Clip the Wings of Khap Panchayats

R.D. Bhardwaj “Noorpuri”

1. The self styled guardians of the so called morality and social values in society are fast gaining notoriety by the Khap Panchayats, particularly in the states like Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. They are weilding extra-constitutional and extra-judicial powers and thus, hampering the society in more than one manner. Their Talibani / draconian and undemocratic style of functioning is really hampering the growth and progress of society, particularly pertaining to the young girls and women and it is dragging them back to the dark days of the 18th century.

2. The latest set of diktats has come from the Khap Panchayat of village Asara of Distt. Baghpat of Uttar Pradesh, whereby, they have laid down many restrictions on the girls and women, like – banning them from using mobile phones in case they are less than 40, not going to market without being escorted by some senior member of the family, not stepping out of their houses without covering their heads with dupattas and stop wearing jeans etc. Any body found violating any of these diktats shall be ostracised / excommunicated from the society. All these diktats or restrictions on them amount to stopping them from making use of modern gadgets and technology (which makes our lives easier and convenient) and thus, putting a big stumbling block in their way to making progress and prosperity. It particularly bad to observe that such restrictions have been imposed on them despite that fact all over India these days girls are working hard and are securing better marks than boys in their board and college exams and making their parents and teachers proud. Computerisation and many other uses of technology are certainly helping them to sharpen / harness their skills and excell in their education. But, such Talibani and draconian restrictions on young girls are nothing but like chaining them in shackles and thus, dragging them back to the 18th century position of women, when they were subjugated to the maximum and were conscientiously made inferior to their men-folks.

3. Just 3/4 weeks ago, a similar Khap Panchcyat of village in Distt. Dausa of Rajasthan has given a verdict in the case of a well educated woman teacher (Santro Meena) to accept her child marriage to a man who is not even matriculate. Earlier, Santro has refused to live with that man called Dinesh Meena who is not only quite low in education as compared to his wife, but he also does not earn his livelihood, while the woman in question is a Post Graduate and is working as a Lecturer in a school. The village Khap Panchayat with its medieval and draconian mind-set, has ordered that if she does not compromise and abide by the order of the Khap Panchayat, she be abducted and forced to live with her estranged husband, whereas the woman has refused to accept the marriage which was solemnised when she was just a child. Santro then approached the local Police but it did not help her. The lady teacher ultimately knocked the door of the court of law for seeking justice and nullifying her child marriage. Had Santro Meena been daughter of some big or influential Panch, Sarpanch or some landlord of the village, her demand for nullifying her child marriage could have been easily accepted without any delay and nobody could have even dared to raise his or her voice on that decision.

4. While on the bad customs and traditions made by the big and influential people of the village society of Rajasthan, it is not out of place to mention here that in Village Dangriya of the same state, Dalit members of the village are compelled to take off their shoes and slippers etc. while passing in front of or crossing the houses of the upper caste people. Not only that, Dalit youths are also prohibited from riding on horse backs while their marriage procession is proceeding towards the houses of the brides. What a derogatory rule made for the Dalits of the village and is mischievously allowed to prevail even after 65 years of Indian having gained freedom and untouchability has been declared a crime by law. It is very sad to note that local administration does not help eradicate such bad practices which discriminate on basis of caste, colour or creed and restore equality of law for all sections of society. It is also because of such perverted / repressive minds in society that the under-privileged strata of our society is not able to make some discernible progress and prosperity and rise in life.

5. In January last year, Khap Panchayat of Bhenswal village of Distt. Muzaffarnagar of U.P., had banned wearing jeans because they feel that these western attires lead to provoking passions / eve-teasing and encourages the young boys and girls to mix and mingle-up freely with each other, without any inhibitions and without caring for the moral and social values of society. Not only that, instances have also been noticed that such young boys and girls are tempted to elope or are taking alluring option of love marriage, without giving any thought to the bad / negative consequences of such a marriage.

6. In April / May 2010, Khap Panchayats functioning all over the states of Haryana, Rajasthan and U.P., had punished many young boys and girls for taking recourse of love marriages in spite of having same Gotras of both the families. Many young couples, who went to Police for seeking help against the impending threats to their lives, did not get any saviour from that side. On the contrary, instances have come to notice where Police had actually connived with the threatening parents or other influential people, and thereby, made the lives of the young and newly married couples more difficult and miserable and have also compelled them to flee from their own houses / villages. Not only that, a young couple from Haryana (Manoj and Babli) was even killed for daring to live together and remain tied in love marriage against the wishes of their parents and village Khap Panchayat.

7. Many more examples can be quoted but one thing which is common in all these cases is that these Khap Panchatys are all misusing their powers and authorities, least bothering for – as to what the law of land says in such circumstances. Often they behave and conduct themselves as if they are the competent courts unto themselves and are capable of deciding such matters, totally bye-passing the due process of law. The attitude and conduct of the local police in majority of such cases has also been shameful and worth condemning. On the top of it, people’s representatives like MLAs and MPs of the areas seem to be least concerned to say anything; rather it would be better to say that their conspiracy of silence over wrong and bad decisions of the Khap Panchayats is ruining the delicate fabric of our society, as these Talibani restrictions are totally undemocratic, illegal and draconian in nature, and above all, contrary to interests of the females, who constitute 50 % of our population. Not only that, even the Chief Ministers of these states continue to keep a studied silence over many such wrongs and Talibani decisions / diktats of these Khap Panchayats, which of course, gives credence to the fact that these State Governments are practically hand and glove with the Talibani Khap Panchayats.

8. Secondly, it is also a well known fact that no society in the world can make any worthwhile progress and prosperity matchable / comparable with the developed countries around the globe in case 50 % of its constituents are made to lag behind and are subjugated as if they are the inferior citizens. Contrary to this scenario, the fact of the matter is that, if given equal opportunities, girls are nowadays more hardworking and capable of scoring better marks than boys in many competitions and exams.

9. Let us now take some examples of some successful females who, by the virtue of their hard work, constant efforts and struggles, have tasted huge success and reached their pinnacle of glory and made their parents and teachers proud of them. Mrs. Indira Gandhi became the first woman Prime Minister of India in 1966 and also amongst all the Asian countries. Our President Mrs. Pratibha Devi Patil became the first woman President of India in July, 2007 (and is due for her retirement from office within a couple of days from today), whereas, even the most advanced country of the world i.e. USA cannot boast of making that achievement. Mrs. Kalpana Chawla from Haryana became first woman astronaut of India when she flew to space in November, 1997 in an American spacecraft called Columbia, along with her six other colleagues and had the prevledge of working in space for 18 days. Mrs. Sunita Williams has also carved a unique niche for herself and has blasted off for her second space journey on the 15th July, 2012 in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft for a four months long space mission, along with her two other colleagues. Earlier also, she had spent more than six months in space in the year 2006-07, and now she shall also make a world record of the longest stay in space by any woman around the globe. Mrs. Kiran Bedi became the first Indian Police Service (IPS) officer in 1972 and rose to the post of Director General at the Bureau of Police Research and Development before she voluntarily retired from service in December 2007. She is now successfully working as an active social worker and an assertive member of Anna Hazare Team, tirelessly working to bring an effective Jan Lokpal Bill and also bring back lakh crores of black money stashed in Swiss Banks.

10. Besides, these women, there are thousands of other successful girls and women who have achieved huge and admirable success in many other areas like literature, arts, politics, judicial services, aviation, journalism, medicine, science, sports and film industry as well. All these women could taste huge success and reach their praise worthy positions of glory in their respective fields because they were given a fair degree of freedom to chose for themselves and make their own decisions, and also due to the fact that their parents trusted them and believed that they will make their well thought of decisions which are best suited to them for their long term well-being and benefits and shall make steady advancement in their ladder of success. Had all these women cared for what their opponents say about them as to how to conduct themselves and move about in society and whether they should make use of the latest technologies or not, they would never had such high and happy milestones in their careers and touched the zenith of their success.

11. In view of the above, it is suggested that all these Khap Panchayats who are functioning undemocratically and without any knowledge about the laws of the land, and thus bent upon making India another Pakistan and Taliban by their illogical and unreasonable diktats, should better mend their conduct, ways and behaviour and should stop imposing unnecessary restrictions on young boys and girls and particularly females; because these restrictions are posing as major hurdles in the roads to making progress and prosperity by the younger generation.

12. In case, these Khap Panchayats cannot encourage girls of their villages to do more good things like achieving quality education and excell in life, they have no right to block their passages as well. Secondly, in case these Khap Panchayats do not mend their ways and behaviour and continue in their Talibanisation style, approach and attitude, then the respective state Govts. should come forward and exercise its powers to clip the ruffian and repressive wings of these Khap Panchayats and fix limits of their areas of functioning and tell them their real place in society, because these Panchayats have no legal sanctions and that they are not elected representatives of the people. On the contrary, they are just a group of powerful landlords of the village who try desperately to assert their influence and hegemony over majority of the poor villagers who fail to challenge their authority to issue such diktats.

13. The Central Govt. should also tell them in clear terms not to cross their limits and not to harass the young boys and girls unnecessarily and stay away from their paths of achieving good education and shine in life. Not only that, if some member of these Khap Panchayats does not show any signs of improvement, he or she should be legally dealt with by imposing huge financial penalty on him and should also be barred from contesting any election in future. His present seat on the village Panchayat, if any, should also be forfeited / declared null and void.