7 Feb

Khap panchayat decision ‘abhorrent’, says Haryana caste body president


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.”

This Haryana caste panchayat story has a twist: a woman stands up to fight back

Holding her 10-month-old son, Kavita, 22, repeats just one line: “I will never agree to their decision.” Overnight, the khap panchayat (caste council) in Maham Kheri village, annulled Kavita’s 3-year-old marriage. The Jat caste panchayat declared that Kavita and her husband Satish were of the same gotra and cannot live as couple. The panchayat announced that they had to treat each other as siblings.Not an unusual story in Haryana’s Jat heartland but this one has a twist: Kavita, one of the three women from the village with a diploma in teacher’s training, has refused to buckle. She is fighting back.

“How can they decide one fine morning that I should treat my husband as my brother? All of them attended our wedding, they even sat during the pheras when the gotras of both the bridegroom and the bride were announced. Then nobody raised a question, so why now?” she speaks out as the other women of the house remain huddled on the kitchen floor and as two constables, posted for their security, watch.Kavita went with her family to the Rohtak SSP’s office to lodge a complaint against the khap panchayat early this week. An FIR was registered against the 21 members of the panchayat and forced the council to call a review meeting. In a meeting held on Friday, the khap panchayat apologised to Satish’s father for parading him with a shoe in his mouth. The members decided that in case Kavita and Statish wanted to live together, they would have to leave the village. But for Kavita, that’s not an option. “Why should I?” she says.

“We have registered an FIR based on Kavita’s complaint and we are investigating the case. Based on the findings, we will take appropriate action against the persons found guilty,” says SP Rohtak, Anil Kumar Rao. An assistant sub-inspector posted in Hissar was also part of the khap panchayat. “We have reported his involvement to his superiors in Hissar who will take departmental action against him,” Rao adds.Even as Kavita is running from pillar to post against the panchayat’s ruling, her husband stays inside his house, 50 km away. Its courtyard is full of relatives. Three police constables, who have been posted for the family’s security, pass on the hookka and take part in the discussions.The only person who is not involved in the talks is Satish, a temporary worker in a milk plant in Rohtak. Since the khap panchayat order, he has not even stepped outside the house, fearing backlash.“I do not know why they targeted us. The local numberdar wants to fight for panchayat elections as sarpanch. Maybe he just wanted to rake up some issue,” Satish says.

“On January 30, the khap panchayat started at 12:00 pm. Instead of having it in an open chaupal, they held it behind closed doors. They came out at 4:00 pm to announce the decision,” Kavita says.The panchayat then forced a shoe in mouth of Kavita’s father-in-law Azad Singh and paraded him in the village. His wife Laxmi fainted. Kavita’s brother immediately took her home. “I did not have time to pack and why should I pack? I am not abiding by this decision. I will go back soon to my husband,” Kavita says.The drama began when Hawa Singh Pradhan, who retired from the Haryana State Electricity Board, went to a neighbourhood village, Charkhi, to visit his relatives. While leaving, as per tradition, he was distributing money among the women of the family. During the brief interaction, an old woman who belonged to the Beniwal gotra told him that one of her granddaughters was married in his village.

Within hours, the news had spread across Maham Kheri village that Kavita and Satish were from the same gotra. Within three days, a 21-member committee was formed and a decision taken. “The marriage stands annulled and they should live as brother and sister,” Pradhan says. “The village is volatile because of this issue. We have taken this decision to calm down the villagers.” Kavita is waiting for February 9 when the khap panchayat of 24 villages will be held. “I will not leave my village. I have done no wrong,” she says.

Victim of khap panchayat order files complaint with Rohtak police


The controversy over a same-gotra marriage in Rohtak district of Haryana has taken a new turn after its victim filed a formal complaint seeking registration of a case against the Benewal khap panchayat. Kavita, who was forced to leave her in-laws’ house on January 31 following a diktat issued by the khap panchayat, met Rohtak Senior Superintendent of Police Anil Kumar Rai on Wednesday, seeking action against the panchayat for issuing an “unconstitutional” order declaring her marriage null and void. She also sought reunion with her husband Satish of Kheri Meham village.

Rai said her written complaint had been forwarded to the station house officer (SHO) of Meham for necessary action. In her complaint, Kavita has alleged that it was a pre-planned conspiracy to disrupt her marriage and action must be initiated against the panchayat so that it was not repeated again. Meanwhile, the mahapanchayat of Meham Chaubisi is scheduled to meet on February 9 to resolve the issue. —C B Singh

Woman, baby forced to leave in-laws’ home on khap order


Following the orders of a khap panchayat, a resident of Kheri Meham village in Rohtak, Haryana, was forced to leave the house of her in-laws with her nine-month-old son on Sunday. On Saturday, the Kheri Meham khap panchayat had declared the marriage of Kavita Beharwal with Satish Benewal illegal, and ordered her to leave the village. Kavita of Bagi village in Jhajjar had got married to Satish in November 2007. After remaining silent for two years, on Saturday the Kheri Meham panchayat ruled their marriage invalid as they were of the same gotra and, even though they had been living together for two years, were like siblings.Meanwhile, parents of Kavita met representatives of the Meham Chaubisi and informed them about the undemocratic decision of the Kheri panchayat.

Satpal Sings, PRO of SSP office Rohtak, said: “We have not received any complaint from the girl’s or the boy’s parents. We will act once we receive the complaint.” On Sunday, a Mahapanchayat of nearby villages was summoned to review the directions issued by the Kheri Meham panchayat, but its members did not turn up. The issue has now been referred to the Meham Chaubisi, the panchayat representing 24 villages of the area, who will soon meet to take a final decision on the marriage.

Khap panchayats are not above Constitution, says Punjab CJ


Making it clear that khap panchayats are not above the law, Punjab and Haryana High Court Chief Justice Mukul Mudgal on Friday expressed serious concern over the diktats issued by such bodies.“Are you trying to say that khap panchayats are above the Constitution? This is not Afghanistan, this is India. Talibani courts cannot be allowed here,” said Justice Mudgal. He was hearing a case related to a PIL filed by an NGO, Lawyers for Human Rights International.

In an intervening application, advocate Pirthi Singh Chauhan had stated that khap panchayats were not doing anything illegal. “Khap panchayats are complimenting customary law and it is the right of khap panchayats, rather their fundamental duty as well, to abide by the customs,” said the plea. Referring to a case in which a person, Ved Pal, was lynched by a mob in a village for marrying within the same gotra, Chauhan stated: “The acts of Ved Pal and his wife amounted to public nuisance, affecting other members of the religion.”

Saying that the victim had not conformed to the “conditions of a valid Hindu marriage,” he added: “Marriage between same gotra is strictly prohibited. The actions of khap panchayats are not inconsistent or derogatory to the Constitution. Any restrictions imposed by the khap are valid.” Chauhan further stated that “If khap panchayats do not impose restrictions, then violators will destroy the society and create chaos. Ved Pal wanted to destabilise the society and administration”.Reacting sharply to the application, the Chief Justice made it clear that nobody is above the Constitution.Appearing for the NGO, advocate Navkiran Singh argued that khap panchayats are an affront to the establishment of judicial system. “The diktats of these panchayats cannot be allowed in a democratic set-up,” he said.



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