World | India

The power of Khaps

Male order against women seems to have quietly turned into oppression of women and by women in Baghpat and Muzaffarnagar

  • By Narendra Kaushik, Correspondent
  • Published: 14:57 August 13, 2012
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: REUTERS
  • Villagers attend a panchayat, or village council meeting, at Balla village in the northern Indian state of Haryana. Upper caste men fight to hold on to power, status and property.
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Baghpat, Uttar Pradesh: What started as a male diktat against women seems to have quietly turned into oppression of women and by women in Baghpat and Muzaffarnagar, the twin districts in the western part of Uttar Pradesh, the largest populated state of India, as young female leaders are holding panchayats in one village after another to ban jeans and mobiles for women as an endorsement of male khap panchayats.

Khap panchayats are community groups — usually comprising elderly men from the Jat community — that set the rules in an area comprising one or more villages.

Over two weeks after they held a panchayat in Dudaheri village of Muzaffarnagar to endorse the decision of male Khap Panchayat (Panchayat representing a clan or group of clans) on ban of mobile and jeans for girls in Asara, a Muslim-dominated hamlet in Baghpat, the female leaders are all set to gather and reiterate the firman in Bopada, a large village in Muzaffarnagar, notorious for honour killings and opposition to love marriages. From there, the female heads will move on to another village, inhabited by Jats, a Hindu Upper caste found in Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh.

“We’ll travel to all villages individually and then wrap it up with a badi (large) Panchayat for the two districts. By banning mobiles and body-hugging jeans everywhere for women, we’ll ensure that society does not point a finger at us when it comes to eve teasing, elopements and other crimes against women,” declares Vaishali, granddaughter of Sohanviiri, leader of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), a farmers’ body in Western Uttar Pradesh. Vaishali is part of the young female leaders who hold women Panchayats. Muzaffarnagar alone has over 70 villages.

Vaishali blames elopements, love marriages and other ‘vices’ of society to misuse of mobiles by girls. She attributes eve teasing to provocative dress of girls. “Mobile is misused for making MMSes etc and jeans expose woman’s body,” she alleges.

She admits that the society treats women unfairly on crime against them but then hastens to add that girls should reform themselves before pointing a finger at boys in the society.

When asked why the Panchayats were not imposing ban on use of mobile by boys, Sohanviri claims the case of girls is entirely different from boys. “Girls are our honour. We must protect our girls before marriage. Girls need to be controlled more than the boys. That is why we have asked them not to use phones, travel out of the villages alone and dress in jeans,” Sohanviri says.

A male Khap Panchayat in Asara village of Baghpat last month banned the village women below 40 years of age from using mobile phones and visiting markets alone. The Panchayat also ordered that couples marrying within the village should stay outside.

After there was a big hue and cry that male Khap Panchayats had no right to decide for women and Supreme Court of India declared such Khap Panchayats illegal, the khap Panchayats have obviously brought the women forward.

Mohkam Pehalwan, who spearheaded the khap Panchayat in Asara village, leaves no doubt when he backs girls’ decision to boycott jeans and mobiles. “We fully support them. This is necessary to put an end to social vices,” Pehalwan says.

Vrinda Karat, member of Polit Bureau of Communist Party of India (Marxist) and head of All India Democratic Women Association (AIDWA), an organisation fighting against crime against women, can see through the proxy.

“There are no women Panchayats. Some male dominated khap Panchayats may have mobilised some women. The khaps are notorious for imposing their view with violent action, therefore, official agencies must ensure security for young women in the area,” she claims when contacted by Gulf News.

The male Khap Panchayats, which were hitherto known for backing honour killings, opposing inter-caste marriages and suppressing women, have also tried to improve on their image by passing orders against female feticide, dowry and wasteful expenditure in marriages.

Baghpat, Muzaffarnagar, Meerut districts in western part of Uttar Pradesh have the worst male-female ratio in the entire state. While Baghpat has 855 girls for 1,000 boys, Muzaffarnagar and Meerut have 886 and 885 girls for 1,000 boys respectively.

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