Good khap, bad khap: Why that game does not work

So now we know. There are the good khap panchayats and the bad khap panchayats.

The good ones ban female foeticide.

The bad ones sanction honour killings.

Somewhere in between are the ones that will not let women under 40 step out of the house alone after sunset and ban love marriages and mobile phones.

Sitting in urban India, far away from the diktat, sorry, I mean guidance, of a khap panchayat, it seems ludicrous to debate their pros and cons. If change is to happen it must come from where the khap panchayats are, from the next gen of young politicians of the Hindi heartland.

 Good khap, bad khap: Why that game does not work

There can be on 'good' khap panchayat. Representative image. Reuters.

Perhaps the newly activated Rahul Gandhi will weigh in? But he is the ultimate gunga gudiya in Indian politics.

What about Akhilesh Yadav? Mr. Breath-of-fresh-air in UP politics, armed with an iPad on the campaign trail but still speaking in chaste Hindi on television interviews?

Akhilesh has jumped on the  khap panchayat’s call for eradication of  female foeticide with audible relief. “I think all the decisions taken by the khap panchayat should be in favour of the people, for the welfare of society so that people can learn something from that,” he told reporters.

The problem is that whether banning marriages within the gotra or mobile phones for girls or female foeticide, the khap panchayat always claims to be taking decisions for the “welfare of society.” It’s just “welfare of society” as they see it.

When asked about the Baghpat diktat against love marriage and cell phones, Akhilesh ducked the question. “That I don’t know,” he said. “It’s for the media to debate and discuss.”

His political peer, Ajit Singh’s son, Jayant Chaudhary, himself an MP, was less circumspect. “Everybody has a right to manage the affairs of one’s family the way they want. They are doing just that. It is no diktat. It is mere suggestion.”

Aah, but does everyone have the right to tell other people’s families how to manage their affairs? The power of “mere suggestion” is obviously stronger in the heartland than in other places. It left Manoj and Babli dead in 2007, one strangled, the other poisoned. It left Ved Pal Moan beaten to  death in 2009 and 20 Dalit houses burned to the ground in Mirchpur in 2010.

Whether it has anything to do with the Supreme Court appointed panel recommending an end to khap panchayats, it is good news that the khap mahapanchayat in Jasoi is putting its foot down about female foeticide.  It’s even more commendable that Om Prakash Maan of the khap panchayat sees the connection between female foeticide and honour killings. “By ensuring the end of female foeticide, we could also end honour killings,” Maan told the media. Narain Tikait, head of the Baliyan khap also tried to put a softer spin on the no-love, no-mobile edict. “Their decision was for rural women, not for MNCs,” he said.

So the idea is that we just need the kinder, gentler khap panchayat.

But the issue is not female foeticide versus mobile phones. The issue is about law-making. It does not matter if they are good laws or bad laws. The good khap versus the bad khap is always a slippery slope. The same khap that wants to take away the right to marriage in Baghpat also condemned dowry in the same breath.

There is something called the “law of the land” and its writ should not stop at the door of every khap panchayat or any other entity. Khap panchayats are falsely presented as the tug-o-war between a federal structure and a Delhi-controls-all centralized model. Federalism cannot be at the expense of the constitution which applies to all of us. The constitution does not come with a pin code.

In her verdict handing down the death sentences in the Manoj-Babli case, Justice Vani Gopal Verma said “Khap panchayats have functioned contrary to the constitution and beome a law unto themselves.” Then she had to seek extra police security because of the danger to her life. Courts cannot change social attitudes by laying down the law. But as Martin Luther King Jr observed “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also.”

Politicians however, if they had the guts for it, could be agents for change because they have what the court does not - the mandate of the people and the connections on the ground. As Sunita Aron puts it in a blog in the Hindustan Times.

The onus lies on some seniors, some veterans, or some bright young gutsy fellows in the citizenry to check these khaps from controlling people’s personal lives. They can take stand on public issues but what we walk and talk is a fundamental right laid down in our Constitution. That the khaps are not above the Constitution is something their self-styled satraps as well as the politicians should know.

But will the new gen, that claim to be a force of modernisation, seize the bull by the horns? Or will they just follow the age-old dictum – jiski lathi uski bhains?

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Updated Date: Jul 19, 2012 16:13:20 IST