Regressive forces are known to take a mile when given an inch. This seems to be the case with the khap panchayats of Haryana who have now taken to issuing ultimatums to MPs and MLAs to support their illegal acts which masquerade as tradition. Recent statements from a former chief minister of the state and a prominent MP appear to have emboldened these village courts which dispense instant justice to those they perceive as crossing the lines of ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’. The main issue that these khaps have been raising is that of marriages within the same gotra for which they have sought amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. Fortunately, the government has turned this down. It is a fact that under guise of punishing, often with death, those who purportedly marry within their caste, the khaps are actually victimising those who chose to marry someone of their choice. Very few who have been at the receiving end of the khaps’ brutal justice have actually married within their own caste. No one has the right to take the law into their own hands, and this crime is doubly compounded when it seemingly gets the sanction of elected representatives who are the ultimate custodians of the law.
While these public functionaries may intend to express their support for traditional societal structures, the message that goes out is that they condone the barbaric practices unleashed by these khaps. The Haryana khaps should take a leaf out of the book of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee in Punjab that decreed that anyone found guilty of female foeticide or sex selection tests would be ostracised from the community. It has also instituted a cradle scheme for unwanted girl children. Haryana has the second highest per capita income in the country but among the lowest male-female sex ratios. The khaps would be better employed fighting these social evils than trying to ensure the purity of caste in marriage.
The disregard for the due process of law on the part of the khaps was blatantly on display in a recent incident in Mirchpur village in which 20 Dalit homes were torched by upper castes. A handicapped girl and her father died in the incident. Yet the khaps have decreed that the culprits were innocent and issued an ultimatum to the government that they be released. The khaps must clearly be told both by the law enforcement agencies and elected representatives that no one has any quarrel with upholding traditions. But when under guise of doing so, they are threatening the constitutionally guaranteed right to life of people, they must face the appropriate punishment. No one should have the licence to run a parallel judiciary.