People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 34

August 23, 2009



Citizens Rights Conference Lambasts Caste Panchayats




A GROUP of justice loving people of Haryana organised on August 9 a Citizens Rights Conference at Jat Bhavan in Rohtak in order to raise their voice of protest against the self-righteous caste, khap and gotra panchayats that are killing innocent boys and girls in broad daylight. Among others, the Janwadi Mahila Samiti (state unit of the AIDWA), SFI, DYFI, All India Lawyers Union, National Federation of Indian Women, Joint Women’s Programme (JWP), AIDMM, MAIDWA, Haryana Gyan Vigyan Samiti, Dalit Adhikar Manch, Mata Sitarani Sewa Sansthan, Sarvadeshik Arya Yuva Parishad, Rachnatmak Samaj and Vastavikata Sanstha were the organisations that had jointly organised this conference.

Moving the main resolution of the conference, state JMS president Jagmati Sangwan explained why the conference had become a pressing necessity in view of the alarming situation the self-appointed caste panchayats have created by depriving the common citizens of their legitimate rights and by violating the country’s constitution. She said these illegitimate and illegal panchayats are uprooting whole families from their hearth and home, humiliating them in public, stripping women and parading them naked through village streets, and issuing addicts for public killing of such young boys and girls as have simply exercised their constitutional right to have a marriage of their choice. In this way, Sangwan said, these caste, khap and gotra panchayats are tarnishing the image of Haryana and its common people in the country and the world.

The mover of the resolution categorically said that the bourgeois landlord parties and their leaders have so far maintained a deadly silence over the activities of these bodies and, moreover, they are behind the curtain using their influence to save the perpetrators of such crimes. This is all the more worrisome. These self-appointed panchayats are creating an atmosphere of fear in the name of caste and gotra customs, khap brotherhood, honour of the caste or village etc. Their existence is based on sheer intimidation and on social inertia. Declaring a newly wed couple as brother and sister, and their marriage as wrong, these panchayats are only proving how these bodies have lost all sense of morality. These panchayats are killing the lovers but shamelessly protecting the rapists.

Asking the people to rise against such panchayats and thereby save the image of Haryana, Jagmati Sangwan put forward the following demands for the participants’ consideration:

1) The state government must immediately initiate stringent action against these illegal panchayats.

2) The elected (and thus legitimate) village panchayats must be made responsible for immediately intimating the authorities about an imminent meeting of such illegitimate panchayats and about the killing of any boy and/or girl by their order.

3) The accountability and responsibility of the elected representatives and administrative authorities must be fixed.

4) A suitable legislation must be enacted on this issue.

5) Through an exercise of the relevant law, the government must put a stop to the exclusion of dalit families from villages and ban this practice altogether.

6) The state must urgently have a human rights commission with a constitutional status.

D R Chaudhari, a well known educationist and member of the administrative reforms committee, said the activities of these caste, khap and gotra panchayats only prove the fact that a society simply rots if there are no positive changes in it. The matter is not confined to forcible dissolution of a marriage. In fact, leaders of these illegitimate panchayats have their eyes on the land, houses and other properties of their prospective victims. Moreover, their edicts are mainly targeting the weaker sections of society and women.

Kirti Singh, an advocate in the Supreme Court, said we must see what happens to the human rights within the framework of legislation. This issue demands an all-inclusive law, she said, adding that leaders of the Left, in parliament, have several times raised the demand of a law to deal with this crime, but to no avail.  

Raghubir Singh Hudda, secretary of the All India Lawyers Union, demanded a stringent ban on the caste, khap and gotra panchayats that have no legitimate right to exist.

Shilpa is married in Dharana village --- into a family that was recently victimised. Narrating her horrifying experiences, she said that going by the rules of society there was nothing wrong in her marriage. She asked: Who would have been responsible if something had happened to her husband and family under the pressure of the khap panchayat? The area’s member of parliament and the state’s chief minister are shirking their responsibility by dubbing it as a social issue. Do they have no responsibility? If the family was happy with the marriage, what right does the panchayat have to order its dissolution?

Vedpaul was the young boy who was recently killed in a village in Jind district of Haryana, by the order of the local khap panchayat. His sister, Punam, categorically told the convention that Vedpaul and his wife Sonia did not belong to the same gotra (clan). The court had ordered protection for Vedpaul but he was killed in police presence when he went to Sonia’s village to claim his wife. Now, Punam said, the police are not taking any responsibility for this murder, nor are they decently behaving with the affected family.

Leaders of all the organisations demanded stringent action against those issuing such illegal edicts, immediate arrest and trial of Pawanjit Barnala who is the main conspirator behind Vedpaul’s murder, CBI inquiries into all such cases, and the formation of a special cell to protect the youth who marry in accordance with their choice and also to protect the victimised families.    

Sudha Sundararajan, general secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), said in her presidential address that the question is of safeguarding the constitutional and human rights of all the citizens, and taking the struggle forward. She said a threefold task confronts all of us: 

1) We have to press for prompt action wherever there occurs a violation of the relevant laws. Those guilty of dereliction of duty in such matters must also be proceeded against.

2) An organisation is needed to protest against the manner the bourgeois landlord parties are behaving in regard to such crimes. We cannot accept such an obnoxious collusion between the political parties and illegitimate panchayats, and we must oppose it in every possible way. 

3) We must keep on pressing for a more comprehensive and stringent law to deal with such crimes.

She assured that the AIDWA would raise this issue at the all-India level. She said we have to strengthen the elected panchayats, generate pressure in the parliament and state assembly for proper policies, and take forward the struggle for democracy, for equality including gender equality and for women’s emancipation in Haryana. 

Among others, Sohan Das (secretary, Haryana Gyan Vigyan Samiti), Shaista Chaudhari (Mata Sitarani Sewa Sansthan), Ram Mohan Roy (Rachnatmak Samaj), Dinesh (DYFI), Vikram Mittal (SFI), Pravesh Arya (Sarvadeshik Arya Yuva Parishad), Pramila (National Federation of Indian Women), Jyotsna Chatterjee (JWP) and Savita (Dalit Adhikar Manch) also addressed the convention.

The convention decided that a delegation of various social organisations would go to meet the state’s governor on August 15, to press the demand for curbing the activities of the illegitimate panchayats. On August 17, at district level, these organisations were to send their memoranda to the chief minister through the respective deputy commissioners. Also, district level conventions will be organised in the days to come, in order to generate an atmosphere against these panchayats. Yet another meeting of various social organisations will be held towards the end of August, in order to chalk out an action plan for the next phase, so that a sustained movement against such archaic feudal institutions may be launched.    

The convention honoured the victimised families who stood steadfast against the depredations of these caste panchayats.

The Haryana Gyan Vigyan Samiti presented songs and a street play on the occasion.