khap panchayats for troubling the dalit community in the state of Haryana. Afterwards, the khaps resorted to agitation and blocking traffic for 11 days, issuing an ultimatum to the government for the release of the accused persons
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