Published On: Sun, Oct 6th, 2013

Are Khap Panchayats custodians of social mores or violators of human rights?

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By Rajesh Ahuja


By giving virtually a “clean chit’’ to the unsavoury role of so-called Khap Panchayats (caste councils) in the much talked about phenomenon of “honour killings”, Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda has stirred a hornet’s nest.

Mr.Hooda’s assertion at a “Meet the Press” programme at the Press Club here over the weekend that the Khap Panchayats are “social” entities which do not “order the honour killings’’ runs contrary to the viewpoint of social pundits, intellectuals and even the judiciary about “pervasive influence’’ of such bodies behind the “horrendous and gruesome killings of young couples”.

Interestingly, Mr.Hooda’s statement that so-called “honour killings’’ are mostly perpetrated by the young couples’ relatives who are opposed to same “gotra” (caste lineage) marriages has its own validity from the legal point of view, say experts. They also appreciate his call for changing the mind-set of the people who indulge in such heinous crimes.

However, Mr.Hooda’s assertion that “honour killings’’ are not unique to Haryana but occur elsewhere too has been criticized by social activists. They feel that tacit support by politicians, especially those belonging to the Jat community, the police and even the government to those who live in feudalistic times and who issue “feudalistic fatwas’’ especially against the fairer sex has further lent “power’’ to such groups who consider themselves above the law and even the Constitution of India.

A social scientist who did not wish to be named told this correspondent that even though Khap leaders might not be actively involved in the actual “honour killing”, the diktats issued by them leave nothing to doubt. There have been many instances where Khaps have called for social ostracization and worse of the boy or girl’s family and their tacit approval behind the “punitive action’’ is more than enough to establish their “parallel role’’ of being the accuser, judge and dispenser of justice.

Social organizations are also “disturbed” by the Chief Minister’s defence of the Khap Panchayats implying that they are the custodians of social customs and norms such as prohibiting same “gotra” marriages.

Interestingly, Mr.Hooda asserted that even though the Khaps do not have any legal sanctity their social status is well-established.

The verdict of the social media is that although Mr.Hooda may be right that one cannot go outside society, yet it must not be forgotten that no private body or institution has the right or the power to dictate “social mores”. And if anyone has any grouse, they can always seek recourse to the legal system to adjudicate such social disputes rather than snuffing out young lives, opined a Panjab University professor.

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  1. Meera Ahuja says:

    ‘Tumne hamare khandan ki naak katva di’. These and similar dialogues are from umpteen Indian movies where the girl and boy

    meet and for whatever reasons the parents oppose the union.The girl/boy is locked up and then they run away together. In

    the end either they commit suicide or the parents accept the relation and they live happily everafter. I do not recall

    seeing a movie where the girl was molested or the children tortured and killed by the parents.

    It is a medically proven fact that marriage between certain close relations are unhealthy and should be avoided at all

    costs.In this day and age when children are educated and more capable of taking informed decisions, when life threatening

    diseases like AIDS and habits like drinking and drug abuse are exposed only after marriage and other social evils like

    dowry persist, is it not better to marry the children where families are known?

    In India parents look after and are responsible foe their children all their lives. When a child is small, parents worry

    for his/her safety, health,education and as the child grows, the worries change form. As the child grows into a youngster,

    parents start worrying about his/her `behavior’ and future. They want the best for their child.As we are very concerned

    with the society we live in, we try to adhere to the societal norms.

    On one hand, there are horrifying news of ‘honour killings’ and on the other hand there are news of buying of brides

    because of skewed sex ratio. Gotra by definition means clan, that is, the descendants in unbroken male line from a common

    male. So many changes occur or are made to happen with time, not all of them for the better. We need to preserve our

    culture but also let go of what is not right. So many social evils have been eradicated from our society and initially

    met with resistance. If marrying within the same gotra is incestous and invites torture, rape and death, then, what

    punishment is meted out to males who molest a girl of the same gotra or men who steal from/murder person(s) from the same

    gotra? How can parents who have nurtured their children for 20 odd years suddenly become such monsters?

    In our country, girls are trained by their mothers in house work and how to be good daughters-in-law. The girls are very

    strictly chaperoned but the boys are allowed a free run. The children are told the rights and wrongs but very few parents

    talk to their children instead of talking down to them. Some subjects are absolute taboo and so in so many instances,

    girls (and even boys) are not able to report sexual abuse to even their mothers. The status of women in our society is

    also a contributory factor in this problem.

    Whether the Khap panchayats order the killings or not, it is their responsibility to control this evil. Instead of denials

    or knee-jerk reactions to media, long term social solutions are the need of the hour. Some heavy rethinking has to be

    done and some norms redefined. Our children are not only our treasures but national property and whatever crime, deemed or

    otherwise, is committed,only the legal system has the right to judge. We plead helplessness when faced with robbers and

    terrorists but attack our own flesh and blood. IronIcal, isn’t it?

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