Defiant leaders of various 'khap panchayats' or caste councils on Tuesday decided to support six people convicted by a Haryana court for an honour killing and sought an amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act saying marriages within the same 'gotra' or sub-caste should be banned.
At a chaotic meeting of the mahapanchayat of over 20 khaps from across Haryana and adjoining states, a section of the leaders suddenly announced their decision to support the six convicts, five of whom were last month sentenced to death for killing Manoj and Babli in 2007 for marrying within the same gotra.
The decision of the Sarv Khap Sarv Jaat Mahasammelan was, however, opposed by a section of khap leaders from Haryana saying all views were not allowed to be expressed at the meeting.
Khap leaders blocked a road here in protest saying the Haryana government would have to assure them that it would write to the central government seeking an amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, to completely ban marriages within the same sub-caste and even the same village.
During speeches made by various khap leaders, some speakers said the conviction by the Karnal court was against the tradition maintained by the khaps.
"We don't want a constitution or a law that goes against our age-old tradition," one speaker said, virtually challenging the Indian Constitution.
The meeting also decided to collect Rs.10 each from all people who were part of any khap to meet the expenses of defending those convicted for the honour killing of the couple.
However, khap leader Ramesh from the Meham Chaubisi said: "We had come here for the big meeting to discuss various issues. But some leaders took over the meeting and did not allow others to speak. The decision was also taken suddenly and unilaterally and did not take all views into consideration."
The murdered couple, Manoj, 23, and Babli, 19, had married in 2007 against the wishes of their families. Manoj, who ran an electronics repair shop at Kaithal, eloped with Babli, a resident of Karoran village, in May 2007. Members of Babli's family murdered them the next month.
Those sentenced to death included Suresh, the brother of Babli, Rajinder and Baru Ram (both uncles) and Gurdev and Satish (both cousins). 'Khap panchayat' leader Ganga Raj, who was also convicted last week for murder along with the other five people, was given life imprisonment by the court. The six were convicted by additional district and sessions judge Vani Gopal Sharma.
The state government and police officials chose not to say anything on Tuesday's controversial decision of the khap mahapanchayat.
Defiant khap leaders are headed for a confrontation with the state government and recent rulings of the Punjab and Haryana High Court over illegal decisions announced by various khaps, specially in cases of couples from the same sub-caste who get married.