The exact origin of Khap Panchayat is unknown but is believed to have commenced in 600 AD. Khap is a community organization acting on behalf of a clan or a group of related clans that has a considerable impact on the functions of the particular society. The traditional values, community strength and the feeling of togetherness provide stability to the Khap Panchayat. Initially, the Kaph panchayats performed three main functions: “”First, to resolve disputes among its members. Secondly, it functioned as a defender of the religious faith, and thirdly, it had the responsibility to protect the khap area from outside invasion”.” The decision taken by the top leaders is of grave importance to all of the society members.
The Panchayati Raj system was introduced as means of the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments to achieve decentralization and democratization. However, this recognition was not conferred upon the Khap panchayats. Moreover, in the present day, the Kaph panchayat functions as a parallel system of justice which is unconstitutional and presumably behaves as a court of castes run by the lords in a village. They comprise of unelected elders who run a self-declared court with greater emphasis on conservative, orthodox values in the name of the honour of the clan. The members of the kaph panchayat take upon themselves the role of administering justice in relation to marriages, property rights, inheritance, etc. The extent and scope of their unparalleled and unregulated power go to declare marriages null and void and awarding death as a means of punishment.
However, there is a clear-cut difference in the ideological point of view due to the redundant thinking and limited acceptance to change. As mentioned above, the institution of Kaph panchayat had played a vital role in the “administration of justice”. However, the roles and functions executed by them are beyond its scope, and it is being criticized for many reasons, especially for its role in the commissioning of honour killings.
Khap Panchayats in the present day
The kaph panchayat comprises powerful members, and it follows a patriarchal and male-dominant ideology. Moreover, they can be politically motivated and backed by politicians. In addition, the utter lack of concern by politicians and vote-bank politics empowers the Khap panchayats to function according to their whims and fancies due to the existing socio-legal disparity and the minimal reach of law and order in these backward areas. In spite of having several laws, the khap panchayat is sanctioning punishments beyond their role, function or power. The issue of honour killing has been in the news for quite some years. The role of the kaph panchayat is quite significant in these cases. Honour killing is a vicious punishment of execution to the person who has bought dishonour to the family or the village. An undemocratic and parallel system of punishment is a significant issue that needs to be addressed. The failure to comply and work within the jurisdictional ambits is one of the root causes that must be eliminated.
What makes it influential?
Khap panchayat is a powerful body; the social and political factors motivate them to perform and act beyond their scope and authority. More overly, The Khap is dominated by a small chunk of upper castes in the social system in rural India. The social causes can be the presence of similar Panchayat in neighbouring villages, amicable relations within the villages, a strong sense of brotherhood among the members of the clan. The political reasons could be due to the transformation of Khap into vote banks and the shortcomings of the political and local legal authorities to oppose their concerns in relation to the verdict and the extrajudicial functioning of khap.
The power of the Khap Panchayat lies in the weakness of the political parties one of the root causes can be Vote Bank Politics. Political parties ensure that a smooth relation is maintained with the members of khap panchayat. It has been observed that Khap leaders have encouraged their supporters to give a vote to a specific party. Hence, increasing the influence of Khap panchayats. The function of a Khap head becomes vital during elections when leaders of various political parties contesting elections attempt to influence voters. Youngsters, despite being exposed to multiple media platforms, the words of the elders are the ones that impact them the most. Due to this, political parties do not lose a chance to woo the members of Kaph.
The term Honour originated from the Latin word “honos” which connotes respectability, attaches worth, and an individual’s social standing in public at large. Honour killing is perceived to be a cultural crime. These crimes are committed because the person committing them must consider private and domestic honour very seriously. Newspapers and the media have time and again reported these crimes extensively.
According to the Council of Europe Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, Honour killing is expounded as “the murder of a woman by a close family relative or partner as a consequence of dishonour brought on the family due to the actions of the woman”.
Honour killing is closely associated with intrafamily violence, where women are perceived as the guardian of the man’s or family’s honour, and anyone having dishonoured the family’s honour must be killed as a form of punishment to reinstate it. In most of the circumstance, the victims of honour killing tend to women but men are also killed for restoring the family’s honour.
In the case of Arumugam Servai vs. State of Tamil Nadu”, the Court held that “Khap Panchayats” the decree or incitement of persons towards killing to defend the honour of the family towards those of different castes, religions who seek to get married are carried out by these members. The judgement pointed out that such acts are illegal and requires the administration and the police force to take measures to prevent such acts from taking place.
In the case of Lata Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh, the Court held that right to marry is enshrined under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution; hence the right to choose under Article 21 encompasses the right to marry the person of choice, which is a fundamental right. The Court stated the practice of honour killing is a penable action.
The Justice Verma Committee was appointed to look into matters concerning atrocities against woman. Also, the Law Commission was appointed with the task of determining the need for separate legislation to curb these practices, to mitigate and prevent the practices of honour killing with respect to the choice of matrimonial partner.
Conclusively, the Khap Panchayats, through the years, has become excessively powerful and dominant. They are controlled by the male members and mostly the upper castes of society. In addition, the existing caste system, the socio-economic issues and its ideological standpoint of view are the root cause for the existing evils in the society. The intuition of Khap Panchayats considers inter-caste marriages as an “offence”, hence making the offenders punishable by the members of khap. Ironically, sometimes police officials also fail to help the people who become the victim of the khaps.. The performance and exercise of extra-constitutional powers is an issue that needs to be addressed in a democratic country like India. Politicians aiding them and not raising their voice against these redundant practices is a failure on their part and an embarrassment to the democratic ideals of the nation. It is unfortunate that even in the 21st century, the practice of honour killing continues based on the norms that were redundant to present-day society.
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