Be a lion, be a Jat,” the clarion call has been sounded at the Chotu Ram Dharamshala in Sonepat. Nodding in agreement are the 30-odd Jat leaders, including some of Haryana’s most influential khap leaders, who have been summoned today to gather support for the cause of Jat reservation.
But for over two hours, the members, clad in the customary white kurta-pyjamas haven’t been able to shrug off the issue of the khaps’ ‘image’ crisis. “Our khaps are getting a bad name. Kare koi, bhare koi (Someone else is doing it, we are paying the price). So, it’s time you shifted focus from the change in the Hindu Marriage Act to aarakshan (reservation),” says Dada Baljeet Singh Malik, 60, pradhan (chief) of the Gathwala khap, who is clad in a safari suit. In the khap hierarchy in Haryana, the Gathwala khap is right at the top, with more than 700 villages under its ambit. In the next two hours, several cups of hot sugary tea and biscuits are passed around and the topic shifts from drumming up numbers to protest the land grab near the express highway to ‘media management’.
Khaps don’t just break marriages or issue social boycotts. They also ‘solve’ murder cases, and ensure ‘social justice’. Meet Captain Mansingh Dalal, 58, a former Black Cat Commando and the de-facto head and spokesperson of the Dalal khap in the absence of its 98-year-old ailing leader. In Bahadurgarh, a semi-urban town on the outskirts of Delhi, Dalal is known by the number of murder cases he has ‘solved’. “Manrothi had become the village of murderers. In 2008, SSP Srikant Jaghav called a khap meeting to solve the matter. We went to each person’s house to persuade them to withdraw cases, witnesses were broken systematically, statements were changed and all the accused were freed to make peace in the village.”
Today, the village needs the khap, Dalal says thoughtfully. Haryana is changing rapidly. Markets are flooded with beauty parlours, gymnasiums and test-tube baby centres. Land holdings are shrinking. People are marrying out of caste, and the youth is getting ‘misled’. Worse, now, a Dalit woman has become sarpanch of Manrothi. ‘Order’ needs to be restored.
And the khap needs to step in.
“For the sarpanch elections, there were murders in broad daylight. The Dalal khap of 12 villages decided that I should be the new sarpanch. Even the administration was party to this. But I refused, since I am only doing social service. It was decided with sarv sammiti (a consensus) that my elder brother would get that post. There was no need of elections,” Dalal says.
The ‘Image’ makeover
At other times, the changing social milieu has meant that the khaps have had to make a few ‘concessions’ as well. Laws have had to be relaxed. “We understand there’s a shortage of brides in our area. So out of the five gotras that were disallowed for marriages, we will now limit ourselves to just two. We are also against the practice of dowry,” Malik says.
Even the women and the youth need to roped in. Enter the 40-something Dr Santosh Dahiya, a professor of physical education at the Kurukshetra University and Rajendra Dhul, 31, who are heading the women and youth wing of the khap panchayat. “We are going to go to every school, college and university to teach the youth about culture and create awareness among them,” says Dhul.
But within the power structure of the khaps, many feel that Dahiya and Dhul are just the ‘sideshows’. The writ of the all-powerful sarv jaati, sarv khap (inclusive of all castes) that was behind the demand for amendments in the Hindu Marriage Act, rests at Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh. There’s talk of Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s “back-door support” to the cause, to retain the blessings of the khap, and the votes. For now though, the issue facing the certain panchayats is that of the land grab for the Express Highway. “There’s a meeting on Sunday to decide the strategy for this protest. We are expecting huge numbers. But khap or no khap, people will turn up only when the issue is about their family, land or their prestige,” says Dalal. And rest assured, the khap will bring ‘justice’ again.