People's Democracy

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


No. 16

April 18, 2010



Court Verdict & Debate on Important Issues


Inderjit Singh


RECENT years have seen several instances of the self-righteous khap panchayats of Haryana making illegitimate interference in marriage relations, declaring them void and sentencing the contracting parties in some cases to death. On the other hand, opposition to their illegal activities have also increased, to an extent. Now the court verdict in Manoj-Babli murder case has given an impetus to the debates that have been going on in the society and the media on the legality of these khap panchayats.




We first take the facts of the case. Belonging to Karoda village in Kaithal village, a boy called Manoj and a girl called Babli ran away from the village and married in a temple. Though there is nothing illegal in it, the local society prohibits one�s marriage within one�s village or gotra (clan). The consequent fear of violent opposition has forced many young boys and girls to elope from their villages, many of whom are sooner or later caught and killed; some of them even commit suicide because of the resultant trauma.

The same thing happened in case of Manoj and Babli; following a khap panchayat verdict, they were killed on June 15, 2007 in presence of the police personnel who were supposed to protect them following a court order. It was proved that five relatives of the girl were involved in the crime and a Karnal court sentenced them to death. An influential person of the village received life imprisonment for having planned the couple�s murder and driver of the taxi involved in this heinous crime was sentenced to seven years of imprisonment.

The double murder preceded a deliberate gathering in the name of a panchayat which ordered the boycott of Manoj�s family. According to old customs, people of a gotra or a village or of adjacent villages are regarded as brothers and sisters, but these stipulations are now breaking up. Yet, if a boy and girl get married to each other in violation of these customs, their life becomes a hell even though such a marriage is legally recognised. They have to live incognito as far as possible. In the concerned case, Manoj and Babli had to return only because Babli�s family had lodged a case against Manoj, accusing him of the girl�s kidnapping.




In this case, the police well knew it was a false report, and yet they tortured Manoj�s widowed mother, Mrs Chandrapati, and his brothers and sisters. It was thus that he was compelled to come back and clarify the position. The Punjab and Haryana High Court ordered police protection for them, but the policemen too colluded with the murderers instead of fulfilling their duty. It was thus that the savage killing took place. It has now been established beyond doubt that that the police were not only guilty of dereliction of duty; they assisted the perpetrators of the crime by trying to erase the incriminating evidences in every possible way.

However, following the pursuit of the case by Manoj�s relatives and the intervention by Janwadi Mahila Samiti, SFI, DYFI and some other organisations of women, students and youth, the executive had to move into action. Even though many of the witnesses had had to retract their statements under the threat of dire consequences, it was proved beyond doubt that the accused had indeed killed the couple. As this dire murder involved extreme ruthlessness and savagery, the district and additional session judge of Karnal, Mrs Vani Gopal Sharma, regarded it as an extraordinary crime and pronounced death sentence upon five of the accused.




Following the court verdict, all kinds of reactions came. Many victimised families, progressive individuals, newspapers and democratic organisations welcomed this verdict as historic, and expressed the hope that this would be a deterrent to the barbarism which many of our �civilised� people perpetrate in the name of honour. On the other hand, diehard casteist organisations and so-called khap panchayats have expressed the apprehension that it would lead to immorality, disorganisation of the social fabric and a setback to our culture.

Reactions from the political parties were also worth noting.

Expressing satisfaction over the verdict, the CPI(M) state committee expressed the hope that it would to an extent restore the people�s faith in the rule of law. The party also appealed to the justice loving people to come forward to isolate the obscurantists who are bringing disgrace to the name of Haryana. CPI(M) general secretary, Prakash Karat, underlined in an article the importance of the verdict, throwing light on its various aspects.

The reaction coming from Rajiv Pratap Rudy, national spokesman of BJP, once again exposed the communal and autocratic character of this party. His opinion was that such questions lie outside the scope of the country�s constitution.

The Indian National Lok Dal, main opposition party in the state, refused to say anything on the issue. This only exposed its reality.

The ruling Congress refrained from issuing a formal statement though the chief minister said �the rule of law still prevails in the state.� Senior Congress leader Shamsher Singh Surjewala has of course been publicly criticising the illegal activities of such self-righteous panchayats.




One can see an appreciable degree of desperation and panic among the casteist and reactionary elements. Because of their social dominance and the political patronage they have been receiving from the powers that be, these khap panchayats never cared a hoot for the law and never thought it necessary to respect the rights of an individual. They have been privileged in a way, and treat with contempt the widows and other women, dalits, backward class people, minorities and the poor. The so-called chaudharis dominating the society in the name of khap panchayats, may not have ever thought that they would one day be answerable to the law of the land and suffer punishments.

The recent period has seen many cases of these khap chaudharis being hauled up, brought to book and receiving punishments for their actions which are being termed as crimes. In Umara village of Hissar district, the khap panchayat illegitimately intervened in a land dispute, and pronounced social boycott of a few persons. A case was filed against Dada Baljeet, chief of the Gathwal khap and one who presided over the panchayat. After 11 years long court proceedings, Vivek Naasir, first class magistrate of Hansi, found him guilty of issuing an edict of boycott. In his verdict on December 5, 2009, the magistrate sentenced him to a fine of Rs 2,000 or a month of imprisonment.

Another important episode took place in Badhra town of Bhiwani district. There an edict of boycott was issued against a Sangwan couple, who are reputed doctors, and their hospital was put to fire and vandalised. In a court verdict on May 7, 2007, the magistrate sentenced the chaudharis of a particulat khap to seven years of imprisonment each.

In the Hansi episode, it was a victimised social worker, Dr Barusingh Malik, who had filed the court case. In cooperation with the Janwadi Mahila Samiti and some other mass organisations, Dr Ms Anant Kaur displayed the courage to move against the anti-socials in the Badhra case.    




Both these cases did not, however, get much notice at the level of the public. But the Babli-Manoj episode proved far more important from several angles. One, the mothers of both the youths were widows, and therefore the people took the whole episode as a display of feudal barbarism. It was Manoj�s mother�s courage, coupled with the support from a lawyer and several mass organisations, which forced the police to arrest, unwillingly, Gangaraj who is a local bigwig. This courage was what brought punishments to five of the culprits.

These self-righteous panchayats are being seen hyperactive in economic and political contexts. In the name of opposing intra-clan marriages, khap bigwigs are cunningly trying to effect a polarisation in their areas in order to save their privileged positions. At a time when neo-liberal policies and an agrarian crisis are making our life hell-like, these panchayats are only helping the powerful to increasingly marginalise the poor and the downtrodden. At the same time, they are seeking to break the unity of the oppressed and exploited masses by inciting the caste feelings. The fact is that the ruling classes are using the caste feelings for political mobilisation. As an example, the Jats and some other castes have been dead against the idea of reservation but they are now agitating to get themselves recognised as OBCs so that they too could avail of the benefits of reservation.

The khap leader are also trying to create a front against the Hindu Marriage Act, demanding retrograde amendments to it. It was also notable that a recent Jat convention publicly honoured Gangaraj, one of the killers of Manoj and Babli.

One must also bear in mind that a khap is not just a small collection of people; it is a part of our mentality and is affecting us deeply.




This whole affair --- of casteist panchayats killing the young people in the name of honour --- requires serious thinking on the part of all same people.   

Now these panchayats have initiated a disinformation campaign, saying that the verdict would pave the way for intra-clan and intra-village marriages. Posing themselves as the protectors of �sacred� traditions, they want to enjoy all sorts of privileges, including the privilege of murder. True there is no custom of intra-clan and intra-village marriages in Haryana, but the people avoid such marriages on their own. But this does not mean that the culture is at stake in the state. In Chautala village of Sirsa district, for example, intra-village marriages are not uncommon; people only avoid intra-clan marriages. But this never brought down the social or political prestige of former chief minister, late Devilal.

It is also not true that khap panchayats raise the issue of intra-clan marriages only. Among the several in-news episodes in Jaundhari, Asanda, Dharana, Singhwal, Hadaudi, Mahamkheri, Ludana and other villages, not a single one was on intra-clan marriage, but yet some families were made to suffer boycotts. In Mahamkheri village, there took place a mean and barbaric act like putting a shoe in the mouth of a newly-wed boy�s aged father. The khaps of the area never condemned this act though they disassociated themselves from it.

In the recent past, elements of intolerance and barbaric violence have been raising their ugly heads in Haryana and other Hindi speaking areas where casteism is still strong. The imposition of the �modernity� of blind consumerism upon the hitherto existing social backwardness is creating a distorted type of culture. Commercialisation and caste-family nepotism are getting an upper hand. In such a situation, any attempt to prevent positive and healthy changes in society can only lead to a rottening of our whole social fabric. It is not accidental that Haryana and the nearby areas top the list insofar as female foetus killing and a negative sex ratio are concerned.

On the other hand, the downtrodden are also trying to assert themselves, thus challenging the existing domination of the bigwigs. This is why the latter are using barbaric methods to crush the former by using obsolete institutions like khap panchayats.

This requires, on our part, a correct identification of the contradictions existing in the local society and, on its basis, evolution of a composite tactic of struggle involving class consciousness, class struggle, social reforms and protection of the constitutional and human rights of the exploited and oppressed people.