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Patriarchy, khaps make life miserable for women in UP’s wild west

Despite rising levels of education and gender awareness, violence against women continues unabated in western Uttar Pradesh with police able to do little in absence of witnesses

india Updated: Sep 16, 2016 00:47 IST
Sunita Aron
Deep-seated patriarchy coupled with repressive khap panchayats makes women a soft target in western Uttar Pradesh.
Deep-seated patriarchy coupled with repressive khap panchayats makes women a soft target in western Uttar Pradesh. (HT file)

The region’s agricultural prosperity is clear from its synonyms: Ganna Pradesh, Kisan Pradesh, Harit Pradesh. While they are all grand reminders of last century’s green revolution, western Uttar Pradesh is of late known more as the state’s rape capital. The notoriety is further evident from another attribution: Wild West.

Sample the data as per a survey by the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA): 30% of the country’s honour killings happen in western UP. Almost 43% of the state’s rape cases in 2015 were committed in this region—the highest being in Meerut. The girl-child is unwanted—sex ratio in Meerut and Muzaffarnagar is 888/1000 as against UP’s 908/1000.

Crime against women comes with a paradox: Western UP has literacy rates better than UP’s impoverished east and Bundelkhand regions. The reasons are manifold — a fiercely patriarchal society, the practice of brothers sharing a woman, the regressive khap panchayats and the collapse of a Jat-Muslims-Gujjar social alliance that politician Charan Singh (1902-87) built assiduously.

For instance, the late Lok Dal leader launched a jail bharo agitation in the early 1980s to protest against cops disrobing Maya Tyagi, a young woman whose husband police killed over suspected dacoity, recalls Agra-based educationist-philanthropist KS Rana. “Today, politicians and the public are silent,” he laments.

Read: Rape? Wait, bees and buffaloes get preference in Uttar Pradesh

Social activists note that western UP continues to resonate with maxims like ‘Do katal karoonga, do bigha zameen bechoonga aur zamanat pe aa jaoonga’ (I will commit murders, sell two bigha zameen and get released on bail)’.

Researcher Atul Sharma of Meerut points out that ‘Do bigha zameen’ carries a meaning that contrasts its general connotation. In western UP, where prices for both residential and agriculture land are skyrocketing, the rich farmer will only be happy selling off a fraction of his property—a far cry from the peasantry’s plight portrayed in the same-title 1953 Hindi film.

Sharma, who has studied rapes in the region, says affluence is driving people towards crime and politics. “The old smoke hukkas; the young experiment with crime,” she adds.

Another oft-heard saying is ‘Mard das khaten kulaq karke aaye to kya bigarta hai’ (what is wrong if a man beds with 10 women).

Tehsildar Singh, a retired DIG, who spent over a decade in the region, recalls how the police once maintained a register of unmarried men and their addresses.

“Usually, brothers would either share a woman or some of them would remain unmarried—to maintain the family’s large agriculture holdings. A few who rebelled to marry were killed,” he says. “Police faced extreme difficulty in resolving such cases in the absence of witnesses.”

Read: CAG raps Uttar Pradesh govt over rise in crimes against women

According to him, society treated woman as a commodity. “She’d slog at home and in the fields, only to be humiliated,” Singh adds. “Punishing rapists proved tough, as cases were either suppressed or brought to a compromise by the khaps, if reported. Sometimes, they silenced the victim. The rape victim was seldom rehabilitated.”

It is another matter that western UP, after the 1987 communal riots, reported no major riot—till Muzaffarnagar happened in 2013. The genesis of that was eve-teasing and love jihad.

Sharma, in her ongoing research in five western UP districts, came across three cases of social boycott. “Parents were left with no option but to marry off their girls to older men or widowers,” she says. “Such alliances remain sour.”

Rehana Adeep, who runs a pro-woman public campaign in Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur and Shamli since 1989, finds the family’s quest for ‘aan, baan and shaan’ (pride and honour) as the main reason behind inaction in crime cases against women. “Unchanged mindset will ensure that the diktats of the panchayats go against women,” she says.

The pro-Left AIDWA notes western Uttar Pradesh has “always been high” on crime. “Be it shared wives, rapes or female foeticide, the condition is pathetic,” says its state president Madhu Garg.

Social activist Sabu George says fear of rape haunts young girls. “In rural areas, they are abandoning studies.” Recently, 500 students of a college sent a letter to chief minister Akhilesh Yadav demanding security as they were teased on way to school.

Read: 1,012 rapes, 4,520 women harassment cases registered in UP in last 5 months

Alok Kumar of Meerut’s Chaudhary Charan Singh University blames technology for the rise in crime. “See, 80% of the youth here have access to free Wi-fi, watch porn clippings and blue films. Recently, I caught three boys, carrying equipment to a farm to watch a movie they could not have seen at home,” he recalls. “Khaps may be issuing anachronous diktats, but they don’t motivate people to commit rapes.”

Farmer leader Naresh Tikait says the Choudharys of khaps will meet next week to discuss various issues, including women safety.

“The spurt in rape cases is also because of lax administration,” he adds. “I find no fault in khap diktats.”

Tikait says love marriages are “rarely successful”. The young should concentrate on studies, allow elders to fix their marriages within the gotra, he says.

“After all, it’s an issue of the family’s honour. Love and relationships only cause long-term enmity.”

Little girls have been increasingly falling prey to sexual crimes. Recently, in Hapur a man molested his four-year-old niece sleeping outside their home with her elder sister.

Adds George: “Occasionally, we come across young girls driving a moped in smaller towns of western UP, but don’t mistake it for their liberation.”

As prosperity is legitimising violence, perhaps the answer lies in giving women her share in property—not on paper, but in reality.