Khap Panchayat : A medieval India under the shining cover
'Girls being raped? Child-marriage is the solution to save them from this atrocity,' - Khap Panchayat, Haryana.
'Khap Panchayat of Yadav community imposes lifetime ban on a couple's entry to the village and also boycotted their repective families.'
'Uttar Pradesh Khap Panchayat bans women (below the age of 40) from stepping out and ordered to cover their faces and heads whenever venturing out of their houses, and should not use mobile phones.'
Such reports may shock us, especially for a country like India,which claims to be modern and is the largest democracy in the world. But the fact remains that behind the shining cover of a glorious, forward moving nation, we have an archaic and bizarre system of Khap, where law and order takes backseat and absolute 'goondaraj' prevails over the community.
History and general background of Khap in India:
The beginning of Khap Panchayat (council) dates back to the 14th century, where it was started by upper caste 'Jats' ( the Jat people are a historical Indo- Aryan community native to North India and the Punjab province of Pakistan) to consolidate their power and position in the community. With passing years, their dominance increased, until they started controlling entire villages, sometimes as many as 25 to 30.
The Khap refers to a system of social administration and organization in the Northwestern Indian states such as Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
The Khap and the villages under it, are governed by an elected council, mainly consisting of 10-15 men, who are united by caste and geography.
The main rule that govern a Khap is that all boys and girls within a Khap are considered siblings and hence cannot marry.
Highlighting the menace of Khap:
'Honor killing' as defined by Wikipedia is the homicide of a member of a family or social group by other members, due to the belief of the perpetrators that the victim has brought dishonor upon the family or community. Honor killings are directed mostly against women and girls.
Honor killings' have become such a gruesome reality today, that merely removing the word 'honor' from 'honor killing' would not help in mitigating the seriousness of the crime. That such cases are on the rise, implies that the society and more so the Khap, is still bound by outdated beliefs that resort to such killing in the name of protecting traditions.
It is reported that more than 1000 young men and women die each year in India, all in the name of keeping this perceived 'sanctity' of the lineage intact.
Every day we get to read stories about how a father chopped off his own daughter's head for 'dating' men, or how the Khap ordered the killing of a young couple, who dared to fall in love. Every time such a brutal and deliberate murder takes place, it marks the death of humanity and love.
One such case of 'honor killing' which managed to shake the entire country was of Manoj and Babli, a young couple from Haryana.
Manoj Banwala and Babli belonged to the same 'gotra' ( In Hindu society it means clan), and therefore were considered siblings, despite not being directly related. They fell in love and secretly got married without the consent of their family.
But as soon as the Khap learnt of their wedding, they decided to teach them a 'lesson'. To stop other couples from committing such acts of 'sacrilege', the Khap ordered the kidnapping of the couple. The girl's family took them to a room and locked them up, where Manoj was mercilessly beaten while Babli's brother forced her to consume poison.
After strangling Manoj to death,their mutilated bodies were thrown in a nearby canal of the village.
After few days when the local police discovered the bodies, the media and newspapers flashed the news on all channels and managed to garner huge public support and attention.
But it did nothing to Khap nor did it stop further killings. The members of the family remained defiant, and showed no sign of remorse or guilt either. The law seemed helpless, and the police a silent spectator.
Forced marriage, restricted movement and diktat on choice of clothes and using mobiles:
To call Khaps murderer, would be to trivialize their crime because they are much worse than that. Along with 'honor killings', the Khaps have been responsible for forced and child marriages, along with restricting the basic freedom enjoyed by a woman.
Recently when Haryana state recorded a sharp rise in number of rape cases( 15 rapes in last one month alone), the Khap ordered, that the girls in the village, be married off by the age of 15, to control the crime.
What was unfortunate that the ministers and police authorities echoed their belief and decided to turn a blind eye against them.
Not only this, Khaps in the state of Uttar Pradesh,are known to function in true "Taliban -style," wherein they have forbidden women from using mobile phones and from wearing any 'western' clothes such as jeans and top.
Restriction on their movement outside the house, and covering the head and face whenever venturing out, have all been dictated to protect the women from crime, while the men roam freely and unrestricted.
It comes as no surprise that, most number of female foeticide cases are reported from these same states,where Khap enjoys the maximum freedom. The women of these states are taught to be 'submissive' from a young age and are forced to follow the diktat laid down by Khap and men of the village.
Khap, Law and our Helplessness:
We know that Khap enjoys no legal status and are not sanctioned under the law. Yet the law makers,ministers and the police authorities have failed to rein in their dominance.
One of the main reasons for this, is the vote bank politics. Majority of the voters in these areas belong to the Jat community,and the ministers promise to support them in order to win elections.
Along with ministers, the local police and authorities agree to turn a blind eye, scared to go public against them or take action against them.
Due to years of inaction, Khaps today enjoy power and dominance, which leaves the common man helpless and at the mercy of these perpetrators.
Recently, due to the intense public uproar and awareness,the Bibipur village of Haryana, decided to bring about a positive change in their Panchayati system. It managed to create history by hosting the first women-driven Khap Panchayat. Issues such as female foeticide and sex determination tests were discussed at the meeting and ways to control them were boldly encouraged by all.
But to uproot years of patriarchal dominance, it requires more. Pro active action is needed by the women of the villages and they need to act NOW. To make the Khap realize that what they are doing or have done is wrong, will take some time. But the need to act is now.
Calling for change:
I feel there is a strong need to empower these women socially and economically. Submission to illogical, archaic belief would only make them and their daughters weaker. It is time for a mother to take a stand for her daughter and son. It is time for her to stop the barbaric killing of her family.
Standing alone might be difficult initially, but if they decide to be together, then the battle could be won.The Khap, would be forced to listen to them.
Getting involved in decision making at socio- economic level, educating the girl child are few mandatory steps which will guarantee a better future of their children and bring in the change in mindset that is needed.
I believe the change is near. I believe that one day,the women would rise and take action. It might take time, but the battle would be finally ours.