LOCAL GOVERNMENTS AND THEIR VERDICTS: KHAP PANCHAYAT

Since the vedic times, local judicial bodies have had the responsibility of resolving disputes in their jurisdictions. With the systemization of the judiciary after independence, these panchayats were declared unconstitutional and their decisions, unbinding. These local judicial bodies aim at resolving disputes based on laws proclaimed by customs, irrespective of their legal standing.

The “Khap” is an ancient concept, which has written references found back from the Rig Vedic times. These are social- political groups, which usually comprise of the upper caste and elderly men from the Jat community, which are united by geography and caste. They consolidate their position and power covering area comprising a cluster of villages and set rules. These social institutions are not sanctioned under the law and have no legal status. Khaps are groups, which were formed in ancient times by the groups of people from different villages which consented them to take decisions for the village people and their welfare, but these have now regained some sort of influential power which tends to exploit those very people. Khaps were socially relevant and renowned for amicable resolution of disputes only till the judicial system was established. Over time they lost their clout. But in the last decade, they have regained some sort of legitimacy through issues such as a ban on same-gotra marriages. They have become less transparent in functioning, oppressive and in conflict with the law of the land.

The Khap Panchayat not only are unconstitutional in nature but defy all the principles of “rule of law’, by assassinating its most basic ideologies. New rules and laws are created at the whims and the fancies of the khaps defying any certainty in these guidelines. These laws have no legal basis and the Supreme Court itself has declared any such social institution as an illegal enterprise, directing the administrative to take strict action against any such enterprise, in accordance with the CrPC. These panchayats are the representatives of the abhorring cast system that is prevalent in India, deeply rooted and historically conditioned by these customs and traditions. The rulings of these panchayats are upheld by enforcing ostracization, taxes, barbaric and inhumane punishments ranging from mutilation to killing.

Khap Panchayats are mostly prevalent in the states of Western UP, eastern Rajasthan, but are most prevalent in the Rohtak, Jhajjar, Sonepat, Bhiwani, Karnal, Jind, Kaithal and Hisar districts of Haryana. In these areas, the panchayats are divided on the basis of the ‘gotras’ of the people residing in the area and strictly enforce old, traditional marriage rules regarding ‘gotras’ and caste. Anybody who breaches these rules is socially condemned and is said to have dishonoured the name of his/her family. These marriages, which are punished and condemned by these panchayats by honor killing are all usually legal in the eyes of the court.

The biggest hurdle in eliminating these panchayats is the panchayat systems’ democratic election. These panchayats, democratically elected act as khap panchayats in these areas, propagating rules parallel to the law. Propounding practices like female feoticide, honor killing and differentiation on the basis of caste are not only barbaric in nature, but also go against all the basic fundamentals of the law and the constitution.

To correct this situation, certain steps have been taken. The Supreme Court in its decision has declared all these social institutions, which work without the sanction of the government to be illegal and have declared any of their decisions as unbinding, even if they propound a custom recognized by law. The administrative is directed to take immediate action by filing reports immediately and fast tracking the whole process of investigation and questioning of the witnesses to counter these panchayats.

No clear legislations have been promulgated which tackle the problem of these unconstitutional institutions but an amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1976 was made, which explicitly legalizes same gotra marriage, undermining the most common cause of dispute of these panchayats in many of the areas. These panchayats are strengthened by support from politicians who have declared them to be an inalienable part of the Indian tradition, legitimizing the caste system in India.

Khap panchayats are socially constructed, unconstitutional and opaque bodies, propounding barbaric laws, which go against the basic fundamentals of our nation and there is an immediate need for a legislation, to tackle this problem. The biggest hurdle in the face of this operation is the abetment the panchayats receive from the people of these villages and areas. To deconstruct the set and concrete values of the caste system is a herculean task, but also an exigent one. Effective implementation of the laws and ruthless and quick investigation by the administrative in these cases is undeniably an absolute necessary.

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