Right to Life and Liberty; A Farce
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Right to Life and Liberty; A Farce

Author: Thamanna Abdul Latheef   25 Jul 2018

Right to Life and Liberty; A Farce

It’s been a year that a village in Haryana has been restricting its girls from wearing jeans and using mobile phones. The village panchayat (Khap) issued the diktat a year ago after several incidents of elopement were reported. As this diktat is closely monitored, girls are scared to wear jeans and use mobile phones there. Meanwhile, the girls of the village have termed the diktat as “bizarre”.

The village Panchayat of Ishapur Kheri village situated on the outskirts of the Gohana-Jind road in Rohtak district had issued a diktat for girls a year ago. According to the village sarpanch Prem Singh, Ishapur Kheri got a bad name after two-three couples from the village eloped. The decision was reinforced a year back and meetings are held in every mohalla to spread awareness about adhering to the orders of the panchayat.

Read more on How unsafe is Haryana for women?

What is a Khap Panchayat?

Khap is a community organization representing a clan or a group of related clans. They are found mostly in northern India, particularly among the Jat people of Western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, although historically the term has also been used among other communities. A Khap Panchayat is an assembly of Khap elders, and a Sarv Khap is an assembly of many Khap Panchayats.

Khaps are not affiliated with the formally elected government bodies and are instead concerned with the affairs of the Khap it represents. It is not affiliated with the democratically elected local assemblies that are also termed Panchayat. A Khap Panchayat has no official government recognition or authority but can exert significant social influence within the community it represents.

Are Khap Panchayats in India Authorized?

The Supreme Court of India has declared Khap Panchayats to be illegal because they often decree or encourage honor killings or other institutionalized atrocities against boys and girls of different castes and religions who wish to get married or have married.

“This is wholly illegal and has to be ruthlessly stamped out. There is nothing honorable in honor killing or other atrocities and, in fact, it is nothing but barbaric and shameful murder. Other atrocities in respect of the personal lives of people committed by brutal, feudal-minded persons deserve harsh punishment. Only this way can we stamp out such acts of barbarism and feudal mentality. Moreover, these acts take the law into their own hands, and amount to kangaroo courts, which are wholly illegal.” Said the Supreme Court.

In a 2012 report to the Supreme Court, Raju Ramachandaran, a Senior Advocate appointed by the Court to assist it in public interest litigation actions against Khap Panchayats, called for the arrest of "self-styled" decision makers and for proactive action by the police to protect the fundamental rights of the people. He also asked for the recommendations to be being converted into directions applicable to all states and union territories of India until a law is enacted by the national parliament.

In parts of India, Khaps are a menace and has been scolded by courts multiple times in the past. In March, the Supreme Court had said interference by illegal assemblies, like 'khap' panchayats, in marriages of two consenting adults was "absolutely illegal". All this issue boils down to just one thing, how derogatory women are treated in the society. How could the Khap take away the women’s rights to wear whatever they like? Why is the entire girl community denied of using mobile phones in the village? Who gave them the power to constrain and restrict the women’s freedom by saying that a couple of girls eloped because of “wearing Jeans and using mobile phones”? How ridiculous it sounds!!! It is just the extension of the feudal mentality and male chauvinism that are prevalent in the country.

So if Khap panchayats are imposing commandments over women and their life, it is extremely derogatory. It simply shows how certain sections of the society are overlooked. In a country like India where all the citizens are entitled to equal rights and freedom, it is really a grave matter of concern that how women are being restricted and how their freedom of life and liberty are taken away.

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