KHAP PANCHAYAT

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2 WHAT IS KHAP PANCHAYAT? Khap is a cluster of villages united by caste and geography. It is as old as 14th century started by upper caste jats to consolidate their power and position. The main rule is that all boys and girls within a khap are considered siblings. Khap panchayat governs the khap formed by same gotra (clan) families from several neighboring villages. Khap panchayats are prevalent in Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and Parts of Rajasthan. Love marriages are considered taboo in areas governed by Khap panchayats. Those living in a Khap are not allowed to marry in the same gotra or even in any gotra from the same village. Many young couples have been killed in the past defying khap rules. Khap panchyat imposes its writ through social boycotts and fines and in most cases end up either killing or forcing the victims to commit suicide. All this is done in the name of brotherhood and its honor. It is due to the inherent weakness of democratically elected Panchayati Raj institutions, khap panchayats have been powerful. Even the government has not done much to control their power. The 10-15 men who constitute a Khap settle disputes and control the lives of young people. Many village people also defend these caste panchayats as they deliver the verdict in one sitting whereas court cases drag for years. According to them, in many cases innocent people get harassed in the court and by police. Here as

Transcript of KHAP PANCHAYAT

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WHAT IS KHAP PANCHAYAT?

Khap is a cluster of villages united by caste and geography. It is as old as 14th century started by upper caste jats to consolidate their power and position. The main rule is that all boys and girls within a khap are considered siblings.

Khap panchayat governs the khap formed by same gotra (clan) families from several neighboring villages. Khap panchayats are prevalent in Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and Parts of Rajasthan. Love marriages are considered taboo in areas governed by Khap panchayats. Those living in a Khap are not allowed to marry in the same gotra or even in any gotra from the same village. Many young couples have been killed in the past defying khap rules.

Khap panchyat imposes its writ through social boycotts and fines and in most cases end up either killing or forcing the victims to commit suicide. All this is done in the name of brotherhood and its honor. It is due to the inherent weakness of democratically elected Panchayati Raj institutions, khap panchayats have been powerful. Even the government has not done much to control their power.

The 10-15 men who constitute a Khap settle disputes and control the lives of young people. Many village people also defend these caste panchayats as they deliver the verdict in one sitting whereas court cases drag for years. According to them, in many cases innocent people get harassed in the court and by police. Here as everyone is known so they cross check everything to ensure neutrality.

In some Haryana villages, the young girls are routinely threatened, abused and killed all under Khap verdicts. It is acceptable for the families to feed pesticide pills to the teenage girls and then dispose off their bodies by burning them without any police records. The entire onus of siblinghood rests on the girl. She is the keeper of village honor. Sometimes rules are bending for the boys but a girl is never allowed to bend the rules.

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If a couple run away then the families risk the boycott and hefty fines in lakhs of rupees. Even the other women of the house can suffer abuse.

In keeping with the khap rules, older villages try to keep the young people apart. Some schools are also forced to have separate timings for the boys and girls. Fearing their daughters would go astray, many parents marry them off at an early age. People have unquestionable faith in the justice of khap. The question of rights for women does not exist any where in the territories ruled by Khap panchayats.

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SITUATION IN HARYANA

In Haryana today, rapid capitalist transformation is accompanied by a regressive feudal consciousness. As education and political awareness spread among Dalits, women and backward sections, alongside there is a massive consolidation of caste (khap) panchayats in defence of the status quo. The number of cases in which the totally unconstitutional caste panchayats have openly defied the law of the land by issuing illegal diktats has increased manifold. Attacks on young couples, Dalits and progressive-minded people have become frequent.

Though geographically small, Haryana is socially and culturally heterogeneous. For example, in some areas and among certain castes, marriages within the village and even intra-gotra marriages are not uncommon. At the same time, such marriages are treated as incest in certain other areas, and among other castes. Even the caste or khap panchayat is not a feature prevalent throughout the State, as many believe, but is confined to a particular region. Thus, a section of people of one particular caste proclaims itself as the cultural representative of Haryana, refusing to acknowledge the customs and traditions practised by others in their own neighbourhood.

A look at the demography of the State and its development statistics would help to contextualise the problem. The State that stood second in per capita income in the country has one of the lowest sex ratios

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(821 in the 0-6 age group). Female foeticide is rampant, and the situation is so bad that wives are being brought from far off States.

“Not once have these panchayats called a maha-panchayat to pass a resolution against female foeticide or dowry or even in connection with the crisis in agriculture — problems staring the people of Haryana in the face.”

After the judgment in the Manoj-Babli case, however, a congregation of caste panchayats representing the Jat neighbourhoods from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan was called at Kurukshetra on April 13. It was decided that panchayats would now fight for legal status to legitimately maintain the “social order.” One of the main agendas of this sarv-khap panchayat was to push for amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 that would ban marriages within the same gotra (clan within which men and women are considered siblings and hence cannot marry). Under this Act, marriages between certain lineages from the paternal and maternal sides are already barred.

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MARRYING IN THE SAME GOTRA IS NOT THE ONLY PROBLEM

Most of the khap panchayat diktats are against couples who are not from the same gotra. In fact, not more than one case of honour killing has been of a couple within the same gotra. By creating the false impression that all marriages of choice between young couples are incestuous, what the khaps are actually opposing is the “right to choose a marriage partner”. Among the several instances of khaps issuing fatwas in Jaundhi, Asanda, Dharana, Singhwal, Hadaudi, Maham-kheri, Ludana and other villages, not a single one was an intra-gotra marriage, yet the married couples were declared siblings, and

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families made to suffer boycotts and excommunication from their villages.

A sad example of the gotra row is that of Ved Pal Moan, brutally beaten to death last year when he tried to secure his wife who was confined by her parents at Singhwal village in Jind district. He was escorted by a police party and a warrant officer of the High Court. Ved Pal had married neither within his gotra nor within the same village. In this case, another absurd code was invoked by the khap: that the couple violated the custom of not marrying in the neighbouring village as it forms part of bhaichara (brotherhood). A khap congregation held in March 2009 publicly pronounced the death sentence for Ved Pal, and it succeeded in executing it in June. As couples are selectively targeted, it is clear the real motive is to control women's sexuality to ensure that property remains within the patriarchal caste domain (mainly Jats in Haryana).

The sarv khap panchayat also called for social boycott of individuals who raised their voice against the caste panchayats.

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IN THE NAME OF THE HONOR --- A CASE STUDY

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It is not very difficult to locate the Dharana village in Jhajjar district of Haryana. The road mendors through jowar fields deep into the interiors of the district and most people helpfully direct visitors to the narrow paths leading to the village. The reason why all roads lead to Dharana is the notoriety it had earned following a diktat by its dominant caste panchayat to a family to leave the village permanently.

House No. 419, where Risal Singh Gehlout, an agriculturist, and his family reside, is under siege. Around 450 members of the Haryana Police are stationed in the village to protect the family, and an uneasy calm prevails. People, including the Police, speak in hushed tones. The problem began when Risal Singh’s Delhi-based grandson, Ravinder Gehlout, married Shilpa, a girl of the Kadyan gotra from Panipat district.

In Dharana, the writ of the Kadyan khap runs. Dharana and the villages neighboring it, including Doobaldhan, the native village of Haryana Assembly Speaker Raghuvir Singh Kadian, are dominated by the people of the Kadyan gotra. Shilpa, being a Kadyan, could only be a sister to Ravinder, argued kadyan khap representatives. They added that by marrying her, the Gehlout family had committed one of the worst transgressions of the “bhaichara” principle of social organization, even though the gotras were different.

According to the brotherhood principle on which khaps organize themselves, marriges cannot take place between people of different castes. Within the same caste, marriages should not take place between people of the same gotra. Even when the gotras are different, people living in the same village or adjoining villages cannot marry. Marriages that fall in the latter two categories are interpreted as tantamount to “incest” though on account of the general paucity of girls and the difficulty in finding different gotras within the same caste group, some flexibility is allowed.

“This is our parampara. The khaps should not be defamed.”

Sarpanch said: “There was an agreement that a Kadyan won’t marry a Gehlout. Risal Singh’s family violated the pact. If a girl gets married into our village, she adopts the gotra of her husband and then gets assimilated. Anyone from her gotra can only have a sibling-like relationship with the rest of the village; marriage is out of the question.”

“Who can question the RAJA- says Ved Prakash, Ravinder’s uncle and one of the three sons of Risal Singh, referring to the Kadyan khap panchayat. The Gehlout family owns a

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good amount of fertile land and livestock, and its roots in Dharana go back several generations.

On July 13, the Kadyan khap began an indefinite protest demanding the ouster of the family as they had not been annulled. It said Ravinder’s father, Rohtas Kumar Gehlout, was unacceptable in the village, though his brothers could continue staying but after paying a fine of Rs.21000 each to the panchayat.

What was our fault? Ravinder grew up in Delhi with his aunt from the time he was baby. We had nothing to do with him, said a relative. Ironically, the couple had no intention of staying in the village as Ravinder had made Delhi his home several years ago.

The panchayat has taken a wrong decision, says Chanderpati, Ravinder’s grandmother. Even if the police are there, we do not venture outside our home. We have not sent the childern away as we fear someone would attack them when they go to school.

On July 16, the family was given the ultimatum to leave the village in 72hours. On July 19, the day the Gehlouts left, angry villagers attempted to stone the house, following which clashes erupted between them and the police. On July 19 itself the Gehlout family filed an application in the Punjab and Haryana High Court seeking directions to the state to give it protection as well as to initiate immediate action against autocratic individuals for issuing diktats to end the marriage.

The Gehlout returned the village on July 28 with heavy police protection.

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HORROR IN JIND

On July 22, 2009, Ved Pal Maun, a 27-year medical practitioner of Mataur Village in Kaithal district, reached his wife Sonia’s village, Singhwal, in Jind district. He was accompanied by a warrant officer appointed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court as well as half a dozen policemen.

Ved Pal’s wife had been kept captive by her family against her wishes and he had come to take her. But at her house he was told that Sonia was not in the house. He began looking for her. Soon, a crowd gathered, armed with weapons, and pushed its way into the house and, in the presence of Sonia’s family, the warrant officer and the police, bludgeoned the young man to death. The warrant officer, Suraj Bhan, who was injured, said in his complaint to the Narwana police, Jind, that the crowd would have killed him had the police not been there. “They killed him in front of my eyes”, Suraj Bhan said in his complaint.

For several years, Ved Pal had provided medical care for the people of Singhwal. The trouble started when he fell in love with Sonia, who was of the Banwala gotra, and the couple, realizing that there would be opposition to a “choice” marriage, eloped and got married under the Hindu Marriage Act on April 22, 2009. They were of different gotras and neither was an inter caste marriage as both were Jats. The couple did not feel that they had caused any dishonor to their families.

But matter took an ugly turn. Incensed already by the fact that a couple had dared to marry out of choice and determined to convey a message to the community, the Banwala khap got together and, at public meeting, declared a reward for the murder of the couple. After

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registering their marriage the couple returned to Ved Pal’s village. Apprehending danger to their lives from Sonia’s family, the couple filed an application seeking protection from the Senior Superintendent of Police, Jind.

On June 22, Sonia’s parents sought the panchayat’s help to request Ved Pal and his family members to send her home for a few days. Only two days earlier Sonia had stated in court that she wanted to stay with her husband. Following the panchayat’s intervention, her parents gave an undertaking that Ved Pal could take her back any time and there was no threat to her life from them.

Ten days elapsed and there was no word from his in-laws. When he went to get his wife back, they refused to hand her over. On July 14, Sonia sent word through friends that she was being harassed, physically and mentally, by her family and that there was a threat to her life. Ved Pal then sought the help of the court again and, along with the warrant officer and policemen went to bring his wife back.

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SILENT POLITICIANS

In the April 2009, Lok Sabha elections, the Congress in Haryana won nine of the ten seats in the state, and the Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda cemented his position as the undisputed leader of the party and of the Jat community in the state. His son Deepender Singh Hooda retained the Rohtak seat with over four and a half lakh votes, consolidating the domination of the Hoodas in this belt. The party also boasted a young brigade that included, besides the Hooda scion, Kumari Shelja from Ambala, Ashok Tanwar from Sirsa, Naveen Jindal from Kurukshetra and Shruti Chowdhary from Bhiwani.

However, despite the overwhelming mandate, the State leadership, the youth brigade in particular, has maintained an uneasy silence over the spate of violent incidents, including the murder of young couples and their families by the khap panchayats. Barring the Left parties and women’s organizations led by the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), no political outfit has out to condemn these kangaroo courts.

On July 28, 2009, Brinda Karat, Rajya Sabha member, raised the issue in Parliament, evoking a response from Union Home Minister P.

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Chidambaram. He said he recoiled with shame after reading about the murders of two teenagers in Meerut, the diktat of a panchayat in Jhajjar district, and the brutal killing of a young man in Jind district of Haryana in the presence of a warrant officer.

Although Union Home Minister admitted it as a matter of national shame but he was completely insensitive to the need for a special law. At the same time, he left some space for the legal definition for the honor killing. On one hand Haryana’s Chief Minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda says that this is a social tradition, while Union Home Minister says “we should hand our heads in shame.” In the name of upholding social tradition, people are being murdered, publicly lynched and humiliated. Is this all part of our social tradition?

Chidambaram added: “We do not recognize the right of a caste panchayat to take it upon itself to pronounce whether a man or woman should live together or whether a woman has committed an act which allegedly brings dishonor to the family or community.” No caste panchayat, he said, had the right to pronounce upon the conduct of individuals.

However, the government and the Minister were silent on the issue of initiating legal proceedings or drawing up a policy to deal with such honor killings.

In the Gehlout’s case, politicians like Raghuvir Singh Kadyan and highly educated Deepender Singh Hooda, MP from Rohtak, preferred not to join issue. Hooda waiving off his duty and responsibility said on a television channel that it was a social issue and should be understood from the perspective of society.

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NOTHING HONORABLE – ROLE OF JUDICIARY

On October 9, 2007, in an honor killing case involving a Jat Sikh family in Maharashtra, the Supreme Court upheld the life imprisonment awarded by the High Court to five persons, including two women.

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Four members of a family were brutally done to death with traditional weapons at Panvel on the outskirts of Mumbai on May 30, 1999.

A bench comprising Justices S.B Sinha and Harjit Singh Bedi, while upholding the sentence, held that the case fell within the category of “the rarest of rare cases”.

The Bench, however, ruled that it was not inclined to re-impose the death penalty. A trial court had sentenced the accused to death but the sentence was commutted to life imprisonment by the Bombay High Court in 2003.

The Bench opined:

“We are of the opinion that in the peculiar circumstances that we now face, we are not inclined to reverse the life sentence awarded by the High Court and re-impose the death penalty on the accused. We note that the Additional Sessions Judge had rendered his judgment on December 21, 2001, awarding the death sentence to four of the accused.”

Rajvinder Kaur fell in love with Ravinder Singh who neither was economically sound nor was of the same social status as her. The duo got married despite opposition from the girl’s family. The boy’s family continued to receive threats from Ravinder’s family.

On May 30, 1999, the girl’s father Baldev Singh, mother Maya Kaur and three relatives stormed into Rajvinder’s house at Panvel and attacked the family with traditional weapons. Rajvinder managed to escape. She was the sole witness to the crime.

The Supreme Court noted:

“The diabolical nature of the crime and the murder of helpless individuals committed with traditional weapons with extreme cruelty and premeditation is exacerbated by the fact that Maya Kaur and Nirmal Kaur had come upstairs and recovered the jewellery and clothes from Rajvinder Kaur just before the actual murder.

However, the court rejected the appeal of the Maharashtra government for reviving the death sentence to the male members on the grounds that they had already undergone eight years of imprisonment.

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In the 21-page order, the Bench observed:

“The accused are Jat Sikhs, a proud and aggressive community that has produced some of India’s most valorous soldiers and helped fill India’s granaries – unwilling to accept the victims as equals – and in their garbled perception, inferior in every way and unsuitable for their daughter.”

Dealing with the issue of honor killing, on July 7, 2006, a two judge Bench of the Supreme Court expressed concern (in Lata Singh vs State of U.P & Another [Criminal writ Petition No.208 of 2004] over the several instances of harassment, threats and violence against young men and women who marry outside their caste and held that “such acts of violence or threats or harassment are wholly illegal and those who commit them must be severely punished.”

Observing that “inter-caste marriages are in fact in the national interest as they will result in destroying the caste system”, the Bench held that “once a person becomes a major he or she can marry whosoever he/she likes. If the parents of the boy or girl do not approve of such inter caste or inter – religious marriage the maximum they can do is that they can cut off social relations with the son or daughter, but they cannot give threats or commit or instigate acts of violence and cannot harass the person who undergoes such inter-caste or inter-religious marriage.”

The Bench directed the administration and the police authorities throughout the country to ensure “that if any boy or girl who is a major undergoes inter-caste or inter-religious marriage with a woman or man is a major, the couple are not harassed by anyone nor subjected to threats or acts of violence, and anyone who gives such threats or harasses or commits acts of violence either himself or at his instigation is taken to task by instituting criminal proceedings by the police against such persons and further stern actions is taken against such persons as provided by law.”

Referring to instances of honor killing of persons undertaking inter-caste or inter-religious marriage of their own free will, the Bench observed that “there is nothing honorable in such killings, and in fact they are nothing but barbaric and shameful acts of murder committed by brutal, feudal-minded persons who deserve harsh punishment.”

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MORE THAN 1000 HONOR KILLINGS EVERY YEAR IN INDIA – LAW ON HONOR KILLINGS

More than 1000 young people in India are done to death every year owing to ‘honor killing’ linked to forced marriages and the country needs to introduce stringent legislation to deal firmly with the heinous crimes.

Forced marriages and honor killings are often intertwined. Marriage can be forced to save honor, and women can be murdered for rejecting a forced marriage and marrying a life partner of their own choice who is not acceptable for the family of the girl. In traditional societies, honor killings are basically ‘justified’ as a sanction for ‘dishonorable’ behavior.

Ministries of Affairs and the Law and Justice are preparing to amend the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to define the act of “honor killing”. The demand for such a law was made repeatedly with the objective of stamping out this social evil. “The aim is to provide for deterrent punishment for caste and community panchayats which should be booked for aiding and abetting such killings and as accomplices to the murder.

Supreme Court of India, concerned over the spate of recent ‘Honor Killing” has asked the Centre and Eight State Governments to submit reports on the steps being taken to prevent this barbaric practice. The Court’s decision, which came in the wake of a petition filed by an NGO that seeks a broad and comprehensive strategy to combat the ‘Honor Crimes’ could be just what is required to make those in power come down hard against those responsible for the crimes.

Noting the issue has acquired alarming proportions in India and abroad. While the Indian Government is still mulling a harsh penal law to penalize ‘Honor Killings’, the UK has made forced marriages

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a civil liability under The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act, 2007.

Be it forced marriages or Honor Killings, the social dimensions and implications are the same. The larger issue is their resolution. Whether it is societal or legal, is a question which will baffle legal experts, legislators and the people who practice these heinous crimes.

Comparing the legal framework adopted by the various countries so as to effectively combat the problem of forced marriages. It is the States’ and the society’s responsibility to protect the human rights of its young citizens, to avoid forced marriages, to create possibilities and opportunities for the people concerned to break free and to find protection, support and aid. Education of the young women and men as well as their parents is just as much necessary as a broad concept to empower the young people concerned with the problem.

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SUMMARY

Khap panchayats are the clusters of people consisting of many villages. The people are usually of the Jat community. They says that marrying in the same gotra is a sin and against the policy of their community. They also have the problem if someone marries in the neighboring village. According to them all children in the same gotra or neighboring villages are siblings and their marriage is unnatural.

Firstly, what we noticed in the many cases is that the panchayats had announced the murder punishment for many couples what they call ‘Honor Killing’, who were neither of the same gotra nor they were the residents of neighboring villages. So what we conclude is that panchayats’ main problem is not marrying in same gotra but young ones choosing their life partners at their own wishes.

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Secondly, these khaps are just above any law. They killed a boy in front of the warrant officer and policemen using traditional weapons.

Thirdly, there is not any law on ‘Honor Killings’ or to govern these khap panchayats. Silent politicians of Haryana just waived off their moral responsibility. Union Home Minister was also unanswerable on the issue of these kinds of killings.

Fourthly, judiciary is playing an important role. Any couple approaching the court for the threat to their marital life, they are providing security. Even in the Ved Pal case court has given life imprisonment to the people involved. Also in case of Rajvinder, Punjab and Haryana High Court announced death punishments.

Young ones are brutally beaten to death by these khaps for their fault of marrying by their own choice. Constitutionally, their right to choose is infringed by the leaders of these panchayats. Also their right to life also gets violated. Approaching the court they are equally enjoying their right to security.

So summarizing the whole report we have come to the point that there is nothing honorable in killing your own children. The working of khap panchayats is totally unnatural and builds violence in the area. If judiciary is playing its role then we expect the same from legislature to make law on ‘Honor Killings’. Rather feeling ashamed and bending the head down our politicians shall work on this serious issue.

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PREFACE

In this report on Khap Panchayat-An intervention in Judicial System, we have mainly concentrated on the issue of ‘Honor

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Killings’. How the young ones who had married according to their own wishes are beaten to death and brutally treated. Their families are threatened by the leaders of the panchayats. We have also given the case studies on some famous cases. In this report silent politicians and their vote bank attitude results in lack of any action against these panchayats. But on the other side judiciary has announced sanctions in many cases and has been providing security to young couples all through. We have also shown how many rights of citizens are violated. Hope to see legislature making tough laws and provisions against the violent panchayats and provide justice to the victims.

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INDEX

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PARTICULARS PAGE NO

PREFACE 1

WHAT IS KHAP PANCHAYAT 2

SITUATION IN HARYANA 3

MARRYING IN SAME GOTRA IS NOT ONLY PROBLEM

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IN THE NAME OF HONOR-A CASE STUDY 5

HORROR IN JIND 7

SILENT POLITICIANS 8

NOTHING HONORABLE-ROLE OF JUDICIARY

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MORE THAN 1000 HONOR KILLINGS EVERY YEAR IN INDIA – LAW ON

HONOR KILLINGS

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SUMMARY 12

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