For the uninitiated, Khap Panchayats in India refer to the assembly of khap elders belonging to one or more clans who govern a group of villages and spell directives for their inhabitants from time to time. They are of course ‘quasi judicial’ in nature but complied with in all seriousness by those living in the villages. Khap panchayat directives have been in the news from time to time for all the wrong reasons due to their archaic and arbitrary nature. However, the latest set of directives issued by the Sangwan Khap, in a meeting of 40 villages in Dadri district of Uttar Pradesh, must be seen in a positive light: they’re a sign that the orthodox Khaps are perhaps beginning to change with the times in keeping with the evolving society and social traits.
Chief of the Sangwan Khap, Jorwar Singh Sangwan, announced at a recent assembly of the Khap Panchayat the decision to ban public drinking in villages, playing of loud DJ music during weddings or during other personal functions and all celebratory firing of personal weapons during marriages. Sangwan also spoke of their Khap’s support for the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, Beti Khilao’ mission of the government. He spoke of the need to encourage all girls to attend school, get proper education and pursue sports. He wanted all parents to fight female foeticide, an evil practice of killing girl children at birth, which had resulted in an alarming imbalance in male-female ratio and been the cause of rising social tensions due to lack of marriageable girls in the villages of Haryana and parts of Uttar Pradesh.
To improve the green cover in and around the villages, the Khap also gave a novel call for planting of a tree on the occasion of a birth in the family, death of an elder and during weddings as well. This way, people’s participation in addressing an environmental problem would increase thereby improving the green cover in their surroundings as well.
The slew of directives have been largely welcomed by all villagers as each of these had become a social problem. The Khap also announced that they would extend its support to the Jat agitation for inclusion in the reserved category that will enable quotas for Jats but clarified that they will support peaceful agitation only.
Other signs of change
In December last year, the Bura Khap of Jind had announced its stand against dowry and female foeticide. They had given a call that after the birth of two daughters, couples must stop having more children and must invest in educating the girl child.
They further announced that dowry must be completely discouraged or a maximum of Re 1 could be accepted as a token dowry. This call was made to ease the financial burden that parents face while marrying off their daughters.
Another decision taken was to restrict the size of the ‘Baraat’ (invitees from the groom’s side) to twenty one members only. This was aimed to reduce the large number of guests that usually accompany the bridegroom at weddings that only added to the financial burden of the bride’s family.
Khaps in the news for the wrong reasons
Rigid and orthodox views towards change has given Khaps a bad name in recent times. Traditionally, Khaps have influenced and controlled social norms in villages and their diktats followed by everyone for centuries. However, with societies rapidly in transition from rural to urban, the gap between the younger and older generation had only widened.
Marriages within a ‘Gotra’ (clan) have traditionally been shunned as it is viewed as marriage among siblings. The younger generation does not agree with this and doesn’t have a problem with inter-caste or inter-community marriages either. The Khaps have been vehemently opposed to these. Khaps had been promoting grown-up girls and women to remain behind the veil as a measure to reduce social crime and tension. With sections of the younger community becoming more liberal and opposing these diktats, ‘honour killings’ have become an unfortunate fallout of this generational gap of views.
Another stand that gave Khaps a bad name was their traditional stand on educating the girl child. They have discouraged education among girls as being frivolous and unnecessary as girls were destined to be married off and would not have any need for it in their new roles as homemakers. The negative publicity in recent years on account of the above has forced some Khaps to review their earlier rigid stance and therefore these statements must be welcomed by society and governments.
Changing lifestyles increasing social tensions
Another reason for Khaps to change has been the rising tension in society on account of rapid urbanisation. Villagers which had thus far led a simple low-key lifestyle have now begun to witness the consequences of rapid urbanisation which has resulted in wealth creation by a few, earned mainly through selling of agricultural land to land developers. The quick road to easy money has resulted in a lifestyle and culture adopted by the younger generation which is antithetical to that of the elders.
Habits such as smoking, alcohol and drugs consumption, along with lifestyle traits like partying and womanizing etc, have been straining bonds and relationships that have held families together for centuries. The inevitable backlash is now evident through the recent Khap directives against public drinking, firing of personal weapons at weddings and excessive display of wealth during weddings.
The recent success of films like Dangal couldn’t have come at a better time. Real life success stories of female sportspersons such as Saina Nehwal, Geeta Phogat, Saakshi Malik and Babita Kumari are having a very positive impact on changing views in Haryana and therefore, these need to be supported further.
Khaps remain a very powerful and influential body in villages and their coming on board to usher in social change can only result in faster transformation of Haryana. The recent announcement by Khaps must be welcomed by all, especially the government, which must extend its full support and work alongside the Khaps in fighting orthodox, archaic mindset.