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Self-styled social guardians quell women’s dignity

Panchayat diktats: Unofficial village councils issue directives ranging from bizarre to notorious, like ordering a rape victim to marry the accused or offering money to a family to hush up a child’s rape

lucknow Updated: Mar 27, 2018 16:11 IST
S Raju
S Raju
Hindustan Times, Meerut
Self-styled social guardians,Bharatiya Kisan Mazdoor Manch,Punishments
Unconstituional village councils often take bizarre decisions which go against the dignity of women.(Picture for representation)

In western UP, there is no stopping outrageous diktats by self-styled ‘panchayats’. These ‘panchayats’, which are not legally recognised or elected bodies but consist of groups wielding money and muscle power, are known for illogical and obnoxious decisions, mostly against women.

Punishments given by self-styled ‘panchayats’
  • Monetary penalty on family of accused.
  • Beating accused by shoes in panchayat.
  • Advising family to marry their daughter with rapist so that they could become husband and wife.
  • Flogging the accuse in front of villagers
  • Tonsuring the head of the accused
  • To parade the accused in village with garland of shoes after blackening his face.
  • Social boycott of boy`s and girl`s families.

Sample this: A 16-year-old girl was raped by her neighbour in Bhawanpur village two years ago. He was caught and handed him over to the police and a complaint was submitted to register a rape case against him.

But the youth’s family and a group of their supporters called a meeting (‘panchayat’ in local parlance) and mounted pressure on the girl`s family to settle the issue outside the police station. They also used their political influence and the family was finally placated to withdraw the complaint after the victim’s marriage with the accused was arranged. Police also gave their tacit consent and the girl was married to the youth who had raped her.

Later, the girl and her family found they had been fooled. The girl was allowed into the in-laws’ house three days after marriage and was ill-treated. When things became intolerable she returned to her parents’ home. Since then, she and her mother are still fighting to seek justice . “ My husband died four years ago and I sold my one bigha land to fight for justice but the system listens to powerful and wealthy people only, ” said the aggrieved mother who has also allegedly knocked at the door of CM Yogi.

Finding no respite in the case, she filed a petition in the Allahabad high court and in its order of December 4, 2017, the court directed the SSP to supervise the investigation and ensure its speedy completion without undue delay. SHO of Bhawanpur police station Ashutosh Kumar said that a fair investigation would be carried out in the case.

The girl`s mother said, “We were fooled in the name of marriage but it was their ploy to prevent the youth from going to jail on charges of rape. They spoiled my daughter`s life by hiding a crime on the pretext of marriage’.

There are several instances where self styled panchayats or groups of people hand out inhuman diktats and do not even hesitate to take the law in their hands.

A married woman was flogged in public in Launga village of Bulandshahar district on March 10 in compliance with a panchayat called by a former village pradhan. They wanted to teach the woman a lesson for eloping with her neighbour. Atul Sharma, head of Sankalp organization which works for women empowerment questioned , ”Why did the ‘panchayat’ remain silent against the neighbour who eloped with the woman?” She said, “ A girl or woman always has to pay the price even for faults of men and anti-women people gather in the form of a ‘panchayat’ or groups to penalize them for the so-called honour and respect of society.”

Citing an example, Sharma said that a five-year-old girl was raped in Bhovapur village of Pilakhua in Hapur last year. A group of villagers came out in support of the accused and offered money to settle the issue without going to police. In a similar case, a group of youths allegedly gang raped a girl in Amhera village last year . Here also supporters of the accused gathered and offered money to the girl`s family to hush up the matter. The village pradhan opposed them and the youths were sent to the jail. But attempts to settle the issue went on and finally the girl`s family succumbed to the pressure. Sharma said that the accused were now out on bail and the girl`s life had become miserable due to taunts. There were problems in her marriage negotiations too.

Alok Kumar, head of the sociology department in CCS University, said that the so-called panchayats were becoming more pro active because of the failure of the administration, police and other constitutional institutions responsible to provide justice to people and nail anti-social elements. He explained that castes, panchayats and joint families were three major pillers of Indian society where castes were still dominant. When the system failed to deliver effectively, these panchayats immediately came forth to fill that vacuum to continue their dominance in society.

Rehana Adeeb, president of Astitva organisation and her group have worked to support rape victims of Muzaffarnagar riots. She explained that anti-women elements gathered in the name of ‘ maintaining social discipline’ in society but in fact they had nothing to do with issues of gender equality and honour. These so- called ‘panchayats’ seemed to have become a tool for politics and dominance in villages and to exploit women, she said. Police and so called choudharies ( heads) also extended their covert or sometimes overt support to these pressure groups. “ With no respect for laws, these selfstyled panchayats even make crimes like rape pious by compelling the victim to marry the rapist’, said Adeeb.

The harshest example of pressure groups or so-called panchayats was also seen in dealing with cases of rape during Muzaffarnagar riot of September 2013. Lawyer of seven rape victims Sajid Rana said that 5 out of 7 rape cases had been settled through compromise. “Family of only one victim is still fighting for justice and another case was transferred to Delhi.” Sajid said that he fought these cases till 2016 and thereafter left because he could not accept the idea of ‘ compromising’ in such heinous cases.

After the state government seeking status report of 131 politically motivated Muzaffarnagar riot cases, some political leaders are quite active in convincing the government for withdrawal of these cases and a group of khap choudharys has also met the CM to press the demand .

Gulam Mohammad Jaula is a veteran leader who worked with BKU leader Mahendra Singh Tikait for three decades and formed his own organization Bharatiya Kisan Mazdoor Manch after Tikait`s death. Jaula made no bones in admitting that panchayats and meetings were being held to form strategies to mount pressure on the government for withdrawal of cases. He, however, clarified that it should be fair for both communities who were affected in the riots. He said that while dealing with individual cases, these dominant groups may not come forth but they created an atmosphere which compelled the victims and their families to come to the table for a compromise under fear for their survival.

Subhash Baliyan, secretary of Sarv Khap Panchayat, claimed that khap panchayats ( panchayats convened by clans) never interfered in legal matters and advised people only on social issues. He, however, admitted power hungry people in villages sometimes handed out inhuman diktat even in legal cases, which was wrong and condemnable.

First Published: Mar 27, 2018 16:11 IST