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Khap Panchayat: Power or Honour?

Posted on February 12, 2011 in Society

By Sowmya Krishnamurthy:

India portrays itself as a developing nation with an economic growth that is skyrocketing every microsecond. India portrays itself as a nation of mixed cultures and traditions that is tolerant of one another.

What is true in reality is that India is a nation of engineers and thinkers that are more familiar with outsourcing and L1 visas than innovation and independent thinking. India is a nation of mixed faith and religion but often, one is not very amicable with another despite the similarities.

Does this seem too familiar? Perhaps like the movie “Pleasantville”? What does this tell us? That India cannot boast of more than 20% plus economic growth or anything at all in any given year in the name of development when some of the basic things in India are missing or much worse, the reverse.

It is one thing when a basic need is missing, it’s relatively easier to try and introduce something in place. People are relatively open to that. But the reverse, when something that is not of much value to human progress exists it is much worse because now there is an additional step of convincing people to stop doing that before introducing anything new.

Khap is one such thing.

Whenever and wherever there is curtailing of information and expression of opinion there is a corrupt force behind it. Khap is no exception.

“The Khap and Sarv Khap was a system of social administration and organization in the republics of Northwestern Indian states such as Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh since ancient times. Khap is a term for a social – political grouping and used in a geographical sense. Other parallel terms are Pal, Ganasangha, Janapada or republic.” [Source wikipedia]

Wealth distribution or Caste problem?

Men in many affluent families are insecure about wealth distribution. They are worried about their wealth being transferred to other families, more specifically other castes. The reasoning probably is that if the girl marries in the same caste, wealth stays within that caste which according to them is much better than a different one. Known devil Vs Unknown angel, Us Vs Them or “My religion better than your religion” syndrome. When did the dowry problem sneak in as a wealth issue? When did dowry problem turn in to a series of slaughters? For instance, consider this sample case:

Nobody says a word when a politician’s children decide to marry against norms. It’s very selective,’ says Aidwa’s Sudha Sundararaman. Or when couples can pay the “fines”  khaps impose, in short paying their way out. Matters come to a head if the woman marries a lower caste guy. Her succession rights can mean property going–via the girl–into a lower-caste family. Inter-caste, intra-village, intra-gotra are the big daddies frowned upon. But again, selective. ‘A khap had declared a couple brother-sister recently and nullified their marriage. We intervened and as the boy was Delhi-based and had clout, their khap revoked the decision,’ says Sundararaman.

Fighting against the dowry system would be much easier. Instead Khap believes it’s better to control the whos and whats of the dowry recipients. That along with the belief that one caste is better than the other is what’s ruining this country.

Controlling or gender assertion?

Some men think that if a woman is empowered to do what she wants, their own role is diminished because now they have nothing to control. Here’s what a UP farmers’ leader thinks:

“Only whores choose their own partners…. Recently an educated couple married against the samaj’s (community’s) wishes in Jhajjar. We hail the panchayat’s decision to execute them…The government cannot protect this atyachar (immoral behaviour)…. (The law of the land) is the root of all problems… That’s your Constitution, ours is different.”

They truly believe that women are not supposed to pick their own partners. It seems like it is way more of a prejudicial attempt to dominate and control people. Mostly women.

Ignorance or Dependency?

Men (and probably women too) think that the outside world is bad and one has to stay within the community. Just because Khap exists only in North India doesn’t mean the Southern states are immune to it. Those atrocities are practiced there as well, just not in the same name. The Megala case proves that:

“Megala, 20, and Sivakumar, 24, were told they couldn’t marry as they were related (non-blood). Her family married her off in June. Ten days after the wedding, she ran away with Sivakumar. Her family tracked the couple down and attacked Sivakumar with ‘aruvaals’. Sivakumar died on the spot, and his killers, who included her father and brother, have been arrested. Megala, now in hospital, says that everyone in her village, including her mother, feels that the punishment is justified as she brought shame to her village and the Thevar community to which she belongs.”

Lack of education or surrender?

Women, like in many other parts of the country mostly just attend to the household chores and taking care of the family. It’s hard to say it is the woman’s fault although in many cases it is. But mostly, they surrender. Out of fear. Out of not knowing an alternative. For instance, Gangamma could have completely prevented this killing:

According to the FIR, Patil’s mother, Gangamma, saw them together in his house and informed Rekha’s father, Narasa Reddy. Narasa Reddy and his elder brother, Bhooma Reddy, rushed to the place, dragged Rekha out and beat her black and blue.

Is it her illiteracy that drove her to do such a despicable act? Illiteracy doesn’t necessarily mean just a lack of school education or degree. It also means lack of the knowledge or distinction between the absolute right and wrong.

Power hungry or plain clout?

Men, especially older ones have the role and probably the only role of serving as an advisor to the younger generation. In doing so, they forget to empathize or acknowledge their needs. The average age of Khap members being 60, it is no wonder they are still rooted in old customs and waddle in a pigsty of backwardness. Their argument against same gotra marriages citing “scientific” reasons is so very perplexing. If science discourages consanguineous marriages, then doesn’t it mean it encourages inter-caste marriages and hence they should be approved? The well known Manoj-Babli killing was done because they were considered to be of the same gotra. In another case, Ved Pal was accused of violating bhaichara (brotherhood) because he did not marry a girl from a neighboring village even though the gotra wasn’t the same:

The Banwala khap argued that even though the gotras of the youngsters were different (sections in the media erroneously reported that it was a sah-gotra, or same-gotra, marriage, causing more confusion and anger as such marriages are strongly disapproved of), the villages, Singhwal and Mataur, were neighboring ones where the norm of “bhaichara” or “Seem-Seemali” (a concept of fraternal neighborhood for villages located in a proximate vicinity) applied. Therefore there could be no conjugal relations between people of even different gotras.

It’s time to figure out how to work on this plague and nip it in the bud. What are your thoughts?

Watch out for more discussions on Khap!