Monday, May 24, 2010

Culture Vs Constitution: Now Muslim Khap panchayats follow suit

Ikhlas and Anjum's story is similar to that of numerous couples who are unable to lead a happy marital life due to regressive Khap panchayats that have made a mockery of the constitutional rights of citizens, in the name of upholding culture.

The sole difference in this case is that the couple is Muslim and is lucky to be alive. Otherwise countless lovebirds and young couples are facing terror tactics of the Khap Panchayats, which declare marriage within the 'gotra' as wrong and punishable.

Young couples have been mercilessly killed to uphold the custom. Ikhlas, 22, a policeman with Indian Reserve Battallion in Haryana, married Anjum, who belongs to Rajasthan.

The couple was told that the wedlock was illegal and the marriage should be dissolved, as their respective families belonged to the same 'Badakia gotra' clan nearly 125 years ago. So what if they are not closely related, the Panchayat claims that the girl's family had migrated from the boy's village nearly 100 years ago.

As per Khap diktats, there can't be marriage among families in a village as girls and boys hailing from a village are considered 'siblings' as per the local custom. So no person can marry in his or her village. The families of Ikhlas and Anjum have been socially boycotted.

Ikhlas says that he will approach the High Court and seek justice. The couple says that the district administration doesn't appear supportive either, which is a common complaint. Other couples in similar situations also rue that they got no support.

The couple is scared of their safety as many cases of killings have occurred after refusal to bow to the diktats of the khap panchayats. This Panchayat that oversees 360 villages wields considerable influence in this part of Haryana.

The head, Ramzan Chaudhary, said that though the panchayat members are Muslim, the culture was equally important for them apart from their religion. The region where panchayats hold sway is spread over Haryana, Western UP and part of Rajasthan.

Due to the influence they wield on villagers, the politicians keep the khap leaders in good humour. Even wanton killings, terrorising newly wed couples and harassment of Dalits [read poor] is tolerated or ignored and the administration often turns a Nelson's eye.

Sadly, Congress leader Navin Jindal had even succumbed to the pressure of Khaps recently. This is more disturbing that he belongs to the young generation and had once launched the campaign to get citizens the right to unfurl the national flag.

But the Khaps which not only prevent such marriages and term them illegal, get support from leaders like Om Prakash Chautala and BS Hooda as well. Despite repeated incidents of youths killing such couples in the name of 'culture' and honour, the killings are not condemned by Khaps, that are responsible for creating this lawlessness in a region close to the national capital.

The fact that this happens is 21st century and dynaming young leaders like Jindal bow to the pressure, perhaps due to electoral compulsions, illustrates the magnitude of the problem. It is in this light that one can appreciate the courage which early reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chand Vidya Sagar and Sir Syed Ahmed Khan must have encountered, while taking on Sati, Child Marriage, Opposition towards modern education et al. [Photograph of Raja Ram Mohan Roy: On the left]

Doesn't it expose our leaders who refuse to take strong stands in the times of 'bytes' when mere progressive utterances, let alone action, is lapped up and helps in building image of a politician even if he hasn't done anything on the ground level. But they fail to even speak up. Isn't it a tragedy of our times!