Vote for Love

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.

If you have any questions please contact Fiona Wayman on fhw@mitchells-roberton.co.uk or telephone 0141 552 3422.

Love Commandos

I was reading a recent Sunday Times Spectrum Magazine and came across an article about “Love Commandos.” Far from “caste-ing” it aside it attracted my attention.

The Love Commandos are a voluntary organization in India which was set up by journalists and businessmen some three years ago. They operate from a small room in a congested neighbourhood in inner city New Delhi with no formal structure or operating budget and comprise a national network of volunteers who are united by a fierce frustration with the fact that resistance to love marriages remains pervasive in modernising India in every social and religious community, often leading to threats, mental or physical abuse and violence including “honour killings” or indeed suicides by young couples. In fact hundreds of murders a year are committed as a result of love marriages.

It seems that most problems occur when there is love across caste lines, but a difference of religion is a close second followed by a difference in economic or education level. On average the “Love Commandos” receive 300 calls a day from harried lovers.  The group tries to provide couples disowned by their families and threatened by them , free shelter and support till they can stand on their own two feet.

Unfortunately, marrying the “wrong” person or not marrying the “right” person in the eyes of a young person’s family, can also be an issue here in the UK. For most women getting married, their wedding day is one of happiness. However, it is believed that annually around 8000 young women in the UK are forced into marriage against their will. In 2011, the UK’s Forced Marriage Unit revealed there were 1468 cases in Britain of young people asking for help or support relating to a forced marriage. Out of this figure 66 had a disability: 56 with a  learning difficult and 8 who were physically disabled.  The youngest the Unit helped was 5 years old and the oldest 87.

Scotland was the first country in the UK to legislate against forced marriage with The Forced Marriage etc (Protection and Jurisdiction) (Scotland) Act being passed by the Scottish Parliament on 22 March 2011. It reflects Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights whereby it is stated that “Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouse”.

The Act was passed to provide an individual with protection against threats, harassment or pressure to marry someone without their consent. A Forced Marriage Protection Order can be sought from the court to legally prevent anybody from forcing someone to marry against their will, or to keep the individual from harm if a forced marriage has already taken place. The Order can be adapted to meet the specific needs of an individual’s situation including restrictions or requirements to stop or change the behaviour of the person who is pressurising someone into marriage. A breach of the order could result in a prison sentence of up to two years.