People's Democracy

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


No. 39

September 26, 2010




Reform Movements Needed to

Erase This Spot on Civilisation


Inderjit Singh


THE way young boys and girls are being killed these days in the name of ‘honour’ must a matter of deep concern for a society that claims to be civilised. This kind of barbarism is off and on reported from several countries and from several states in India, but of late there has been an alarming rise in such cases in Haryana, West Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Delhi.




These are the cases in which newly wed couples are being oppressed, repressed, threatened or even killed in the name of ‘honour’ of the family, caste or village. In Haryana, in several cases a self-appointed caste or khap panchayat has declared a young couple to be mutually brother and sister in the name of gotra affiliation and ruled their marriage to be illegitimate. Moreover, these panchayats, themselves illegitimate and illegal, have ostracised the families of the couple or the family of one of them, publicly humiliated their parents and thrown them out of the village. In one such case, a boy’s sister was stripped naked and made to move through the village streets in full public view. Such type of barbarity is bringing the name of these states and the country into disrepute. Yet the fact is that extremely retrograde forces are asserting their power in the name of the khap panchayats, and have even raised some alarming and some ridiculous issues. These include their demand that the khap panchayats must be given the status of courts of law, as they have existed from time immemorial, and their traditions and mores must get the recognition of law.


On the other hand, the redeeming factor is that enlightened citizens, several organisations and even a section of the media are raising their voices against such savage episodes, demanding a curb on them and a ban on such self-appointed panchayats. 


The need of the day is that we ruthlessly deal with this phenomenon of ‘honour killing’ which is not only taking innocent lives but has also put a big question mark on our constitutional and human rights, on the very concepts of social justice and rule of law, on the requirements of a civilised life. In fact, such ‘honour killings’ are no ordinary crimes but a negation of everything civilised.


The question one would ask is: Is a family’s a caste’s honour enhanced if it kills its own children? Can we imagine that parents would be feeling any degree of calm after killing their own offspring?


The issue is clear: the forces of tradition have definitely mortgaged the thinking of the concerned families to certain false cultural notions regarding social custom, family honour, caste fraternity and what not. There is evidence that many of these families are yearning to get rid of this kind of cultural ethos; yet they are unable to do so because of certain linkages.




As for the leadership of bourgeois landlord political parties, they are not only encouraging such retrograde forces and moribund culture. Their position, moreover, is that these killings are not ‘honour killings’ and that it is the parents and relatives of the youth who are ignoring the latter’s misconduct and are thus responsible for these killings. Haryana chief minister Bhupender Singh Hudda has given a clean chit to the khap panchayats, saying they are not responsible for the ‘honour killings,’ and that there is no need of a special law to deal with them. Congress MP, Naveen Jindal, too has given them the certificate that these khap panchayats are in fact doing constructive work. Really!?


This is plain appeasement of these illegal bodies which have publicly issued edicts for the murder of young couples and even honoured the killers. These panchayats have also issued open threats, even in the presence of media, that they would not let them go unpunished who marry in violation of the ‘social customs.’


In any case, granting that these khap panchayats are not responsible for the murders of young couples, then why are they opposing the proposed central bill for a law to curb such crimes?


The question is not only as to who are committing such murders. It is equally a question of who are creating the atmosphere in which youth are being killed with impunity.


It is very much necessary that the forces of progress and democracy clearly grasp the context and implications of such episodes, more so because several issues have got mutually entangled during the wide-scale discussion that is taking place on this issue. We need to understand the socio-cultural, economic and political aspects of the whole problem in totality, with all its contradictions and linkages.




In this context, it is worth noting that terms like village fraternity, social custom etc have only camouflaged the real issues involved. For example, a section of the media has linked the issue of ‘honour killings’ with the issue of intra-clan marriages, which is totally unfounded. In fact, this kind of misunderstanding only strengthens the forces of conservatism and reaction.


In the medieval period when no modern kind of judiciary existed, several types of local institutions evolved on the basis of socio-cultural and geographical formations, in order to fulfil certain obligations and to mediate in disputes. That was a pastoral society and groups of families with certain common traits were recognised as gotras. Historians have demonstrated how gotras evolved with separate identities derived from real or mythical ancestors, like Vashishtha, Kaushik, Bhardwaj etc. Later, more or less self-reliant units of production, with permanent habitation called villages, developed with the advent of agriculture. This was also the time when various occupational groups with hereditary occupations grew into so many castes. In this structure, generally, most of the aged people used to serve as the heads of families, caste groups and village communities and it was their councils which looked after the village affairs and enforced the customary law. As the self-reliant units of production, these villages were also marked by a high degree of inertia.


As for marriages, men and women belonging to the same gotra are considered mutually brothers and sisters, and are not allowed to marry among themselves. However, there is no scientific evidence to establish their genetic connection, nor has it been a case of racial purity. Whenever a higher court has come across a case involving such connectivity, no petitioner has been able to establish a genetic relation among gotra members --- either on the basis of ancient scriptures or of science. In any case, marriage is a matter concerning two individuals. If a gotra does not want to have any intra-gotra marriage, certainly it is not going to be imposed upon that gotra.


Yet another question concerns class status. If a gotra symbolises fraternity by birth, why some of the gotras do not recognise any fraternity with the people of the same gotras but belonging to dalit or backward castes? We know, for example, that gotras like Dahiya, Rathi, Punia, Kataria, Rana and Malik etc are found among the Jats as well as among dalits, but we find not much social interaction between a Rathi Jat and a Rathi dalit. Why?




Be that as it may, a solid fact is that no intra-gotra marriage has been involved in the cases of ‘honour killing’ perpetrated during the last two years. In Haryana, for example, intra-gotra marriages are extremely rare, though there have been cases of intra-gotra rape without any compunction. Some castes have, under the compulsion of circumstances, devised ways to allow intra-gotra marriages, but there is no such custom in the dominant Jat caste. Among the Jats, intra-gotra marriages do not take place even in areas where no such thing as a khap panchayat exists. It means that, exceptions apart, young boys and girls of the community are themselves avoiding such marriages out of their own volition or because of the existing customs. However, even if there is an exception, it does not mean that a couple must be done to death. That would indeed be a case of deliberate murder. The case of Manoj and Babli of Kirora village and the case of Vedpal in Singhwal village of Jind district were indeed such cases of culpable homicide.


As for the country as a whole, most of the Hindu marriages are taking places according to the customary law and not in accordance with the Hindu Marriage Act, and intra-gotra marriage is scrupulously avoided in all such cases. (It is another thing that families do resort to the Hindu Marriage Act for dissolution of a marriage.) In such a situation, there is no justification of the casteist forces’ demand that there must be an amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act in order to ban the intra-gotra marriages.   


As for an intra-village marriage or one’s marriage in a neighbouring village, the situation is totally different. Such marriages are quite common in some parts of Haryana. However, as nobody is forcing such a custom on the areas where it is absent, the casteist forces’ demand  for an amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act in order to ban such marriages is again ridiculous.


There are instances, however, in which the Hindu Marriage Act is violated with impunity. For example, the Act prohibits a second marriage in the life of one’s spouse, but we know that many men do have another marriage for the sake of getting a male child or for some other reason. Similarly, the law bans a man’s marriage with his brother’s wife but in many cases a widowed girl is married to her late husband’s brother or cousin, so that a family’s property remains within the family. Sometimes, this is done in blatant opposition to the widowed girl’s choice.


As for the gotra system itself, its rules have indeed relaxed over time. For example, there was a time when marriage ties were so decided as to avoid one’s father’s and mother’s gotras, the maternal grandmother’s gotra and the paternal grandmother’s gotra. Later, when complications or difficulties began to crop up in deciding marriage ties, the maternal grandmother’s gotra and the paternal grandmother’s gotra were excluded from the list of prohibitions. It means that people have been effecting changes in the customary law in order to make them more practicable and overcome certain difficulties. Then, why are people making such a big hullabaloo in the name of the sanctity of their social custom!?  




In any case, the reality quite different from the casteist forces’ propaganda. is that most of the victims of attacks or murders have been the couple who had had inter-caste marriages of their own choice. Another bitter reality is that in several cases, a girl is slyly killed for the ‘crime’ of having established a contact with a boy, she is buried silently, there is no post mortem whatsoever, and the media remain blissfully ignorant about it.


As for khaps, there is not much reference to them in history. However, the real issue is not whether they existed in ancient past or not. If monarchy existed in the past, it does not mean that the scions of a monarch of yesteryears are free to behave as they like. The country has a democratic constitution and a judiciary, and attempts may be made to rectify the defects they may be having. One cannot justify the attempts to re-establish the medieval institutions on the plea that modern institutions have certain defects.


As for the demand that there must be a ban on the self-appointed panchayats, it is doubtful if such a ban would be effective or it would not prove counter-productive by enabling these institutions to garner the people’s sympathy and support. In order to curb the illegal activities of these khap panchayats and other such bodies, the need of the day is that we isolate them from the mass of the people. For this purpose, progressive organisations, groups and individuals have to come forward and launch a wide-ranging social reform movement, concentrating their forceful attacks on deep-rooted social evils like untouchability, female foeticide, gender discrimination, conservatism, superstitions, habitual boozing, dowry system, dowry related violence etc. At the same time, they have to ensure that the executive and the judiciary play their due role in implementing the laws made for the sake of the weaker sections of society.


(To be continued)