In a previous blog, I spoke of the Love Commandos and the recent legislation introduced in Scotland regarding forced marriages. So it was with interest and glory that I read this month in the Stylist magazine that India’s most important khap panchayat (council) has agreed to lift a ban on inter-caste marriages after voting to allow marriage between different hereditary classes of Hindu society within its 42 villages- a decision which hopefully will begin to break the shackles of age old tradition.
Yet let us not forget that only in June 2007 Indian newlyweds Manoj Banwala and Babli were killed by order of a khap panchayat, a religious caste-based council among Jatts, in their Karora village in Kaithal district, Haryana. Such caste based councils are common in the inner regions of several Indian States, including Haryana, Punjab, and parts of Rajasthan and have been operating with government approval for years.
In the case of Manoj and Balbi the Khap panchayat’s ruling was based on the assumption that Manoj and Balbi belonged to the Banwala gotra, a Jat community and were therefore believed to be siblings despite not being directly related and any union between them would be invalid and incestuous. However, the couple’s commitment to one another transcended their willingness to abide by the societal norms and they ran away together on 5th April 2007 and married two days later at a Durga temple. Furious about the marriage Balbi’s relatives later kidnapped Manoj and Balbi firstly beating them up and then forcing Balbi to consume pesticide and strangling Manoj.
The case was brought to court and in March 2010 a Karnal district court sentenced the five perpetrators to be executed, the first time an Indian court had done so in an honour killing. (The death sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment). In her verdict district judge Vani Gopal Sharma stated “Khap panchayats have functioned contrary to the constitution, ridiculed it and have become a law unto themselves.”
There are 800 million Hindus in India and until now anyone marrying outside their caste has been shunned, with some becoming victims of honour killings. The Khap panchayat’s recent decision to allow youths of marriageable age to be free to explore their matrimonial options not only in their own caste but in other castes as well breaks the 700 year old tradition of marriage ban and this must be heralded as progress. Subedar Inder Singh head of the khap panchayat said “the current norms in marriage are 600-700 years old and times have changed.”
However, there is little doubt that the making of the decision has been greatly influenced by the constant growing army of bachelors in the villages and a skewed sex ratio making it difficult for young people to find a suitable match within the traditional defined thresholds. This has forced social institutions to look beyond and find solutions to the problems.
I am sure The Love Commandos will embrace the changes. They will see the effects if their voluntary workload begins to slow down.
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