Till death do us apart

How many more must die for love before it's curtain call for khaps and their feudal power?
Shaweta Anand Delhi

Even though the recent film Khap elicited lukewarm response at the box-office, it did ruffle feathers within khaps (unelected, caste panchayats) of Haryana who demanded an immediate ban on the film. They said the film misrepresented Indian culture as it 'portrayed them in bad light'.

Despite the poor response, the film did succeed in boldly highlighting the barbaric, feudal acts that khaps have perpetrated against couples-in-love for the first time on silver screen, even if it meant going against the powerful political class of Haryana that openly supports khaps.

With an eye on the electoral equations, he has given them a kind hearing whenever they held khap mahapanchayats (large gatherings of many khaps) and demanded from him an amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act 1955 to criminalise same-gotra (clan/sub-caste) marriages, otherwise legal in India. Om Prakash Chautala, ex-chief minister from the opposition party, too, has raised the same demand with the Union home ministry in order to appease the upper-caste vote bank. Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda had also tacitly backed the khaps.

Not far behind in regressive politicking is a representative of the younger generation, foreign-educated MP and industrialist from Kurukshetra, Naveen Jindal. Despite his exposure to a more liberal society, he had glorified the role of feudal khaps in society, arguing that they have been playing an important role in the settlement of village issues since generations, much before the formal legal system came into being. It was only when the Congress high command asked him for a clarification after he had attended a khap mahapanchayat, that he slightly backtracked from his stand.

'Honour' crimes, whether committed by organised upper-caste khaps (mostly Jats and Rajputs as reported by popular media), or individuals, comprise a broad range of acts from quiet murders passed off as suicides, to pre-mediated, long-drawn public humiliation and social boycott of those targeted for forming alliances across caste (for instance, between upper-caste girl and Dalit boy), religion, or for making swagotra alliances (ie, within the same gotra. Historically, people from same gotra are believed to be descendents of the same rishi/saint, hence siblings, according to Hinduism.)

Besides, family 'honour' sometimes also gets violated if girls refuse to follow 'acceptable' dress-codes, refuse forced arranged marriages, or engage in homosexual relationships, as all these are blindly denounced as blasphemous, 'un-Indian' activities influenced by Western culture.

According to the draft bill circulated by CPM's women's wing, All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) — The Prevention of Crimes in the Name of 'Honour' and Tradition Bill, 2010 — crime in the name of 'honour' comprises a range of violent or abusive acts, including emotional, physical, sexual abuse and other coercive acts by caste/community groups or individuals. The bill was submitted to the Union law minister last year, but no action has been taken upon it yet.