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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 30, July 17, 2010

Khap Panchayats: Reinforcing Caste Hierarchies

Thursday 22 July 2010, by Suranjita Ray

The recent killings/threats to kill in the name of honour and social ostracism have once again brought caste-based discriminations, hierarchies, conflicts and cleavages in society to the fore. To challenge the undermining of caste authority and principle of ascribed status, the caste councils/Khap Panchayats in particular regions of Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan in north India have become active and assertive during the recent past.

The assertion of Khap Panchayats to legitimise their role and relevance in dictating social justice based on traditions and customs of the caste system reflect (1) the confrontation between the traditional and feudal hierarchy of power relations and the modern democratic and egalitarian relations, (2) despite rapid socio-economic and political trans-formation over the years, hierarchy and domination rooted in the caste system has not become irrelevant, (3) inter-caste and intra-caste conflicts and contestations are not only vertical (up and down the hierarchy) and horizontal (across the same ranking order), but are also multidimensional (in practice), and (4) such conflicts and their dynamics are key to the understanding of social inequality and injustice.

The significance of understanding caste conflicts increases when the subordinated castes resist the structure and ideology of dominance and the dominant castes counter/oppose the resistance from below. Therefore one of the pertinent ways to understand the social reality is to look at the substantive question of subordination of certain sections of society and underline the underlying factors that make them subordinates. And caste is one of the structural factors in perpetuating subordination of those who are at the bottom of the caste hierarchy. Both as a concept and practice, caste retains critical importance in terms of its multiplicity, complexities and dynamics.1

Caste in India is an extremely variable pheno-menon. Relations based on castes are asymmetric and upheld by institutions such as marriage, family, kinship ties, occupational structures, status mobility and the political systems. Each caste has built its own consciousness, which makes India a plural society.2 Since castes in India are culturally distinct (Karve)/functional entities with special distinguishing set of cultural characteristics (Leach) and caste systems are living environments for those who comprise them (Berreman), a more comprehensive approach to understand caste should look at its three dimensions: stratification, pluralism and interaction (also see Berreman, 1967: 47).3

However, this paper is a much limited attempt to understand the interactions within the caste fold by contextualising it in the recent assertions of Khap Panchayats to revive their relevance and challenge marriages within the same gotra as contentious, as they violate the principles of long standing tradition and custom of gotra exogamy and village/territory exogamy. This reflects the degree of internal strife, discrimi-nations, dominations, hierarchies, oppressions and exploitations that are widespread within castes in northern India. The brutality of the Khap Panchayats and the political support they have gained reminds us of the urgency to rethink about their role in perpetuating caste discriminations, oppressions and exploitations in everyday life.

Caste: A Powerful Social Cleavage

CASTE got a new lease of life with the coming of democracy (Srinivas), and new alignments challenged the rigidity of the system.4 With the economic advancement and socio-political changes, caste mobility has always been a constant threat to the status quo and traditional dominance of certain castes. The caste councils/ Khap Panchayats are opposed to the progressive, non-hierarchical, non-stratified, non-status quo, open and equal society. They are against the weakening of collective identity of the jati and the strengthening of individual identity and mobility. This strengthens the argument that ‘group identity supersedes individual identity’ and ‘the position of an individual in society cannot be separated from the position of the ‘jati’ or social group to which he or she belongs’. (Shah, 2002: 389)

Caste and caste identity can prove to be both secular as well as oppressive: (1) they are secular in countering communal parties and ideologies for political purposes (Kothari, 1970) and provide a basis for struggle against oppression and exploitation, and (2) they are oppressive when they object to change in the hierarchical order both in the inter-caste and intra-caste relations. Thus as a social phenomena, ‘the caste system have had a long pedigree and have been the source of both identities and animosities, both horizontal alignments and vertical exploitations and oppressions’. (Kothari, 2008: 211)5 The socio-culturally defined norms by the caste system contribute to the multiple inequalities and hierarchies in society. Therefore caste ‘is the purveyor of collective identity and annihilator of the same hierarchical order from which its collective identity is drawn’. (Ibid.: 212)

Experiences across regions illustrate that the lower castes are not only treated as subordinate to the higher castes but are also subject to discri-minations, humiliations, exploitations, oppressions, controls and violence.6 Within castes the clans/gotras/gots/sub-castes are structured hierarchally as dominant and subordinate. The got is an exogamous patrilineal clan (most commonly used as gotra) within a jati. All members of a gotra share patrilineal descent from a common ancestor. ‘People from different jatis might carry the same gotra name and claim descent from the same legendary sage or deity.’ (Mehta, 1999:39) Gotras impose higher and lower ranking within the caste fold and strengthen the iniquitous power relations which are hierarchical, discriminatory and exploitative. Gotra is the nomenclatural identity, an exogamous unit within an endogamous jati, and serves the function of regulating marriages in terms of exclusion. (Ibid.)7

In a caste system the most stringently regulated areas of behaviour are marriage and sex relations. (See also Berreman, 1967: 65) Marriage within the same gotra is tantamount to incest and is a breach against the time honoured cultural practices, which indicate the prejudice against such marriages. (See also Chowdhry, 2004:1) Such a marriage is considered immoral as it violates a traditional practice—bhaichaara/biradari/the ideology of Hindu brotherhood.8 The principle of brother-hood extends beyond a village/ territory and some higher jatis in north India prohibit marriages into four gotras, namely, one’s own, that of the mother, the father’s mother and mother’s mother. (See also Mehta, 1999: 40)

Contentious Marriages

THE customary rules of marriage not only uphold the caste endogamy but also uphold the rules of gotra or got exogamy. Kinship exogamy and village/ territorial exogamy imply that men and women of the same gotra and the same village are bound by the morality of brother-sister. Therefore sex and marriage are prohibited between them. Such practices restrict one’s mobility and burden them with the responsibilities to marry outside their gotra. It curtails their freedom to choose marriage partners. Marriages are contentious if they violate (1) the concept of brotherhood, gotra/village exogamy/extended territorial exogamy, (2) the incest taboos, and (3) the principle of hypergamy (girl of a lower caste can marry boy of a higher caste but not the other way round). Such marriages challenge the long standing traditions and customs9 . Besides the question of incest based upon fictive sibling relationship between the two gotras/gots, sexual contact and marriage between the two is also an issue of status, hierarchy and power.

Violation of exogamy marriage leads to social rivalry and there are rigorous punishments imposed by the caste councils (which socially control the deviant caste members) than for violating endogamy. The caste councils/Khap Panchayats, as upholders of traditional values and culture, effectively operate rules regarding commensality, marriage and sex relations, social mobility and social intercourse to maintain purity and hierarchy within a caste in a more or less defined territory. As an extra-judicial body the Khap Panchayat tries to reinforce its authority by not only intervening in social problems of the concerned biradari but also deciding on contentious marriages and punishing the violators of gotra exogamy.

Brutality of the Khap Panchayats

THE Khap Panchayats (who claim to be the political arm of Hindu brotherhood), prevalent in large parts of northern India, are issuing ‘controversial’ fatwas. As issues of caste are important, fictitious incest (by creating fictive brother-sister relationships) is taken up by the caste panchayats while issues of real incest within the family are never addressed. With the Khap Panchayats gaining momentum in the recent past there is a need to reinterpret its role in the context of increasing honour killings, threat of murder and social ostracism to couples who marry within the same gotra and socially ostracising families from the caste group, which reflect the resurgence of caste hierarchies and patriarchy.10

We see that Dalits and women are the worst sufferers of the brutalities of Khap Panchayats. Frequent reporting from different States reveal that the diktats of Khap Panchayats allegedly order killing of couples if they marry/wish to marry from the same gotra/instruct couples to either leave the village/break their marriage and accept each other as brother-sister/couples and their families are socially boycotted/outcasted/ excommunicated from villages/family members are paraded naked/with their faces blackened/with shoes in one’s mouth (Khedi Meham)/women raped (mostly Dalit women)/ their houses burnt/they are brutally murdered to regain/retain ‘family honour’.

The recent case of Mirchpur in the district of Hissar in Haryana illustrates atrocities on Dalits by the dominant caste (Jats). The latter attacked and burnt the houses of Dalit Valmikis, and forced the entire community to leave their homes.11 They are camping at a Valmiki temple in Delhi and their lives have been disrupted. The Khap Panchayats continue to threaten them and force them to withdraw their cases against the accused. (The Hindu, June 1, 2010: 1) They have also demanded the release of all the arrested persons as they were innocent. (Sangwan, 2010:8) Caste panchayats adopted a similar pattern in the brutal attack on Dalits in Dhuleena (2002) and Gohana (2005). (Ibid.) These cases are not exceptions as frequent attacks on Dalits and atrocities against them continue to hit the news headlines. We see that Khap Panchayats succeed in dictating decisions on the marginalised, sub-ordinate and powerless gots while the dominant and powerful gots get away with the breach of gotra exogamy. And when the higher caste decides against the lower caste, then raising one’s voice against the decisions of the Khap Panchayats is also subject to rigorous punishment.12

Feminist writings, as Gendering Caste Through a Feminist Lens (2006), illustrate how the caste system upholds the patriarchal values and ideology which is used to justify the dominant, hegemonic, hierarchical and unequal patriarchal structures. Caste and gender are closely related and the sexuality of women is directly linked to the question of purity of race. Ideologically concepts of caste purity of women to maintain patrilineal succession justified subordination of women. The caste system and caste endogamy retained control over the labour and sexuality of women.13 ‘Women have to leave the gotra and the vansa they are born into and enter into a new gotra and vansa; a man’s position is fixed in the line, but women come into and go out of lines’ to ensure that property remains with the patriarchal caste. (Chakravarty, 2006: 32) As repositories of community honour, women are vulnerable to killings in the name of honour which reinforces patriarchy.

Khap Panchayats: Reviving Relevance

TODAY the increasingly combative Khaps are projecting themselves as democratic, united and a representative body to gain their relevance and legitimacy in a society where their role has become less relevant. The protests against increasing “honour killings” and diktats of the Khap leaders have questioned their legitimacy and challenged their decisions.14

Marriages under police protection defying death threats from Khap Panchayats have challenged the authority of such panchayats. Many of these marriages violating gotra exogamy have been regular arranged marriages which challenge the unethical traditions. The recent landmark judgment in the case of honuor killing of a couple (Manoj and Babli who had married within the same gotra in 2007) in Haryana, that awarded capital punishment to five and life sentence to two, is a strong warning against the role of the Khap Panchayats in such killings. They are not only opposed to the judgment of the court in order to defend the accused responsible for the brutal murder of the couple, but are also demanding an amendment of the Hindu Marriage Act, 195515 . There are no restrictions on choice of marriage partners except for some prohibited relations under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. In other words, ‘sagotra and inter-caste marriages are permitted’. (Chowdhry, 2004: 3).16

The Indian National Lok Dal filed a notice on May 26, 2010 before the Haryana Vidhan Sabha speaker stating the need to convene a special session to take and pass the resolution that ‘the State Government may approach the Central Government to make necessary amendments in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, to prohibit same gotra marriage to maintain harmony, dignity, high values of society and old traditions and customs’. (The Hindu, May 27, 2010: 7) Ever since the judgment, the panchayats are struggling to reinforce their relevance and legitimacy as they fear of similar verdicts in other cases of honour killings. They claim that ‘no Khap Panchayats have ever ordered death for people for solemnising a same gotra wedding. If there have been killings they have been carried out by the families on their own. Those families could not bear the shame that their children inflicted on the family name.’ (Ibid.: 4)

However, such a demand has generated debates amongst policy-makers, lawyers, scholars and activists. Most of the scholars and activists have objected the amendment citing valid reasons: (1) a few States cannot pressurise to amend the Hindu Marriage Act which is applicable to all the Hindus in India; (2) the Khap Mahapanchayats do not represent all the Hindus within the States as there are areas which do not have Khap Panchayats and intra-village and intra-gotra marriages are permitted by the castes;17 (3) sagotra/marriages within the same gotras do not warrant death penalty or ‘honour killing’; (4) will “honour killings” stop if the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 is amended to prohibit marriages within the same gotra? (5) all the killings based on honour are not because of marriages within the same gotra (Sangwan)18; (6) why after more than fifty years has there been such a demand? (Chowdhry)19

But banning marriages within the same gotras is also supported across caste lines. The Brahmins and Gujjars have supported this demand.20 Former top cop K.P.S.Gill and the Chief Minister of Haryana, B.S. Hooda, are amongst others who also support this demand, though Hooda’s support is with a rider that panchayats should not take law into their hands. He further states that there is no need to amend the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 as it already has such a provision. However, the arguments in favour of the demand to amend the above Act are: (1) marriage within the same gotra is a sin and it is not an issue concerning only the Jats; (2) same gotra marriage is a marriage between siblings (brother and sister); (3) for scientific and medical reasons, marriage within the same gotra should not be allowed as it may lead to genetic problems; (4) customs and traditions need to be respected; and (5) there is enough provision in the Hindu Marriage Act for amending it to ban such marriages.

By mobilising larger numbers in support of customs and rituals based on family, kinship, gotras, caste, community and village, the Khap Panchayats (with large vote-banks) also enjoy wider and higher political support from the gram panchayats as going against them is electorally suicidal. Therefore the sarpanches do not oppose the diktats of the Khap Panchayats. By redefining their image as catalysts of social change, they have been successful in generating support from certain politically powerful sections of society.21

While the state’s policy of wait and watch helps the Khap Panchayats to dictate social relations and consolidate caste hierarchies, social non-acceptance of its decisions challenges its legitimacy. Since unanimity in the decision determines its social acceptance, the leaders of the Khap Panchayats closely monitor the discussions and dissent is ignored. The youth (which is usually the affected party) are not allowed to voice their opinions. Women are not allowed to enter the Khap Panchayats except in exceptional cases.

Thus assertions of caste identities, hierarchies and dominance in social, economic, political and cultural space are common in the society undergoing social change. While the castes placed at the bottom of the hierarchy want to improve their status, those at the top are opposed to change in the hierarchical order and assert their power. Caste conflicts are therefore always settled by the dominant castes in their favour to preserve the status quo.

Conclusion

WE see that the challenges confronting our society since the beginning of the new millennium are more severe and daunting than they were in the past. Therefore it is important to lead the protest against assertions of the Khap Panchayats, the widespread prohibitions traditionally imposed on marriages and the customary rule of marriage based on honour, biradari/bhaichaara/brother-hood. This not only restricts the choice of marriage partners as a large number of gots are kept outside, but also strengthen forces ensuring the dominance and hierarchy of certain dominant castes. The social predicaments of increasing female feoticide, declining sex-ratio (lowest in Haryana—821 in the age group of 0-6), dowry system and illiteracy are consequential effects of traditions which need to be addressed urgently by panchayats rather than banning marriages within the same gotra. The Khap Panchayats with their feudal legacy reinforce caste hierarchies and patriarchies. Thus the dikatats of Khap Panchayats based on gotra identities need to be scrapped as illegal medieval practices.

REFERENCES

Ambedkar, B.R. (2002), “Caste in India” in Caste and Democratic Politics in India Ghanshyam Shah (ed.), Permanent Black, Delhi.
————————— (1936), Annihilation of Caste, Bhim Patrika Publications, Jalandhar.
- Banerjee-Dube, Ishita (2008), “Introduction: Questions of Caste” in Caste in History, Ishita Banerjee-Dube (ed.), Oxford University Press, New Delhi.
- Beteille, Andre (1966), Caste, Class, and Power Changing Patterns of Stratification in a Tanjore Village, Oxford University Press, Bombay.
———————— (1983), The Idea of Natural Inequality and Other Essays, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.
- Berreman, Gerald D. (1967), “Stratification, Pluralism and Interaction: A Comparative Analysis of Caste” in Caste and Race: Comparative Approaches, Anthony de Reuck and Julie Knight (eds.), J. & A. Churchill Ltd., London.
- Chakravarti, Uma (2004), “Conceptualising Brahmanical Patriarchy in Early India: Gender, Caste, Class and State” in Class, Caste, Gender, Manoranjan Mohanty (ed.), Sage Publications, New Delhi.
————————— (2006), Gendering Caste Through a Feminist Lens, Stree, Calcutta.
- Chowdhry, Prem (2004), “Caste Panchayats and the Policing of Marriage in Haryana: Enforcing Kinship and Territorial Exogamy” in Caste in Question: Identity or Hierarchy?, Dipankar Gupta (ed.), Sage Publications, New Delhi,
- Desai, Neera and Krishnaraj, Maithreyi (2004), “An Overview of the Status of Women in India” in Class, Caste, Gender, Manoranjan Mohanty (ed.), Sage Publications, New Delhi.
- Dumount, Louis (1967), “Caste: A Phenomenon of Social Structure or an Aspect of Indian Cultures” in Caste and Race: Comparative Approaches, Anthony de Reuck and Julie Knight (eds.), J. & A. Churchill Ltd., London.
- Frankel, Francine R. and Rao, M.S. (eds.), (1989), Dominance and State Power in Modern India, Decline of a Social Order,
Vol-II Oxford University Press, Walton Street Oxford.
- Gupta, Dipankar (2004), “Introduction: The Certitudes of Caste: When Identity Trumps Hierarchy” in Caste in Question: Identity or Hierarchy?, Dipankar Gupta (ed.), Sage Publications, New Delhi,
- Joseph, Ammu (2010), ‘No Honour in Murder’ in The Hindu (Magazine), May 23, pg. 1.
- Karve, Irawati, (1961), Hindu Society: An Interpretation, Poona: Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute.
- Kothari, Rajni (ed.) (1970), Caste and Politics in India, Orient Longman, New Delhi.
————————— (2008), “Rise of the Dalits and the Renewed Debate on Caste” in Caste in History, Ishita Banerjee-Dube (ed.), Oxford University Press, New Delhi.
- Leach, E.R. (1960), “Introduction: What Should We Mean by Caste” in Aspects of Caste in South India, Cylone and North West Pakistan, (Cambridge Papers in Social Anthropology No. 2), E.R. Leach (ed.), Cambridge University Press, London.
- Mitra, Subrata K. (2003), “Caste, Democracy and Community Formation in India” in Contextualising Caste: Post-Dumontian Approaches, Mary Searle-Chatterjee and Urusla Sharma (eds.), Rawat Publications, Jaipur.
- Mehta, Lalit K. (1999), Caste, Clan and Ethnicity, Rawat Publications, Jaipur.
- Rudolf, Llyod and Rudolf, Susanne (1967), The Modernity of Tradition, Chicago University Press, Chigaco.
—————————(1960), “The Political Role of India’s Caste Association”, Pacific Affairs, 33.
- Sangwan, Jagmati (2010) ‘Khap Panchayat: Signs of Desperation?’ in The Hindu May 8, pg. 8.
- Shah, Ghanshyam (2002), “Social Backwardness and the Politics of Reservations” in Caste and Democratic Politics in India, Ghanshyam Shah (ed.), Permanent Black, Delhi.
- Singh, Ranbir (2010), ‘The Need to Tame The Khap Panchayats’ in Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLV, No. 21, May 22-28.
- Singhi, N.K (1999), “Introduction” in Caste, Clan and Ethnicity Lalit K. Mehta, Rawat Publications, Jaipur.
- Sinha, Suarjit (1967), “Caste in India: Its Essential Pattern of Socio-Cultural Integration” in Caste and Race, Anthony de Reuck and Julie Knight (eds.), J. & A. Churchill Ltd., London.
- Srinivas, M.N. (1966), Social Change in Modern India, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles.
- The Hindu, May 24, 2010, pg. 5.
- The Hindu, May 27, 2010, pgs. 7 and 4.
- The Hindu, June 1, 2010, pg. 1.
- The Hindu, June 25, 2010, pg. 9.
- The Hindu, June 26, 2010, pg. 13.

FOOTNOTES

1. M.N.Srinivas affirms that caste is an all India phenomenon as everywhere there are hereditary, ‘endogamous groups which form a hierarchy, and each of these groups has a traditional association, with one or two exceptions’. (Srinivas, 1966: 3) Caste is at the centre of Hindu social life and hierarchy and holism are the basis of the caste system which define Hindu India. (Louis Dumount, 1967) However, opposed to Dumount, Ambedkar’s formulation of caste system as a ‘graded inequality in which castes are arranged according to an ascending order of reverence and a descending scale of contempt’ explains that ‘the power and status increases as one goes up the hierarchy and the degree of contempt increases as we go down as they have no power and are of low status and regarded as dirty and polluting’. (Ambedkar, 1936, cited in Chakravarty, 2006:7) While in the 1970s the religious principle of purity and pollution determined the ideology of hierarchy in the social organisation of caste in India, research in the 1980s linked caste with power in the ordering of hierarchy and social relations. It was in the 1990s when powerful assertions by the Dalits and lower castes came together to reposition the caste question in the political agenda of the nation. (See also Banerjee-Dube, 2008: xxvi) The ‘seeming tranquillity of caste relations ordered by status hierarchy’ was severely challenged by ‘a plethora of assertive caste identities’. (Gupta, 2004: x) Thus ‘caste has not changed, but the potentialities that were always there within this stratificatory system are now out in the open, and in full view’. (Ibid.: xix)

2. Ambedkar stated that ‘there is no Hindu consciousness of kind. In every Hindu the consciousness that exists is the consciousness of his caste.’ (Ambedkar, 2002: 93) ‘Virtue has become caste-ridden and morality has become caste-bound.’ (Ibid.: 94)

3. ‘Caste systems are indeed rigid systems of social stratification, but they are also systems of socio-cultural pluralism and that both of these facts have to be understood largely in terms of distinct patterns of social interaction.’ (Berreman, 1967:47) In addition to being a structure it is a pattern of human relationships and is also a state of mind. (Ibid.: 58)

4. Rudolf and Rudolf state the importance of seeing traditions and modernity as dialectically related rather than dichotomously related which enables to analyse caste issues to understand Indian society. (Rudolph and Rudolph, 1967:8) They argue that caste plays the role of an effective mediator between traditional and modern political democracy. By encouraging egalitarian aspirations among its members, the caste associations (which have replaced caste councils in several parts of the country) are exerting a liberating influence. The caste associations are attaining emergent modern characteristics through participation in modern political activities and they bring political democracy to the villages thereby changing its meaning by creating conditions in which the power and significance of the caste depends upon its number rather than its rituals and social status. (Rudolf and Rudolf, 1960: 9, also see Sinha,1967: 102-103) But this argument does not hold good in parts of north India where the Khap Panchayats have asserted their role to reinforce caste hierarchies based on rituals and social status.

5. The essentialist view argue that caste is an instrument of social oppression, hierarchy and social closure, unlike the anti-essentialist who argue that it is a social organization available for the creation of a plural and a multicultural society, and plays an instrumental role in raising consciousness and electoral mobilization which actually undermines the ideological basis of the Varna scheme. (See also Mitra, 2003)

6. According to a recent research carried by Action Aid, untouchability is practiced in 80 per cent of India’s villages. Caste societies are not homeostatic as they generate enormous conflict and have to be maintained by force. (Mitra, 2003: 57) The role of force in maintenance of local caste systems and its collapse through the organisation of countervailing force is explained in Beteille, 1983 and Frankel and Rao, 1989.

7. The prescriptions of rules of endogamy are determined by caste, the rules of exclusions-exogamy are determined by clan, lineage and gotra. (Singhi, 1999: 15) Gotra names have emerged from diverse source such as occupational, locale, semi deiticality and other related objects. (Mehta, 1999: 39) They cut across castes. Within the caste same gotra names may permit marriage, provided there is further hidden nomenclature to distinguish the same gotra name. (Ibid.)

8. Biradari is a social group made up of males who descended from a common male ancestor. And in the context of a village it refers to the entire village overriding differences of class, caste and creed. Therefore marriages within the same village, with every village which share a common boundary with the natal village and villages that fall in the Khap area are also prohibited. (Chowdhry, 2004)

9. While endogamy marriage within the same sub-castes is the essence of the caste system in India, the custom of exogamy is one of the primitive survivals in India. (Ambedkar, 2002: 86) ‘The law of exogamy is a positive injunction even today’. It is not that sapindas (blood-kins) cannot marry but a marriage even between sagotras (of the same class) is regarded as a sacrilege. (Ibid.)

10. The National Commission for Women (NCW) has asked the media to refrain from glorifying such heinous deeds and avoid using the term ‘honour’ for them’ as there has been no such custom or tradition for such killings in India. (The Hindu, 2010: 9) In addition several civil society groups demand confrontation with the practices which violated democratic rights enshrined in the constitution and the lacunae in the criminal legal system as well as lack of political will on the part of the government to curb such crimes in the name of caste, community or family honour has resulted in increasing brutality and barbarism. (The Hindu, 2010: 13) Therefore the proposed legislation to prevent such killings is crucial.

11. A 18-year-old handicapped girl, and her ailing father died in the arson and this happened in the presence of police force, when the SHO and the Tehsildar were mute witnesses. The two were put behind bars only when this act turned out to be a major embarrassment for the Congress Government at the Centre with Parliament in session. It is only recently that the Supreme Court expressed its concern in the cases of violence against Dalits, where even the necessary investigations are not completed within the stipulated time.

12. This reflects the true character of the caste system formulated by Manu in ‘Manusmriti’ who believed that ‘the quantum of punishment increases as one goes down the caste hierarchy’. (Cited in Chakravarty, 2006: 11)

13. Anuloma and pratiloma marriage by definition denigrate women. (For details see Desai and Krishnaraj, 2004: 303) The relationship between women’s purity and caste purity was important and central to brahmanical patriarchy. Women were carefully guarded and lower caste men were prevented from having sexual access to women of higher caste so that property could be retained with the higher caste. (See also Chakravarty, 2006) Sangwan explains similar motive of the Khap Panchayats in punishing violators of gotra exogamy which is to control women’s sexuality and retain property mainly with the jats in Haryana. (Sangwan, 2010: 8)

14. A Khap Panchayat in Haryana recently withdrew its diktat asking a newly-wed couple (who got married within the same gotra at Samain village) to annul their marriage or leave the village after they rejected the unethical order. After the matter was reported to the police, the officials intervened and convinced the panchayat members to take back their verdict as it was illegal. In the past the courts in Punjab and Haryana have been flooded with petitions seeking judicial intervention in such marriages.

15. The proposed demand to amend the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 states that “Clause 3 lists out prohibitive degrees of marriage and it clearly states that such marriages are prohibited except in the cases where local customs state otherwise. We want an amendment in the Act that will declare marriages within the father’s and mother’s gotras wrong.” This demand has been supported by the former Chief Minister of Haryana and chief of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), Om Prakash Chautala, who met the Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, on May 10, 2010 for amending the Hindu Marriage Act to favour ban on marriage within the same gotra. He stated that such marriages were not right ‘medically or scientifically’ and he would propose the amendment in the Assembly. Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the Chief Minister of Haryana, clarified in a statement that Khaps would not be allowed to take the law into their own hands but he is against the same- gotra marriages. On May 23, 2010, around 400 representatives of various Khap Panchayats from Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh met and served an ultimatum to launch an agitation from June 19, if the Hindu Marriage Act was not amended to ban marriages within the same gotra and demanded the release of those sentenced in the Manoj and Babli honour killing case. (The Hindu, May 24, 2010: 5)

16. Section 29 of the Hindu Marriage Act validates same- gotra marriages as it states that “a marriage solemnised between Hindus before the commencement of this Act, which is otherwise valid, shall not be deemed to be invalid or ever to have been invalid by reason only of the fact that the parties thereto belonged to the same gotra or pravara or belonged to different religions, castes or subdivisions of the same caste”. Though the Act lists degrees of prohibited relationships, it accepts that under customary law certain marriages are valid. For instance, in certain parts of southern India, marriages between cousins (children of a brother and sister) and between a man and his sister’s daughter are common and valid by custom.

17. Because of declining sex-ratio in Haryana, the Maliks, which is the largest gotra of the Jats, have relaxed two conditions about choice of marriage partners out of about a dozen restrictions. They relaxed the condition of parental grandmother’s gotra as it was difficult to find the alliances when its community members left eight gotras (four from girl’s side and another four from the boy’s side).

18. According to Jagmati Sangwan, President of the Haryana State unit of the AIDWA, majority of the marriages condemned by Khap Panchayats are of couples who do not share a gotra.

If the same village or gotra obstacle does not apply, there is always something else: a man was killed in Haryana last year for violating the “customary” proscription of marriage between residents of neigh-bouring villages. She emphasised that “a legislature with little political will and a pliant executive will have to be made responsive under pressure of a mass movement” to stop such killings in the name of honour and social order (Sangwan, 2010: 8, see also Joseph, 2010: 5).

19. “Obviously, all these years they have gotten away with murder, and the state and the judiciary have not been able to do anything. For once the judiciary acts, and they cannot take it: they want to change the law itself”. (Prem Chowdhry)

20. The gotra system is an essential feature of the Brahmin social structure (see also Beteille, 1966: 48) and the President of the Brahmin Sabha, Mange Ram Sharma, supports the banning of marriages within the same gotra.

21. Navin Jindal (Congress MP from Kurukshetra) in his letter to the Khap representatives not only acknowledged the existence of Khap Panchayats since the time of rulers such as Ashoka and Harshavardhana but also stated that they had always given a new direction to society. He supported the Khap Panchayats for rendering service to the society by resolving people’s problems even before the legal system came to power. Though the Congress party distanced itself from the statement of Jindal, the political support that Khap Panchayats have enjoyed is a matter of concern. ‘The Khap Panchayats have been fielding candidates and extending electoral support to various leaders, factions and parties.’ (Singh, 2010: 18)

Suranjita Ray teaches Political Science in Daulat Ram College, University of Delhi. She can be contacted at e-mail: suranjitaray_66@yahoo.co.in

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