The khap mahapanchayat, which met here on Tuesday, decided to contest the verdict in the Manoj-Babli honour killing case. Funds will be raised for the purpose by collecting Rs. 10 from each Jat house.
“Social life and moral dignity are not legal matters, they are domestic issues which are best resolved by elders,” Mahinder Singh Tikait, former Bhartiya Kisan Union president and prominent Jat leader told the gathering.
In a clear warning to political parties, he said, “We are giving the government one month's time to make the necessary changes [to the Hindu Marriage Act]. Also if any political party or leader, local or national, condemns our resolution or creates any hurdle, we will boycott him forever.”
Denying that khap panchayats have ever issued diktats against couples who marry against gotra norms, Dr. Santosh Dahiya said, “The parents kill their children due to the shame they were bringing on the home by incest. What can a khap do?”
Questioning the authority of courts, she said: “The law is meant to protect society. How can it be superior to social norms and traditions? From Manu smriti to the latest medical findings, it is said children born of inter-gotra marriages are deformed or mentally weak. We will make sure that the scientific tradition is alive.”
The mahapanchayat decided to set up a committee here to protect marriage traditions.
In between the meeting of over 36 khaps from Haryana, parts of U.P., Rajasthan and Delhi, a few leaders blocked a road here in protest saying that the Haryana government would have to assure them that it would write to the Centre seeking an amendment to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. It sought a ban on marriages within a three-gotra distance (one cannot marry within one's own gotra, one's mother's gotra and one's father's mother's gotra), in the same village or in any of the adjoining villages.
Some leaders who stated that caste honour was bigger than law, saw the recent court rulings as a conspiracy to curb panchayat rule. “There is a conspiracy to crush them [panchayats] because their fast and fair justice is superior. The media don't even know the meaning of terms like khap or gotra, they just hype a case, completely ignoring the larger concept,” a 28-year-old lecturer of political science in Kurukshetra University said. “Even if the alleged decision to kill them was wrong, it was not for the court to step in, panchayats could have solved it amongst themselves,” he added.
The authority of the Constitution was challenged by virtually every speaker. “We don't want a Constitution or a law that goes against our age-old tradition,” Dada Baljeet Singh Gadhwala, one prominent leader said. “Khaps have been called unconstitutional, but the preamble starts by saying — we the people — and we are the people who firmly believe that a colonial rule cannot be given social sanction. The law should abide by the traditional norms and hence be amended immediately,” he added.
Khaps or traditional caste councils have come under the public scanner over their Taliban-style functioning amid an outcry over their diktats against marriages in the same sub-castes.
Meanwhile, the All-India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) and the Students Federation of India (SFI) gave a joint statement which condemned the “unnecessary hue and cry being raised about a potential threat to the culture of Haryana in the wake of the court verdict in the Manoj-Babli murder case.”
These organisations claimed that most of the marital disputes were not over marriages within a gotra or within the village. Yet the couples were thrown out of their villages and their parents were publicly humiliated.