The khap panchayat in Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat district has its own way of dealing with the problem of women being harassed by the “roadside Romeos”. It has issued a firman barring women up to the age of 40 from going to market unescorted, using cellphones and going for love marriages. They have also warned women to be ready to face consequences in case of a violation of the khap diktat. Their intent through this all remains noble: protecting women!
Western UP is an agriculturally rich region. The leaders of the khap that issued the medieval diktat must have been predominantly farmers. So let us talk in terms of basic rural wisdom: to protect crops from pests, what do you kill — crop or pests? If crop is vulnerable to pests, should seeds never be sown? The khap’s diktat defies even that basic logic. There is no merit in the firman of confining women while letting the men free. Isn’t it rendering the women more vulnerable to men when they are out without cellphones? The caste leaders don’t want women to venture out unescorted. The reason: they don’t want women to be a subject of the prying eyes of men in their very own village. However, the panchayat’s protective ways will cut no ice with the men. They would continue to be the same. Confining road Romeos to their houses and snatching away their cellphones and punishing them instead while they are caught teasing women is surely a better way? It will in all likelihood make women safer.
Diktats like these are only a couple of degrees away from what happened in Afghanistan a few days ago. A woman, who was married to a Taliban, was shot at nine times for having an affair with another member of the extremist group. The video showed over 100 men cheering as one of the men fired at her. The Taliban punish women for adultery like this (of late, no instance of a man having been punished by the Islamist militia for indulging in adultery has been heard of).
The khap diktat in complete violation of the supreme court orders banning assembly of such caste panchayats and issuing decrees. Opposing love marriages or same clan (gotra) marriages and killing a couple for daring to do so has been repudiated by the apex court but has not deterred the khaps from issuing irrational orders. Gotra refers to a system of cowsheds owned by seven great sages in the Vedic era when disciples of the same sage were considered a family and inter-marriages were prohibited. Much water has flown down the Ganga since and gotra holds no meaning in today’s society.
Only a few days ago, there was another diktat by the Kashmir-based hardline Islamist organisation Jamaat-e-Islami. It asked the state tourism department to make it mandatory for the tourists to dress decently. According to them tourists, mostly foreigners, are seen in mini-skirts and other objectionable dresses which are against their ethos and culture and unacceptable to civil society. While the diktat drew flak from all sides (following which Jamaat had to withdraw it), there is no harm in assimilating with the local culture. For a tourist, it is all the more fun. However, the Jamaat was silent on the flipside of this meritorious argument. How many Kashmiri men and women would dress like others when they visit their places? If they don’t, isn’t it “against their ethos and culture and unacceptable to civil society” there? Jigsaw time for Jamaat!
While statistics say India has more mobile phones than toilets, it is surprising that the fruits of this information revolution have been so scarce and sporadic. A lack of political will to deal with such sensitive socio-legal issues is also to blame. The prevalence of this medieval thinking where cellphone for a woman is more dangerous than useful is a manifestation of this only.