Anti-costitutional Khap Panchayat so is Panchayat Raj !
A 22-year-old woman in Haryana has thrown the gauntlet at the powerful Jat khap panchayat (village caste council), refusing to follow its diktat to start living with her husband of three years as “brother and sister”. The president of the larger body of khap panchayats has now denounced the diktat as “abhorrent”. The defiance of Kavita — whose marriage to Satish was summarily declared annulled by the khap panchayat in Rohtak’s Meham Kheri village on January 30 because husband and wife belonged to the same gotra — was reported by The Indian Express on February 6.“I will never agree to their decision,” Kavita, who has a 10-month-old baby and is one of only three women in her village who have a diploma in teacher’s training, had said. Today, Randhir Singh, chief of the Meham Chaubisi, the umbrella body of khap panchayats in whose jurisdiction the panchayat of Kavita’s village lies, said he strongly disapproved of the diktat. “Let me be very categorical. The manner in which punishment was meted out to the family was abhorrent,” said Singh. “In our view, the marriage was wrong, but the way the Kheri panchayat went about administering its justice was doubly wrong. This is why I have called a meeting on Tuesday (February 9).
We want to avoid any sort of violence or unrest.” The area has been tense since Kavita complained to the Rohtak SSP against the khap panchayat’s order, and an FIR was registered against 21 people. The family is now living under police protection. Meham Chaubisi is the most powerful khap panchayat body in Haryana, with influence over 3.5 lakh people. In the early 1990s, Meham Chaubisi had famously and violently stood up to former Chief Minister Om Parkash Chautala. Singh, who is in his sixties, is aware of the significance of the decision taken by a Meham Chaubisi panchayat in a state where khap panchayats annulled over 40 marriages in 2009 alone. “I know the girl well,” said Singh. “She is a very docile and polite child. All the (strong) utterances she has been making are under the influence of the media and some relatives. However, the whole issue should make us ponder over an ill which has been ignored for a long time now.” Singh was referring to the social ill of female infanticide, which, he said, had shrunk the number of women available for marriage, and contributed to the rising number of weddings between the “prohibited sets of gotras”. “Haryana has the one of the worst sex ratios in India. I think this is a collective failure of our society.
Today there are villages, where there simply aren’t enough girls. Considering their far reaching influence, it is high time that panchayats took a lead in this direction.” Satish and Kavita belong to the Berwal and Beniwal communities respectively, who are, as per local custom, bound by consanguinity and hence barred from marrying each other.“This is not irrational,” Singh said. “Even some of our greatest social reformers have warned against the dangers of marrying within the same family. For example, Swami Dayanand Saraswati specifically said that there should be a gap of at least seven steps between two families. It is a practice that is being followed since time immemorial.” Despite his arguments in favour of the separation of gotras, Singh, a former officer in the state government, wants to do everything to avoid violence. “Contrary to projections in the media, we are not like the Taliban. We are simply upholding our customs. The main purpose of the meeting on 9th is to avert bloodshed. We don’t want lives to be lost.” He has some idea of the possible “solution”: “I think if we can convince the couple to leave the village and allow the parents to live in their home with dignity, the solution can be sorted out.” However, this is a solution that both Kavita and Satish have already rejected.
At Satish’s home, 50 km away from Kavita’s, Satish’s 20-year-old brother Ravinder put forth a condition: “My brother and sister-in-law may leave the village only if the man who made my father go around the village with a shoe in his mouth is made to do the same. He is a powerful local politician, but he cannot treat people like this.”
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