Monday, July 19, 2010

End To Regression

India is experiencing a sudden mushrooming of self-styled keepers of public morality and traditions. They usually target the weaker sections of the society.The Government ignores such atrocities and anti-democratic procedures. Semu Bhatt writes on the atrocious diktats of traditional torch bearers – Khap Panchayats – in the latest issue of SouthAsia Magazine.


"Khap is a geographical entity comprising a cluster of villages, prevalent in parts of Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Western Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The Khap Panchayat – a distinct entity from the Gram Panchayat (elected village council) – is an age-old caste council for upholding caste norms. While these Panchayats do play a role in settling the community disputes, they are more known, rather feared, for forceful imposition of their diktats in the name of preserving community honor and traditions. The Khaps are synonymous to rich Jat landowners, who use these bodies as instruments to perpetuate their hold on land, women and customs. People from the marginalized sections and women have no place in the Khap bodies. It is no coincidence then that most of the Khap atrocities are committed against the weaker sex and sections of the society. "

"Sa-gotra marriages, intra-village marriages, marriages in bordering villages, or those where one’s village enjoys relation of brotherhood – are all prohibited as incestuous. Inter-caste marriages are also a taboo to maintain caste purities. The couples who violate these norms are forced to annul their marriage and accept the spouse as a sibling. Those who do not comply are expelled from the village, their families are publicly humiliated, heavily fined and economically and socially ostracized. In many instances, Khap Panchayats even order rapes and executions."

"The state establishment and police ignore such criminal diktats and undemocratic ways of functioning, as Khaps represent the collective strength of nearly 30% of the electorate. The promptness with which prominent politicians from across the spectrum jumped in to take up the case of sa-gotra marriage ban, shows their readiness to appease communities for votes, even if such communities are regressive and act contrary to the laws and ethos of our nation."
"The real reason behind the recent surge in Khap activities is to arrest the decline in their power and relevance, and to prove that they can still flex political muscle. This massive consolidation of Khap Panchayats is to reassert their authority as the torch-bearers of the Jat customs – a position that is being challenged in the current socio-economic scenario by educated youth and political ascension of Dalits and women in gram panchayats thanks to reservations. The neofeudal, patriarchal mindset of the Khap leaders makes it impossible for them to accept Dalits and women as having any rights or standing, let alone being their equals or superiors. Khap Panchayats have always been severe on Dalits and have meted out barbaric punishments – including lynching, public gang rape and naked parading of women, burning of their houses, etc. – in cases where they were found to have violated the Khap norms."

"Agreed that it is imperative that the State respects the traditions of various communities – and the Indian Constitution and laws do have extensive provisions to take care of the heterogeneity of Indian cultures and customs – but no traditional institute has the right to assume extra-Constitutional powers and defy the rule of law. "

"Even the Naxalites, who see things mainly from economics purview, agree that caste inequalities have caused massive subjugation and injustice to the ribals, Dalits and deprived of the nation – many of whom now are Naxalite cadres or supporters. For these socially discriminated classes of people, Naxalism brings hope – which government fails to, and also a shred of dignity – which is otherwise denied to them by the upper castes and classes. No wonder, India is finding it hard to quell this menace that has spread to 40% of India’s geographical area; after all, there is no dearth of oppressed poor in this vast country."

"India is witnessing a lot of political mobilization on the basis of limited identity. There has been a sudden mushrooming of self-styled keepers of public morality and traditions in India. They tell what to wear, watch, celebrate; what language to communicate and do business in; where to live; whom to marry. In a time and age where multiculturalism is under tremendous strain worldwide, a heterogeneous country like India can ill afford to let such divisive politics and narrow chauvinism erode the composite social, religious and cultural fabric of the nation. Good governance, inclusive development and democracy and effective rule of law are required to win back the confidence of the people in the Indian national identity. In the past, India has successfully withstood many challenges to her pluralistic ideals. It is time to extend this inclusive ethos of the nation beyond the constitutional realm and into social, political and economic spheres with full effect, if India is to become a truly glorious example of “unity in diversity” to the whole world."

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