With some members of Haryana khap panchayats saying that lowering the age for marriage could be the solution to crimes such as rape, the clan councils have come in the eye of storm once again. The clan council's "remedy", which has shocked many, comes at a time when Haryana is being rocked by
incidents of sexual assault.
In his book 'Rivalry and Brotherhood', sociologist Dipankar Gupta says that khaps - a traditional institution found among castes such as Jats and Gujjars in Haryana and parts of west UP - are similar to gotras, sub-groups within a caste that claim to have descended from a common ancestor.
This could be the reason for their compulsive exogamy, prohibiting marriage within the same clan because any such act is considered akin to incest.
The main difference between the khaps of northwestern India and the institution of gotra, which is found elsewhere, is that khaps have chaudharis and panchayats. Their age-old mechanism to punish violations places them at ideological odds with modern law.
According to Gupta, as many as 384 khaps exist among Jats alone. With khaps taking pride in their "martial traditions", there is perpetual fear of violence in their areas.
Though the social influence of khaps makes even the Haryana government go soft on them, the latest prescription on marriageable age goes against the Hindu Marriage Act-1955 as well as the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act-2006. "The government should crush the khaps' powers," asserts Colin Gonsalves, a lawyer.
Gupta has also documented how, in 1993, a sarv khap (all-khap) panchayat in Sonepat village "resolved that divorce should be considered a social crime, and the offending party should be ostracised by the village".
However, khaps view their own role as socially positive - often passing "reformist" resolutions. The 1993 sarv khap panchayat, which had ruled against divorce, also ruled against extravagant marriages and alcoholism, and advocated education for girls. Historian Prem Chowdhry documents such resolutions way back to 1974 and 1930.
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