A khap refers to a cluster of people united by caste and geography. The main rule of a khap states that all boys and girls in a khap are siblings. The khap panchayats (caste councils) are prevalent in Haryana, as well as parts of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Historically, the khap panchayats were basically a means for upper-caste Jats to consolidate their position and power. Khap panchayats have survived through the ages, but their mentality remains as medieval as their 14th century origins.
Suave, young and educated- Naveen Jindal had it all going for him. The famous court case fought by Jindal, allowing Indians the right to display the national flag, had added to the allure of the debonair politician-industrialist. All this faded into oblivion when Jindal wrote the infamous letter of support for the khap panchayats and also attended the Sarv Khap Mahapanchayat (sort of an Annual General Meeting for medievalists!). Not only did this earn him the wrath of all sane thinking Indians but it also landed him in the not so esteemed company of INLD leader O.P. Chautala. The Congress, whose unruly flock has run amuck once more, finds itself in the throes of yet another controversy. None of this bodes well for the political future of Jindal. Why then did this Congress MP from Kurukshetra, Haryana decide to air his support for the khap panchayats?
It all boils down to politics, the only thing which possesses the power to turn sane men into irrational blabbermouths. Kurukshetra comprises of a 17% Jat population. Hence the Jat vote is crucial to any political party wanting to seize power. The Khap Panchayats have put forward a demand to amend the Hindu Marriage Act, hereby banning unions between a man and a woman of the same gotra or sub-caste. To add to their “glory”, the Khap Panchayats are known to sanction ‘honor killings’ where couples who resist the tradition and marry within the same gotra or sometimes even the same village, are mercilessly murdered or forced to commit suicide. The people who comprise these khaps are not blameless either. The Panchayats are not questioned and are mostly preferred over the judicial system of this country. Whether this support stems from the efficiency of the Khap Panchayats, they deliver a verdict in one sitting, or from the innate sadism prevalent in these people, is debatable. Coming back to the demand of the Khap Panchayats, the opposition INLD immediately pledged their support towards this proposed amendment. O.P Chautala brazenly called marriages between the same gotra as being ‘unnatural’. Further evidence of the influence wielded by the Khap Panchayats is reflected in a letter addressed to all Haryana ministers demanding that they clarify their postion on this issue by the 25th of May. Many ministers, Jindal included, were warned of a seige on their residences if they failed to attend the Khap Mahapanchayat. Naveen Jindal obviously takes such threats seriously since he cancelled a foreign tour in order to be present for the meeting. The audacity of these caste councils, who take the law into their own hands, is remarkable.
In a public statement, Jindal professed his admiration and regard for the ‘traditions’ of the Khap Panchayats. Well either the Kurukshetra MP has a severely warped sense of morality or he’s just one big liar, because even a 5-year-old would know that there is nothing ‘admirable’ about anything the Khap Panchayats do. They are a medieval group of playground bullies spreading the plague of discrimination, insensitivity and barbarism.
Although compromised values and moral systems in Indian politics are as commonplace as stray dogs on the roads of New Delhi, one can’t help but give in to the temptation of hope. A word of caution to the Khap Panchayats- your days are numbered, progress exists to rid us of social evils such as yourselves. The Congress statement on the issue was a step forward, as the party distanced itself from the madness that has consumed Jindal. Considering that we lost a brilliant man like Shashi Tharoor over charges that haven’t been proved till date, it would really be horrible to see Jindal march on without facing the consequences for his actions. So wash Jindal’s mouth out with soap or threaten him with dire consequences, whatever gets the job done! The last thing we need as a nation is the young politicians, who finally provided a ray of hope, losing their minds. Power may be the ultimate mediator in all conflicts, but there must be someone in the government who can put an end to this insanity. My money is on the soft-spoken, brilliant man who is Manmohan Singh.