Asara leaders say the media has not reported all decisions such as ban on dowry and compulsory schooling

The leaders of the Samaj Sudhar Sabha in Asara village here who recently ordered women to stop using mobile phones on Saturday claimed that they had never imposed any “blanket ban” and only restrained them from using mobile phones while stepping out of their homes. However, the Sabha members did not backtrack on their decision forbidding women from visiting the marketplace unescorted by family members.

Mohkam Pehalwan, a wrestler who served in the Indian Army and was part of several medal-winning Services contingents in national sporting events from 1981 to 1994, said the villagers had never issued any “Talibani firmans” and there was no “khap” in Asara as claimed by the media.

“Please do not look at us from the perspective of your urban lifestyles. We are rural communities with a set of core values which you may find strange. Women here do not even wear burkha — we are Jats who converted to Islam. If they wear burkha, who will go and work in the fields? More than 70 per cent of the women here are educated and those girls who have studied at Asara Muslim Inter College here have gone on to become teachers and government servants,” Mr. Mohkam claimed.

“The media has not reported everything that was decided on Tuesday. We also banned taking and giving of dowry, made going to school compulsory, and stopped children and youngsters from listening to music on headphones, because we believe they should use the time constructively by studying.”

However, in what he claimed was proof of the acceptability of the Asara decision among neighbouring rural communities, Mr. Muakkam said a “mahapanchayat” would meet on July 20 in which other caste groups from 36 nearby villages would also participate, to ratify the decisions taken on Tuesday.

A number of Muslim villagers that The Hindu spoke to approved of the Samaj Sudhar Sabha’s decision. They pointed to a number of cases involving eloping of girls and married women that have taken place in the recent past which they said “brought disrepute to those households.” One villager said too many boys and girls thronged the marketplace on Wednesdays and “unpleasant incidents including fights” were happening frequently.

The predominantly Muslim village also has a significant number of Dalits and a few inter-caste marriages have also taken place.

But the “ultra-conservative” decisions which have raised the hackles of women activists seems also to be a shrewd political move aimed at undercutting the support base of the present Gram Pradhan Musharraf Chaudhary. But what surprises Mr. Mohkam’s supporters is how a “local issue” affecting only this predominantly Muslim village has become a “national controversy” inviting comments even from the Union Home Minister.

Mr. Mohkam alleges that Musharraf is a failure as a Pradhan and is an “absentee landlord who rules from Delhi where he is based now.” However, Musharraf, the Pradhan, said he had opposed the “orders” arrived at the meeting and it was not a decision by the majority of the village. “All this is being done with an eye on the panchayat elections three years away,” he added.

The former Minister from Baghpat Kokab Hameed supported the decision of the Sabha and pointed out that “the media, especially the electronic media, had wrongly dubbed a small meeting of one village as a khap panchayat.”

Earlier, the police detained Mr. Mohkam and his associate, Mujahid, leading to a mob blocking the Saharanpur-Baghpat highway, and setting the motorcycle of a police officer on fire. A case of rioting has been registered on 19 protesters including Mr. Mohkam.