So why the big fuss over Kejriwal's stand on khap?

There is legal merit in AAP leader’s remarks: not khaps but their crimes need to be targeted

shantanu

Shantanu Datta | February 3, 2014


Arvind Kejriwal: Being misinterpreted. Deliberately?
File photo

Yes, khaps should be banned, if you ask me. But don’t ask me, for I will say religion, too, should be banned – and for more or less the same reasons that supreme court offered while calling them kangaroo courts in 2011: "Atrocities with respect to personal lives of people, committed by brutal, feudal minded persons deserve harsh punishment."

So let’s take a deep breath, keep our emotions from running over and keep the prejudice locked away while contending that Kejriwal ‘supports’ khap. He said, as quoted by Reuters, “Khap panchayats are a group of people who come together. There is no bar on people to assemble in this country.” That is, unless you impose section 144 CrPC across rural swathes where khaps are reported to operate from.

Kejriwal also said, “(But) whenever they take a wrong decision, whenever they take an illegal decision, they ought to be punished."

The problem, so far as the central government is concerned, is khaps issuing diktats on inter-caste, -religious, -clan etc marriages, and ordering ‘honour killing’, as the murders of the young victims are dubbed. That is why the supreme court, in July last year, asked the UPA government to “make its stand clear on a plea seeking action against the diktats of 'Khap Panchayats' such as harassing young couples for entering into inter-caste or intra-gotra marriages in the name of family or social honour”. "Why don't you file an affidavit and make your stand clear on the issue? You say as to what action you propose to take on the law commission's report," a bench of justices CK Prasad and Ranjana P Desai said, as reported by PTI).

The law commission has sought enactment of the Prohibition of Unlawful Assembly (Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances) Bill, 2011.

Besides various other measures, here’s what the proposed law says: "no person or any group of persons shall gather with an intention to deliberate on, or condemn any marriage, not prohibited by law, on the ground that such marriage has dishonoured the caste or community tradition or brought disrepute to all or any of the persons forming part of the assembly or the family or the people of the locality concerned."

Now, on whom is the onus to ‘ban’ khaps? The central government or states? Has any state banned khaps?

If the law commission’s jurisdiction is restricted to barring only “gathering” of people “with an intention to deliberate on, or condemn any marriage, not prohibited by law”, who is Kejriwal to seek a ban on the whole idea – even if it’s a bad idea, like fellow undemocratic ideas such as prohibition – of khap panchayat? Why, indeed, should he be expected to propose any such ban?

Whenever a khap decides to “condemn” any such marriage – with or without the diktat of ‘honour killing’ – it would be a criminal case, once the bill is passed, and would be dealt under criminal law. And Kejriwal’s stand is clear on that: “...whenever they take a wrong decision, whenever they take an illegal decision, they ought to be punished."

This is not to condone what khaps do – they are a regressive, anti-women, even misogynistic, obscurantist bunch of men gathered, purportedly with an aim to run their gun. Unfortunately, that’s the brief many religious organisations and agents, as well as some socio-cultural-political outfits hold. And, fortunately or unfortunately, per se they cannot be banned in the name of democracy.

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