The Importance Of Khap Panchayats

Posted: October 11, 2012

A spate of rapes in Haryana, and the Khap Panchayats are out with their antiquated prescriptions to save women by getting them married by the time they are 16. Never mind that rape victims tend to be not just young, single women but married mothers and grandmothers too. The Khaps are regressive, the Khaps have no deep understanding of crime against women, the Khaps are made up of old men who are desperate to hang on to their power based on age and caste, in a fast changing world which doesn’t value these variables anymore.

All right thinking people know this, I would think, but the media rush to seek Khap opinion on issues, and especially on issues involving women, makes me doubt it.

Why does our electronic media rush to get the ‘valued opinion’ of Khap leaders every time there is an incident on which a regressive pronouncement is likely to be available? For we know it – we know what the Khaps are likely to say. Their tune is unchanging – lock up the girls, cover up the girls, order the girls to ‘dress decently’, stop them from using mobile phones so they don’t ‘go astray’, ask the Government to implement gotra rules that have no scientific validity. Really, there is only one tune the Khaps know to sing and that is a tune by now familiar to most viewers.

So why exactly is the media rushing to get their soundbites? Because their regressive pronouncements can be used as fodder to generate outrage? Because they are so ludicrous as to make for good TRPs? Frankly, I am bored, and I assume so are many other viewers. It was cringe-inducing to see the reporter asking a Khap leader respectfully, what he thought of the latest rape case.

What is worrying is that the Khaps are more likely to gain more confidence in their imbecility, thanks to media attention. Until 5 years ago, little was known about Khap Panchayats beyond the areas in which they operate – today, the word ‘Khap’ is widely known, thanks to the extensive media attention they receive.

What exactly makes a Khap member an authority to whom media must run to for soundbites when there is a rape? By giving them the oxygen of publicity, and especially television publicity, the media is only doing Khaps a big favour. What is happening is that they are being set up as a legitimate authority on social issues, with a point of view that deserves our time.

The truth is exactly the opposite. With migration to urban areas rising, with caste as a factor in mobility declining (even if slowly),with gender roles becoming more fluid, Khaps as an authority are losing their validity. That is a good thing, and we should cheer for it. Now if only our media would stop running to these archaic henchmen of the status quo.

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  1. It is extremely easy to bash up the media for bringing across views of people that are hateful to us. But here is a potent reason for them to ‘go running to the khaps for soundbites when there is a rape’ – those very Khap Panchayats are the only form of local governance that exercises influence in these areas. People from villages, even cities in Haryana listen to these Khap Panchayats and follow their whips. This is very far from an ideal situation, but that is how it is currently and the media is simply reflecting the same. These views might not matter to the urban middle class in metros, but that is hardly the majority of people in this country. The statements of members of these khaps reflect the mentality of a powerful group of people where these crimes are happening…these are unpleasant truths, no doubt, but important nevertheless.

  2. Khaps do not have the monopoly of “reflecting” the thoughts of people in this region and giving them that legitimacy is dangerous not to mention misleading. Secondly, to say Khaps are the ‘only form of local governance’ is also incorrect – these are regions where a government exists, even if corrupt/incompetent. Khaps are trying to usurp that authority and afraid of their power being taken away.

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