Deepen democracy to curb Khap power

'Barbaric' and 'illegal'. Yes. But it is not easy to wish away Khap panchayats or katta panchyats as they are known down South. The mechanism for instant justice delivery remains integral to the caste- and community-centric social landscape across the country despite its brazen disrespect for individual freedom vis--vis the authority of the collectivity.

 Deepen democracy to curb Khap power

Vijay Mathur/Reuters

The general approach towards the excesses of these rural courts as simple law and order issues or of group dominance is simplistic and flawed on several counts.

It ignores two crucial aspects: The reason for their existence, and the failure of modern institutions to break their stranglehold and force a stronger relevance to contemporary democracy.

Khaps are part of an ancient tribal arrangement where the individual was necessarily subservient to the community. These helped to enforce rules and ensure discipline to keep the herd together, a requirement, back then. Many centuries and across numerous civilizations, the rural community has not moved on. Lives in many ways still revolve around their existential realities agriculture, local resources etc. of the ancient times.Acceptance of individual freedom, which is core to modern democratic values, is a risk for the rural community. It threatens social equilibrium. While the threat could be perceived or real, this is what the governments concerned must address.

However, what we need here is sensitivity. These are institutions with deep social influence. They still control lives of people in rural areas in several ways. Yes, many of their decisions are preposterous and barbaric. Banning such panchayats or slapping punitive measures won't help.

The more practical way is to take democracy deeper and co-opt the panchayats into the process. The more people are confident of the government, the less would be their dependence on traditional mechanisms. If the courts are prompt in delivering justice, the 'kangaroo' ones will lose significance.

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Updated Date: May 06, 2011 14:41:35 IST