‘Haryana women have done the most to fight khaps’

A locator map of Kaithal district, Haryana
Image via Wikipedia
Jagmati Sangwan, 50, has been leading the fight against khap panchayats and honour crimes in Haryana. The articulate and spunky president of the Haryana wing of All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) – formerly a volleyball player – spoke to Shreya Roy Chowdhury in Delhi:

Has the fight against honour crimes grown stronger in Haryana?
AIDWA has been active in Haryana since 1985. Initially we had a team of 10-15, now we have about 48,000 members operating in 11 districts. Violence against women, specifically violence in the name of honour, and the diktats of khap panchayats has been one of our main areas of intervention.

How did you start work?
We started working with families whose kids were killed or excommunicated by the community. Those days violence wasn’t perceived as violence at all. We intervened in lots of cases but because there is no special law against honour killings, in most cases, the culprits got away. No one was prepared to bear witness or gather evidence. But in the Manoj-Babli case – a same-gotra couple who were killed in Kaithal district in June 2007 – it was a different story. Manoj lived with his mother, a widow, and his sister. Women called the shots in this household and this was a women’s organisation active in the field for the last 20-25 years. They considered our small force a great support and agreed to fight with us. For the first time there’s been a landmark verdict on this issue and with this we have been able to set up couple protection homes. People from all over India have contributed but we feel Haryana women have done the most.

How do khaps harass young couples?
Khaps can tell a married couple with a two-year-old baby that their marriage has violated the gotra laws and they must now tie rakhis and become siblings. If the couples don’t comply, their families are ostracised. This was common in Haryana. Families got thrown out of the village, fined for Rs 21,000, hit with shoes, tonsured and urinated upon. Even against these, there should be laws. There are layers to the problem. There are many cases involving adolescent girls. There is nothing to help them. But if they ever slip up or the families even suspect anything, they’re killed. In that age-bracket, girls, not boys, are killed regularly. Schoolteachers in our group report disappearance of students. Questioned, families say things like the girl had stomach ache and died. There’s such strong acceptance of these actions that no one complains. In case of inter-caste marriages, if the boy is from a lower caste and landless, both will be killed. This isn’t an honour issue at all. We have a hierarchical society and its leaders want the divisions to remain. If the youth exercise their right to choose their partners, it has the potential to destroy caste structures. Property will go from the landed to the landless pushing towards a more egalitarian society. That’s the real threat; the cause of the murders. Those who understand these implications have, till now, controlled all social and economic structures and resources. Now they are threatened and political outfits depend on them for votes. They don’t want that kids use this right to ‘choice marriage’ because social and economic structures will collapse.

What has changed in the past few years?
The March 2010 district court verdict in the Manoj-Babli case, which sentenced five of the perpetrators to death, sent a strong message that nobody is above the law. The panchayat workers involved have also been punished. This verdict, the way cases are being registered and the construction of protection homes, have all helped. Marriage within the same gotra is in any case rare. This same-gotra wedding problem is greatly exaggerated. A National Commission for Women survey with Shakti Vahini shows that only 4 per cent marriages were within gotra. Thankfully, now girls and boys are speaking up for ‘choice marriage’.

Read more: ‘Haryana women have done the most to fight khaps’ – The Times of India http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/opinion/edit-page/Haryana-women-have-done-the-most-to-fight-khaps/articleshow/7168011.cms#ixzz19EqYOFKN

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