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