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Marry right or die

india Updated: May 08, 2010 23:43 IST
Paramita Ghosh
Paramita Ghosh
Hindustan Times
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Last week, the khap panchayats of Haryana got a breather. The honour killing headline came from Jharkhand. So, they unveiled their secret weapon — Santosh Dahiya, a physical education teacher, who, for the first time in the history of the Sarvjatiya Sarvkhap Mahapanchayat, will put together a women’s wing as its president.

Progressives in Haryana at the forefront of demanding a ‘right to choice’ in marriage and regulation of these panchayats, say it’s an image-building exercise to push back the homegrown news — the death sentences of the murderers of Manoj and Babli of Karora village in Kaithal district who were killed for marrying sau-gotra (same clan).

Dahiya who takes the line of “anti-violence” says there is support — muttered and loud — from all shades of politicians for the inclusion of the sau-gotra clause in the Hindu MarriageAct. “If this had existed”, she says, “Manoj and Babli would have been declared brother and sister by law.” Her husband, Bijender, adds: “Do zindagi chale gaye, lekin logon ne seekha na... (Two lives were lost, but people learnt from it).”

The ‘learning,’ however, also points to premeditated power alliances. Between politicians, police and the bureaucracy to protect Jat-dominated caste and clan hierarchies in Haryana and control the young who challenge and unsettle it, each time they marry outside the approved combination. “Forget same clan, we can’t even marry outside it. Or, in the same village or villages that share our boundary wall. If we marry a Dalit or a Muslim, we are killed. If we are thrown out of the village, khaps snatch our land. So why are khap supporters trying to make it seem as if it’s just about the same-gotra issue?” asks Aman Saini, a student of Kurukshetra University.

Because it helps. Everybody.

The Indian National Lok Dal is trying to revive its political fortunes in Haryana around this issue — with the gram panchayat and municipal elections next month, and in Assembly polls four years later — to prove that it is more Jat than the others, even as the Chautala village to which its founding father Devi Lal belongs, allows same gotra marriage.

The Congress’s Chief Minister Bhupinder Hooda, will not upset the same Jat base so his stand on khap violence (“no one is allowed to take law in their own hands in Haryana”) hasn’t added up to much. Initiative by advocates such as Rajeev Godara to move his government to lodge “criminal cases against those who are party to khap meetings where decisions of social boycott of families and murder of couples are taken” have been met with silence. “And this in a state,” says Godara, “where 20 cases pertaining to runaway marriages are filed in a day”.

The hands-on hands-off attitude of political parties in khap affairs, Godara points out, shows why killings in the name of honour, continue. “Ram Pal Majra of the INLD attended a panchayat near Kaithal. Bharat Singh Beniwal, an ex-MLA of the Congress was present at the Kurukshetra mahakhap,” says Godara. “Why does Rahul Gandhi go to Mirchpur where Dalits were attacked and say he hasn’t come to do politics? It is politics that can save. A politics based on identity and equal justice is right politics and it can also win elections.” Jagmati Sangwan, president, All India Democratic Women’s Association, Haryana, who has fought against all kinds of khap repression, also asks a moot question about the Jat Sabha.

This is a body, that, as its president Mahendra Singh Malik says, “provides intellectual support to khap panchayats”. “Malik is a former DGP”, says Jagmati. “On 14th April, at a panchayat he said those who violate our customs like Manoj and Babli would meet the same fate. We demand his pension be revoked. Can you imagine how the police conducted itself under him…”

Honour killing and harassment is not Haryana specific. It is taking place in Rajasthan, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand. Even Delhi.

Ishwar (name changed) a Jat from Bahadurgarh, Haryana, was forcibly separated from the girl he wanted to marry. He is hiding in Delhi with police protection. Arti and Purushottam of Rajdoha village, Jharkhand, were chained in a room for a week for marrying into the same clan. Purushottam died in 2008. In 2009, Neelam was killed by her relatives in Rajasthan’s Dausa district and the maha panchayat protested the arrest of the killers.

“Honour killing happens to people like us”, says Reena Dahiya, a student in Kurukshetra. “Ashok Tanwar, a Dalit Congress leader, marries a Brahmin. The khap does not protest. No one makes it an issue. Chander Mohan, son of Bhajan Lal, is able to marry and divorce on whim. Why?” The answer is fairly simple. Because he can.

(Inputs: B Vijay Murty, Malvika Nanda, Satvir Sarwari)