Let me make it abundantly clear. I come from Chandigarh, the capital of the state of Haryana, where this screwed up business actually happened. However, like any other thinking man, actually accepting all of this makes no sense to me. Or rather, I am of the belief that it should make no sense to anyone. I realise this opinion is a bit late in coming, but bear with me. I’ve actually got down to write after a few months, a few days delay should be OK by most.
Around a week ago, the Sarva Khap Jat panchayat, the umbrella organisation of all the khaps in the Jat world decided to meet in Sonipat to discuss a bizarre issue, namely the lowering of the legal age at which girls can get married to 15. No, Faking News did not strike again, sorry folks. This news, sadly enough, is very real. The khaps have gone around the bend, and after linking Noodles with rapes, have decided that the best way to reduce the number of rapes taking place in Haryana is to simply reduce the legal age limit at which girls can get married.
Now, to put it all in perspective, Haryana is a state where there have been around 15 rapes in one month. Not a statistic to be proud of. No matter what your population, 15 newspaper-covered rapes means hundreds of undocumented ones. Sad, isn’t it? And the saddest part of all of this is that Haryana has one of the lowest sex ratios in all of India. It’s close to 750, if memory serves.
Now, to all the readers not aware of the position of khaps in Haryana society, let me clarify. They have no constitutional right to exist. A khap is simply an unconstitutional court passing judgements on those it deems unworthy in its village. The practice of having khaps arbitrate seems to point at the failure of two systems. First, the local judiciary, and second, the local education system. While certainly not as backward as the Taliban or the Mali rebels, Haryana khaps do have a very conservative (and that’s putting it mildly), almost medieval view of things. A khap passes judgement as and when it pleases. While I’m not very familiar with the functioning of a khap myself, I’m certain that khaps exist to satisfy the “preserve-our-culture” urges of old men who cannot accept the pace at which the society around them is changing.
If a man decides to marry outside his caste (yes, the system is followed in the rural areas, let not the reports of social progress deceive you) in a Haryana village, he’d better hide somewhere they’ll never think of searching. Honor killings are so very common it’s almost unbelievable. I’m guessing that if the media decided to report every case of honor killing done to avenge the “shame of the girl running off with the guy”, newspapers would be a hundred pages long and TV channels would need more than 72 hours in a day to collectively cover everything.
What does all of this indicate? I’m guessing that it indicates a view of the world so fundamentally at odds with today’s worldview that there can be no assimilation. It’s one thing to be paternalistic. But to disrespect girls so much as to approve of female infanticide, honor killings in case of love marriages (the norm around the world, still a wonder in India) and to treat them as mere objects to be owned at a man’s convenience seems to indicate a rot more ingrown than mere fundamentalism. “Mere” fundamentalism, the enlightened social scientist may ask? Yes, mere. The Taliban and these khap panchayats do many of the same things. Mere fundamentalism can simply be something like the Salafism of the eighties and nineties. Those Salafists were not political, they were not violent. They advocated themselves yes, just like any other sect, but they allowed you choice. If you wished to be one, go ahead. Otherwise great. Whiel their values and strict interpretation of Sharia might not win them brownie points in anyone’s eyes, they are still not beyond fundamentalism.
Khaps, however, go beyond just strict adherence to a set of rules.The enforcement of these rules by force and the removal of all choice related to them is barbaric, and their usurpation of the justice system and the imposition of their values as the values of Haryana rural society thwart all attempts at a rational modernisation of these areas. If the presence of cell phone towers and vehicles were enough to indicate modernisation, the world would look elsewhere to find backwardness. But I believe that the best way to measure moderisation is to see the way a society treats its women. That reflects its maturity.
And these khaps, I’m afraid, are stuck in early adoloscence with a bad case of teenage angst.