They are self-proclaimed conscience-keepers of society, encouraging honour killings and pronouncing punishments to adults in inter-caste or inter-faith marriages. Supreme Court has repeatedly warned khap panchayats against spreading fear of retribution among inter-caste and inter-faith couples. These caste councils abound in North India, where sex selective abortions are still reported and neglect of girl children is evident in heavily skewed sex ratio. Down To Earth recently spoke to some of the khap panchayat leaders to understand their blatant disregard of the apex court order against interfering in inter-caste marriages.
Some of the stories from Down To Earth’s archives also give our readers a perspective on how hostility towards one gender has been perpetuated over the years in the name of tradition.
If SC meddles with our tradition, we will resort to foeticide and not let girl child born: khap leader
In a vengeful response to the Supreme Court’s observation that khap panchayats cannot interfere when 2 adults decide to marry, a few khap leaders have threatened to destablise society by stopping the birth of girl child, if the court interferes in their customs. A number of khap leaders have threatened and warned the court to not meddle in their age-old tradition.
Naresh Tikait, head of Balyan khap said that the court is “unnecessarily meddling” with traditional laws. Tikait threatened to stop the (birth of) girl child, if the court allowed girls to marry by their choice.
Tikait told Down To Earth (DTE) that there are many ways to stop the birth of a girl child. He mentioned foeticide and his association with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Beti Bachao Beti Padhao campaign in the same breath.
The Supreme Court’s continuous intervention in traditional practices is not going to help, he said. “We spent Rs 50-60 lakh on a girl child and how can they decided their life partner,” he says. When DTE tried to point out his bias, he said, “No, it is about boys as well.”
Another Khap leader, Rajbir Singh Malik, head of Malik khap said that the Supreme Court is barely 100 years old and their norms at least a 1,000 years. The court should take care of this age-old tradition, he added.
Most of these khaps are in western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, states notorious for their skewed sex ratio and for killing girls as soon as they are born.
The sex ratio in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, where Balyan khap is primarily located, is 930 females per 1,000 males and in the last five years, the situation has further worsened. Only 858 girls were born as compared to 1,000 boys in the last five years according to the 2015-16 National Family Health Survey (NFHS). Another khap dominated district, Baghpat in western Uttar Pradesh shows a bleak picture. In last five years, only 763 girls were born as compared to 1,000 boys.
While Haryana's sex ratio is 876 females per 1,000 males, the national sex ratio is 991. More so, in the last five years, the situation in Haryana has worsened; only 836 girls were born in comparison to 1,000 boys. In India, 919 girls were born in the last five years, says the report.
The worsening sex ratio has pushed the Centre and state governments to campaign for saving the girl child through Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao.
The threat to kill new born girls is not only contempt of the apex court but is also a violation of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act which makes feticide illegal in the country. They are also violating Article 21 of the Constitution which guarantees Right to Life and Personal Liberty.
The Supreme Court Monday reiterated its earlier stand and confirmed that if an adult man and woman decide to tie the knot, no one including the khap can question the decision. The statement came on February 5 when the Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice AM Khanwilkar asked the Centre to come up with effective suggestions to protect couples threatened from khap panchayats.