By Roshni Balaji:
DISCLAIMER: Khap Panchayats and rape incidents are not specific to Haryana alone. However, this article is based on a case in point coming from the region.
Dabra is a village in rural Haryana. With a population of about 6000 people, most of them belonging to the Jat or the Dalit community, it has narrow lanes, open drains and small houses built using brick and mud. Children play in the dirt while men sit around smoking. Very few outsiders visit this hamlet due to the poor conditions. Six weeks ago a grievous incident took place. A sixteen year old was abducted by a group of seven men. “They dragged me inside the car and blindfolded me, and then they took me by the side of the river and took turns to rape me while the others kept watch,” she says in an unemotional but steady voice. The torment did not end there. The attack was filmed by the men on their mobile phones. Later the MMS was circulated in this immensely obstinate society.
The victim’s father faced so much humiliation that he poisoned himself. It’s disheartening that the father’s death had to propel the district police to file a case, and not the sexual abuse. So far, neither the chief minister Bhupinder Singh nor his son Deepinder Singh, who’s an MP, have visited the village or shown any promptness in issues orders. Last year, 733 rapes were reported in Haryana. Apart from this, many such assaults go unreported. Sexual violence does take place all over India but, what stands out is the insolence and mistreatment meted out to the women on a large scale in Haryana. Besides, the sex ratio in Haryana is merely 877 females per thousand males.
To add to this, the Khap Panchayati system in these villages does not act as an effective medium of delivering justice. Though the Supreme Court has already declared that formation of such panchayats as illegal, they do exist. These all-male village councils commonly called ‘khaps‘ are tremendously powerful, both socially and politically. These elderly men are usually seen sitting on wooden cots and smoking pipes. If their orders are not followed by the village folk, they themselves do not hesitate from indulging in honour killing and other atrocities. They are like kangaroo courts, creating their own laws for the society and determining how women must behave. They generally help politicians by delivering community votes during elections and hence no action is taken to oust them.
They pass judgments on social conduct; in the cause of the 16 year old, one of the council members even said that girls should be forced to marry at a young age to protect them from rapists. Ridiculous! The others simply start blaming western influences for the occurrence of such untoward incidents.
These Khaps have no place in a democratic and liberal India. But taking them on is definitely not going to be a cakewalk. Back in Dabra, the impact of the unfortunate event has proved to be quite detrimental. The young rape victim says, “The girls in my neighbourhood have stopped going to school and I am frightened too.”
What is the solution to such heinous crimes, and the further atrocities that the society has on the victims? What could be the possible solutions?