I am not sure how many of us are actually acquainted with the concept of Khap Panchayat. The question that might strike us about Khap Panchayat is that what is it that makes it different from any other village panchayat? To have an idea, let us be very clear about a few facts. Khap panchayat, also known as ‘customary killing’, ‘honour killing’ or ‘domestic/public violence’, includes a cluster of villages united by caste and geography and is as old as the 14th century. It was started by upper caste jats to consolidate their power and position. The basic principle of this panchayat is that all boys and girls within a ‘khap’ or a ‘clan’ are considered siblings, which implies that if you fall in love with a person of same clan, you might have as well said that you praise the devil and loath the God and surprisingly even that might have gained you acceptance but marrying someone you love who belongs to the same khap or a different caste or a different region or a different religion will lead you towards imminent death because one of the most prevalent practices employed by Khap Panchayats, to enforce their decisions, is by ‘honour killing’.
We come across many cases where the parents of a girl prefer to marry the girl against her will. The reason for this forced marriage is that the parents want to stop the possibility of going against the khap principles. In these circumstances, the girl revolts against her parents and this in turn leads to tension and unrest in the family. In some cases, the parents’ retorts to physical torture in order to get her agree. Referring to such cases, Khap Panchayat feels that the refusal or dissent amounts to dishonor of the family and the dissenters have no right to live. They should be killed. This view of Khap Panchayat is nothing but a ‘glorification of murder’, thus paving the way for the perpetrators of the crime to go unpunished.
Khap Panchayats are community bodies, especially common in states such as Punjab and Haryana, which issue diktats on marriage and caste issues. The Khaps are different from village panchayats which are legally elected under the Panchayati-Raj system. Technically, each village has two panchayats the legal panchayat and the other, an informal panchayat , whose members go on to represent the village in a Khap Panchayat.
Ascending to survey done by the Delhi based Indian population statistics survey in mid 2007, in India almost 655 homicidal cases have been registered as honour killings, while in Punjab and Delhi it was 32% and in Muzaffarnagar, the worst affected district of UP , 25% honour killings have been registered so far. Around 700 females are killed every year in honour killing incidents.
To be young and in love has proved fatal for many young girls and boys in many parts of North India as an intolerant and bigoted society refuses to accept any violation of its rigid code of decorum, especially when it comes to women. Many such fillings are happening regularly in Punjab, Haryana and western UP. These killings are socially sanctioned by Khap Panchayats and carried out by mobs with the consent of family members of the guilty. In November 2014, in a horrific case of ‘honour killing’ in the capital city , a 21 year old final year student of Sri Venkateshwara , a leading college in Delhi University’s south campus, was allegedly murdered by her family because she had married a boy from another caste and region. The purpose of highlighting this particular incident is to break the belief that the logic of Khap is only adopted by ignorant illiterates , when it comes to a division of castes even the well educated people intend to lose their ability to think rationally. Why is it that a person convicted of rape, murdering others, are given a trial before being sentenced and the people who abide by the law by getting legally married are brutally murdered in the name of honour? Why is it that the thought of two people of different cast to live together happily is considered absurd? The phrase “till death do as apart” should be replaced with “till honour part us”. It is very clear that there can be no honour in killing. The Supreme Court, directed state governments to start fixing accountability against administrative and police officials failing to check caste (Khap) panchayats from encouraging and carrying on honour killings and other atrocities in an institutionalised way.
A bench presided over by Justice Markandey Katju asked the state governments to immediately suspend the District Magistrate/Collector and SSP/ SPs of the district as well as other officials concerned if they fail to prevent such incidents despite prior knowledge of the happening.
Apart from initiating criminal proceedings against those directly responsible for such incidents, there was a need to fix accountability against officials failing to prevent such incidents and not apprehending the culprits promptly, the court stressed.
Just like every cloud has a silver lining , people all over the country are rising against this frankistine of social evil. The Khaps and their parallel structures are crumbling. As more and more youth step out into the world and interact on various platforms, the dividing line between caste and ‘clan’ diminishes. Even though a big section of villagers choose to remain silent after a heinous killing but that does not mean it gives sanction to such crimes, it only means these people are too weak to break free and find their voices to stand up for what is right. We know the Khap leaders are uneducated senior citizens of the society. They do not have the sense of flexibility. Yielding to modernity is thought as a defeat and surrendering their age old traditions by the Khap leaders. Government, through education, can educate them so that they enter the realm of modern era and modern law. This will help a great deal in reducing the generation gap and most importantly in reducing the burden on the judicial system.
(The writer is a student of Sociology at Aligarh Muslim University. She is also a member of University Literary and Debating Club.)