A Taliban Of Our Very Own

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JUST A few kilometres outside our capital, there exists a body that brazenly rejects our Constitution and our laws. It orders the assassination of couples who marry for love and snatches and sells the children of those who defy its rules. It has ordered the punitive gangrape and murder of mothers whose sons have eloped with another’s daughter. This body has even gone so far as to order that women should only give birth to sons. In yet another paradox in this land of paradoxes, our Prime Minister goes to the G8 Summit to lend his support towards fighting the Taliban, even as we refuse to acknowledge a Taliban huddling not in some foreign mountain redoubt but reigning rampant over millions of Indians – just a short bus ride away from the halls of Parliament.

On July 23, the day our prime minister assured the G8 that India would fully cooperate towards ending oppression by the Taliban, a man was lynched on the orders of the Sarv Khap Panchayat in Haryana’s Jind district because his bride was from the same gotra, a lineage assigned to a Hindu at birth. Some Hindus believe it is incestuous to marry within the gotra. According to various NGO and media reports, Khap panchayats have ordered the execution of at least four people every week for the last six months for marrying within the gotra. Doctrinally orthodox, yet radical in their rejection of the law, the Sarv Khap Panchayat is a cluster of several caste-based panchayats. Translated, it means the supreme Panchayat; and it behaves like a Parliament unto itself.

Khap panchayats have existed since 600 AD in India and have managed their affairs independent of the law of the land. Historically, they have had standing armies protecting the individual Khaps. A Khap is a unit of territory – traditionally, 84 villages from the same caste. The Sarv Khap Panchayat has 300 subordinate Khaps, controlling roughly 25,000 villages in Haryana, Punjab, Western Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Over the last five years, the Khap Panchayats have emerged as an extra-Constitutional body that has repeatedly issued extremely disturbing diktats. Khap Panchayats have been known to order killings, rapes, human trafficking, the seizure of the assets of their victims and arbitrary bans and restrictions based only on their whims and fancies. All this is done in the guise of maintaining the honour and pride of their community. In many cases, the local administration is all too ready to bow before the will of the Khap.

SENTENCED TO DEATH
Misha holds the High Court order in one hand and grabs this reporter’s hand with the other. “What have you come here for?” she cries. “You all are impotent. You can’t change them. They will kill you too. We have to live and die by their rules,” she says. Her 26-year-old son Ved Pal, an ayurvedic practitioner, married and eloped with Sonia, 22, in March this year against the wishes of their parents. When the Banawala Khap, under whose ‘jurisdiction’ Singhwala, Sonia’s village is in heard about the marriage, they issued a decree stating that since the couple belonged to the same gotra, they were siblings and their marriage unholy. For the crime of “incest” and for dishonouring the community, the decree ordered that both be hunted down and killed.

NGO reports say Khap panchayats order the execution of at least four people every week

The newlyweds were tracked down and separated on May 22, not even two months after the decree was passed. Ved Pal could not bear the injustice and put his hopes in the laws that are supposed to govern this land. He approached the Haryana High Court and got a Court order for police protection. At 9pm on July 23, Balwant Singh, the SHO of Narwana Sadar, and Suraj Bhan, a warrant officer of the High Court arrived along with a police party at Ved Pal’s residence in Mataur village in Jind, Haryana. They promised to escort Ved Pal to Singhwala, where his wife Sonia was forcibly confined in her parents’ house, in order to get her back. As soon as he reached Singhwala, Ved Pal was attacked. He was dragged to the terrace in Sonia’s house and stripped. His face and torso were beaten with sticks and his neck and shoulders were cut open with sickles and scythes. Suraj Bhan was pushed from the terrace, while, astonishingly, the 15 policemen fled. “Not a single bone in my son’s body was left intact. They kept beating him long after he was dead,” says his mother. His family, which lives in Matour village, 5km from Singhwal, came to know 14 hours later. They were not even given a copy of the post mortem report. While Balwant Singh has been suspended, four villagers have been arrested. Since then, Sonia has gone missing. Her friend, who refused to be named, told TEHELKA that Sonia was badly beaten with bricks by her family. Sonia’s uncle, Surat Singh says, “She has been remarried and is happy in her household.” Her friend says that this had been done just to dissuade queries about Sonia and fears for her life in the near future.

“What else can be done with such children?” asks Kamal. Her husband Om Prakash and nine others from Balla village in Karnal district, Haryana, have been in jail for the last year. On May 9, 2008, Om Prakash along with others allegedly tied the hands and legs of her 23-year-old pregnant daughter Sunita and her husband Jasbir to a tree and ran them over with a tractor. Their bodies were hung outside Sunita’s house to warn youngsters who might be considering something similar. Both were from the samegotra. Says Jagat Singh, a member of the Kaliraman Khap, which ordered their killing, “We believe that all those who marry within the gotra are bastards. To save the biradari (community), one has to kill the dissenters.” Villagers hail the murders as a victory of good over evil. “The parents of such children should quietly murder them. Not many get such an opportunity to show their true commitment to the biradari,” says Jai Singh, another member of the Kaliraman Khap.

The absence of law enforcement in this situation is stark. A barbaric system that glorifies murder and lynching in the name of honour is rampant, victorious. The constitution, the law, the administration are all slumped in defeat. No wonder then, that Jasbir’s sister, a witness in the case against the alleged murderers, suddenly turned hostile. An insider who did not want to be named told TEHELKA, “The Khap told Jasbir’s family that if they did not withdraw the case, they would be boycotted by the community and would be expelled from their village.” The accused will soon be set free, further reinforcing a barbarity that has wide social sanction locally. Ajit Singh, an ‘activist’ of the Banawala Khap, says, “The Khap has framed ways of life for the community. Love marriages are not permitted. Our elders have enforced this rule. We will do the same.”

After a pro-male Khap diktat, the sex ratio in Ballabhgarh fell from 683 in 2004 to 370 in 2008

In conversations with villagers over weeks and months, it became clear that murders decreed by Khap panchayats were common. However, in most cases, a twisted notion of tradition and the fear of social boycott ensure the murders are never reported to the police or the media. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) doesn’t classify or record honour killings and hence has no statistics on them. The lack of figures on murders ordered by Khap panchayats or ‘honour killings’ hinders research and legislation that might address the issue.

A major reason behind non-availability of statistics is ‘bhaichara’ (brotherhood), which is practised by the villagers under Khap panchayats. To safeguard the honour of the Khap and the village, Khap decrees and executions are deep secrets. Few FIRs are ever lodged.

A GENDER STUBBED OUT
Misogynists often have a way of manipulating the actions of women to their own advantage by hiding their motives behind logic. Patriarchal and regressive, Khaps have played a key role in reducing Haryana’s sex ratio to an abysmal low. Already the state with the lowest sex ratio, and infamous for its bride markets, Khaps in Haryana still proclaim the primacy of male heirs. In 2004, the Tevatia Khap was ‘hearing’ a property dispute in Duleypur. The Khap decreed that families with less than two sons were not eligible to approach the Khap for property disputes as those ‘unfortunate’ families had ‘lesser scope’ towards carrying forward the father’s name or increasing family assets. They simply deserved less, the Khap said.

This has had a devastating effect. Families, desperate for the ‘required’ two sons are using every trick in the book to avoid female births (or kill baby girls). According to a report by the premier All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), the sex ratio in 28 villages in Ballabhgarh block — an area ‘governed’ by the Tevatia Khap in Faridabad — has nosedived. The report shows a direct relation between sex determination tests and the abortion of female foetuses. Shockingly, because of the failure of the state to notify the Pre- Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, which bans sex-determination tests nationwide, courts were forced to acquit the few doctors arrested for conducting sex determination tests in Haryana.

Dr Anand K, in-charge of AIIMS’ Rural Health Services Centre in Ballabhgarh since September 2006 says, “The report clearly reveals that fewer females are born as second or third children in families that are yet to have a boy. This can be solved only by social intervention.”

Khaps are willing to barter their ‘honour’ for monetary compensation and material assets

The 2004 statement by the Tevatia Khap offers a revealing explanation for the shockingly adverse sex ratio. Says Kanta Singh, member of the Tevatia Khap and father of a daughter older than his three sons, “Sons are a man’s assets. My sons will take my name forward and expand my farms. They will earn money to pay for this girl’s dowry and marriage.”When asked where his sons will find brides, considering the scarcity of girls, he answers arrogantly, “They will earn enough not to have to worry about that.” This could be a veiled reference to the fact that Haryana has one of the country’s largest ‘bride markets’, where trafficked girls are sold and end up as baby-producing machines.

The Khap’s misogyny is not limited to female infanticide. They rely on an age-old tactic: rape as punishment for a whole family. In 2004, in Bhawanipur village in Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh, 20-year-old Chetan eloped with Pinky, the daughter of an influential Yadav family. The boy belonged to the barber caste. The Tevatia Khap ordered that while the couple should be traced, Sia Dulari, Chetan’s mother, should be raped turn-after-turn by the members of the Yadav family, since her son had dishonoured the Yadavs. “Not only did they gang rape her, they burnt her alive to destroy any evidence. The police knew about it but did nothing,” says Raj Narayan, Chetan’s uncle. Only after activists intervened were some arrests made – but everyone was later released on bail.

NO DANCE, NO CRICKET
Following the precedent of Afghanistan’s Taliban, in March 2007, the Ruhal Khap banned DJs from playing in marriage parties in Rohtak, citing the ‘disturbance to milch animals’ as the reason. The real reason for the prohibition was the determination to stop girls from entering dance floors. Soon, three other Khaps joined in, spreading the ban to at least 83 villages around Rohtak. Says Pankaj Ruhal, an activist of Ruhal Khap, “Youngsters drink and dance to loud music. Cows can’t sleep in the night and it becomes difficult to milk them in the morning. Women who used to stay indoors started dancing publicly. This is against our tradition.”

Similarly, in May 2001, the Taliban stated that cricket should be banned in Muslim countries. Six years later, in April 2007, Tewa Singh, head of the Daadan Khap banned cricket and watching cricket matches on television in 28 villages in Jind district as ‘young boys were going astray’. Says Daadan Khap’s ‘secretary’, Jogi Ram, “Elders should ask their children to playkabaddi, kho-kho and wrestling. Cricket is not a game at all.” Those found guilty, the Khap warned, would be fined “for seven generations”. Unconfirmed reports state that Khaps near Karnal district have banned television and the radio.

THE LURE OF EASY MONEY
While the murder of same-gotra couples by these ‘custodians of tradition’ is commonplace, Khaps have devious ways of making their roles as custodians profitable ones. In September 2006, Pawan and Kavita visited their parents in Katlehri in Karnal district, Haryana. Kavita delivered a son the day after her arrival. Ten days later, the Bombak Khap declared that since the couple were from the same gotra, their baby was illegitimate and couldn’t remain with them. Uma, Pawan’s sisterin- law says, “The ten-day-old baby was roughly snatched away by the Khap’s representatives.” What followed was a bizarre panchayat meeting in which Kavita was beaten mercilessly until she agreed to tie a rakhi (a mark of being a sibling) on her husband’s wrist. Their son went missing for three months. The Khap claimed the baby was ‘given’ to a childless couple. Birmati, Pawan’s mother, says, “We found out that the Khap sold the baby to the couple for Rs 50,000.” After much pleading and media intervention, the Khap relented and their baby was returned – but only after the Khap got Rs 65,000 from Pawan and Kavita. The couple now live in Mumbai and plan never to return to their village.

Though the Khap says honour is paramount, it frequently barters this honour for material assets without blinking. On July 21, the Kadyan Khap fined the family Rs 1 lakh and ordered the permanent expulsion of 23-year-old Ravindra and his 15 family members from Dharana in Jhajjar district, Haryana. Ravindra (from the Gehlawat gotra) had married Shilpa (from the Kadyan gotra). Even though their gotras were different, Ravindra’s family had been living in a Kadyan village for generations and was hence ‘deemed’ a part of the same clan by the Khap, which declared their marriage void. Chattar Pradhan, the head of the Kadyan Khap gave the family 72 hours to dispose of their property and leave the village or face death. As time greedily ate away at the hours before the deadline was to expire, Ravindra’s 90-yearold grandmother Birna told TEHELKA, “I worked day and night on our farms. That is how we expanded our fields. Where on earth will I go now?” Kamal, Ravindra’s grandaunt is more bewildered. “They could have expelled Ravindra and his wife – but why the entire clan?” she says. Despite getting ‘police protection’, Ravindra’s family finally agreed to leave the village. As they left, their house was ransacked and their cattle were pelted with stones. When TEHELKA last met them, they were trudging towards Jugna village in Rohtak district. The police cannot (or will not) see any wrongdoing. According to the SHO Puran Singh of Beri police station, “They have gone to a neighbouring village to meet their relatives. Everything is under control.” The Khap will now control the family’s property — all 53 acres of prime land. Even Jaivir, the ‘legally-elected’ sarpanch of Dharana village refuses to side with Ravinder’s family, saying, “I am not above society’s rules. If society has decided to expel them and seal their property, they have to abide by the decision.”

Where does the money go? Says Paramjit Banawala, President, Akhil Bhartiya Adarsh Jat Mahasabha, “The money goes to charity, temples and new gaushalas(cow shelters).” When asked who pockets the profits from gaushalas, he retorts, “Who else but Khap members?”

Khaps have tremendous political backing. During elections, Khaps declare which candidate they support and the entire community votes accordingly. Unsurprisingly, during the Lok Sabha elections this year, 46 Khaps in Narwana district in Jind were so bold as to ‘reject’ the Hindu Marriage Act and declare that all politicians who came asking for votes had to promise a new law that prohibited same-gotra marriages or marriages within the same village. In a reflection of Khap power, when Ved Pal was lynched, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Haryana’s chief minister refused to intervene, saying, “It’s a social matter and society has the right to decide.” Not one political party has taken up the cases of honour killings and Khap diktats. Raj Singh Chaudhuri, an activist based in Asandh says, “It is difficult to convince the police to act in such cases as they too believe in the Khaps.”

Asaresult, political movements against the atrocities of the Khaps fails to gain any momentum. Mani Shankar Aiyar, former Minister for Panchayati Raj says,“They are absolutely illegal. Khaps are self-appointed custodians of various communities who have gained a moral force over time. It’s difficult to take them head on but they should be abolished in the same manner that Sati was.”On July 28, in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha, Home Minister P Chidambaram observed,“ We should hang our head in shame” because of honour killings and said that the government could classify such crimes separately.

Ranbir Singh, a sociologist who has worked extensively on castes in Haryana gives an interesting explanation for the dominance of Khaps in Haryana. A research paper he has authored states, “Jats, being marginal farmers, have not only been bypassed by the process of economic development but have been further marginalized by it. This is because they could not take advantage of the Green Revolution due to their tiny and uneconomic land holdings, could not enter modern professions due to a lack of academic qualifications and could not take up some other occupations due to caste pride. Their lot has been made even more difficult by the processes of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation. Their disenchantment with political leadership has made these pauperised peasants look backwards instead of forward.”

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‘If you dare take the Khap’s matters to the police, you might as wellask them to protect your life’ – Surat Singh

‘All those who will marry within the same gotra will be killed. We can’t allow them to pollute the biradari’ – Jila Singh

‘We don’t believe in any Supreme Court. What the Khap says is final. No court can change it’ – Babbu Singh

‘Murdering an erring child is a rare opportunity to show your loyalty to the biradari and the Khap’ – Lal Ram

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‘Couples from the same gotra are siblings. For the crime of incest and for dishonouring the community, they should be killed’

Banawala Khap, March 12, 2009, on killing Sonia and Ved Pal in Karnal

‘What have you come here for? You all are impotent. You can’t change them. They will kill you too. We have to live and die by their rules’

Misha, mother of Ved Pal, who was killed on July 23, 2009

Those who have married against the rules of the Khap must pay a fine of Rs 1 lakh and leave the village along with their families forever’

Kadyan Khap, July 21, 2009, on expelling Ravindra and his family in Jhajjar

‘I worked day and night on our farms. I have reared cattle all my life. That is how we expanded our fields. Where on earth will I go now?’

Birna, Ravindra’s grandmother, on being exiled from the village

Cricket leads young boys astray. They fight and gamble on matches. The family of anyone playing cricket will be fined for seven generations’

Daadan Khap, on banning cricket in Jind in 2007

‘The Khap has asked us to play kabaddi and kho kho instead of cricket. They are our elders. We have to follow their rules.’

Raja Singh, a youth from Jind, where cricket is banned

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Till laws accurately define and punish these malign anachronisms and until the political will is found to abolish them, Khap panchayats will continue to brew a poisonous cocktail of crime, ignorance and bigotry.

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