A panchayat in Baraut town in Baghpat district, nearly 50 km from Delhi, has asked women in the area to refrain from wearing jeans, tight-fitting clothes and using mobile phones till they get married or start working.
The panchayat was held at an intercollege building on April 10 and was attended by elders from nearby villages such as Baoli, Mahavatpur and Rustampur. The decisions were taken by 11 members of the panchayat.
The panchayat, however, knows that issuing a diktat may not go down well with the new generation and so the decisions are not binding. Parents have been told to encourage their children to follow the suggestions.
“Girls in our area started wearing jeans five to six years ago when several families moved out to bigger cities. These families used to visit villages often and the girls got influenced by them. Tight clothes reveal the body. It can land girls in problems and lead to teasing. Revealing clothes lead to unwanted attraction and also spoil the environment of the village. Marriage within the same gotra is out of question,” said Harbir Singh, who attended the panchayat.
When questioned why boys have not been stopped from wearing jeans, Singh was quick enough to add that men should also not wear tight-fitting clothes.
“We are also against boys wearing tight jeans. They should wear loose-fit jeans. In fact, khadi and Indian clothes will be better,” he said.
“These days, you get everything on mobile phones…internet, games, pictures, videos. All these lead to problems and spoil the new generation. Still, the panchayat’s decisions are not binding on anyone. Our teams are spreading the word in the villages and telling parents to restrain girls from wearing jeans and using mobile phones,” said Swaraj Singh, a retired teacher from Mahavatpur, who attended the panchayat meet.
Villagers said to make more and more people aware of the decisions, a bigger panchayat, involving dozens of neighbouring villages, will be held once the harvesting season is over.
The panchayat, where women are not allowed, also discussed ways to check social evils such as dowry and female foeticide.
However, the main reasons behind the decisions are falling sex ratio and poor economic conditions in the area.
According to the 2011 Census, Baghpat district ranks 69th in the state in terms of sex ratio. The ratio stands at 861 females per thousand males, which is lower than the state average of 912.
“Our community has suffered a lot due to female foeticide. We do not find girls for marrying our boys. At the panchayat, we also decided against giving and taking dowry. Most of our farmers here have small agricultural fields and cannot bear the financial burden of marrying off their daughters. The decisions will improve the situation,” said Surinder Singh, a retired army man, who headed panchayat meeting.
He was quick to add that the decisions were not taken by a khap panchayat, but by a group of activists from several villages and there will be no punishment if anyone who refuses to accept the decisions.
Incidentally, the head of Mahavatpur village, whose residents participated in the meeting, is a woman. Mukesh Devi (37) was elected recently.
However, when questioned about the decisions of the panchayat, she found it difficult to reply and it was her uncle who did most of the talking on her behalf.
According to villagers, even her official work is handled by her husband and he is known as the village head.
Similar is the case in Baoli village. Here also, the head, Sunita Devi, is helped by her husband Om Veer.
“Only suit-salwar is better for girls. My husband has a mobile phone but I do not know how to operate it. If I need to talk to anyone, he dials the number for me. I have three daughters and I will not allow them to wear jeans or use phones. I never wore jeans, how can they?” she said.
Such diktats have been issued by panchayats in Uttar Pradesh time and again. But girl do not always accept them.
Twenty-one-year-old Pankaj Tomar from Baoli village said he once suggested that girls at his college not wear jeans and they instantly opposed him.
Amresh Devi, 58, from Mahavatpur, had a word of advice over jeans and mobile phones.
“I never went to school and wear a simple kurta and dhoti. My three daughters never wore jeans even after their marriage. But I will never tell any outsider to not wear jeans. They may retaliate and above all it is their choice,” she said.