Bowing to khaps
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When a Dalit girl in Jind committed suicide after being gangraped, khap panchayat leaders in Haryana recommended that the marriage age for girls be lowered to 16 to prevent such incidents from recurring. Khap panchayats are known for their grotesque and draconian decrees. But former Haryana chief minister and Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) leader Om Prakash Chautala endorsed the khaps' view on Wednesday. As part of the opposition in the Congress-ruled state, Chautala might have felt compelled to react to Sonia Gandhi, who had said during her visit to Haryana this week that the "law vests with the judiciary and nobody else". And yet, no political voices from the state have spoken out against khap panchayats.
Khap panchayats, or community courts, have dealt a rough justice in the villages of Haryana for centuries. The setting up of a modern judicial apparatus should have displaced their writ, but old caste and clan loyalties persist and they remain a powerful force in the villages — ordering honour killings, meting out medieval punishments like ostracism and exile for perceived offences. The death sentences awarded by a Karnal sessions court in 2010, to those guilty of honour killings, testify to the criminality of khap proceedings. Yet politicians in Haryana walk the tightrope, ingratiating themselves with the khaps, anxious not to disturb old loyalties in their electorate. In 2010, the state government openly opposed the prosecution of khap panchayats under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Not surprisingly, the police and the administration have taken their cue from the government in the prosecution of crimes by the khaps.
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