No love marriages, mobiles or unescorted visits to markets for those up to age of 40

Love marriages, unescorted visits to the market and even the use of mobile phones — women up to the age of 40 in Uttar Pradesh’s Bagpat area can have none of these. The decision, which seems inspired by a Taliban-style diktat, has been taken by the panchayat in the Baraut tehsil of Bagpat, ostensibly to safeguard women from “teasing.”

The panchayat issued a “farman” (diktat) barring women up to the age of 40 from going to the market and using mobile phones in the village and outside their home after complaints of “teasing” and “harassment” were reported from the area.

Sources said the “farman” was issued at the meeting of the panchayat of Asara village in Bagpat district on Tuesday after it was apprised of growing incidents of teasing in the village market. Asara is a Muslim-dominated village and several members of the minority community were present at the meeting.

The panchayat ruled that to keep the young girls and women safe from “roadside Romeos,” they will not be allowed into the market place. Worse, the panchayat has cautioned there will be severe punishment for those who violate the self-styled code of conduct.

The move has infuriated women’s rights activists. “Instead of taking action against the alleged perpetrators involved in the harassment, the panchayat has decided to keep tabs on the women. It is barbaric and mindless. The diktat is also in violation of the Supreme Court’s orders against such khap panchayat decisions and is against the tenets of the Constitution,” said Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research.

Urging the Uttar Pradesh government to “take stern action,” Ms. Kumari said: “The government cannot allow such Taliban-style functioning of the panchayats. A woman, who is legally of marriageable age, should be allowed to choose her partner and have a say in who she wants to marry. A mobile phone can also be a safety device, by taking them away, they are exposing women to danger.”

Sudha Sunder Raman, general secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, also called for recall of the panchayat order and said: “Stringent action should be taken against those who issue such strictures.”

“We strongly condemn such attempts that are made to infringe on the rights of women. Going out, using mobiles…these are very basic democratic rights and it is a dangerous trend to impose restrictions on such necessities. And this notion that women up to the age of 40 need protection and need to be controlled is extremely chauvinistic and undermines all basic norms,” Ms. Raman said.