KHAP PANCHAYATS : A SOCIO-HISTORICAL OVERVIEW
Written by Sh. Ajay Kumar :
Khap has turned into a terrifying reality. On the very mention of the khap, the horrific faces of murdered couples in love and images of burnt Dalit houses immediately come to our mind. The conscious sections of the society have started to demand the restraining of these panchayats. In its characteristic response, the government have limited the entire issue to the confines of the law and order problem, rather than seeking out the objective material basis for the existence of the khaps and the judgments pronounced by them, and then transform this very basis. An understanding of the material basis for the khap’s existence and the socio-economic context of their terrible decisions is necessary to arrive at its appropriate remedy.
Khap panchayats oppose marriages between youths within families of mother, father, grandmother, aunt and others who belong to close blood-relations and same gotra. The newly-wed couple Manoj and Babli got murdered by the panchayat in Karora village of Kaithal in spite of the High Court’s protection provided to them. In the village of Farmana in Maham, constraints were put in the marriage between Neelam and Naveen by terming them as belonging to the fraternal gotras i.e. bhaichara gotra of Sehrawan and Bura in February 2010.
The khaps also object to the marriages that consummate between gaon-guhand, i.e. village and the neighbouring villages, terming them as violations of social prestige. In Singhwal, a youth named Vedpal inhabitant of nearby village Mattor was in fact killed in the presence of a High Court-appointed warrant officer. The dominant gotra (genus) of Jats in the village also prevent the rest of the village inhabitants from conducting marriages within their gotra. Not only this, these people belonging to dominant Jat gotra object to even those same-gen marriages to families of other villages where their own gotra are dominant. In the village Ladawas which comes under the area of Shyoran Pacchisi khap in Bhiwani and where the people of Sheyoran gotra are in minority and those belonging to Gil gotra are in majority, the marriage proposal from a Gil gotra family to that of a Shyoran gotra was opposed.
Moreover, the khap panchayats not only forcibly interfere with the marital relations of the numerically smaller Jats of other gotras who are weak in terms of land ownership, but it also interfere in artisans, tenants /share-croppers (kashtkar/bataidar) and agricultural labourers in the villages. In the Shimla village of Kaithal, a Dalit couple was stoned to death in 1999 for falling in love and thereby daring to commit the ‘crime’ of violating social pride and honour.
The khap panchayats not only oppose but also interfere and put impediments to such marriages, breaks them up and forces the married-couples or prospective brides and grooms to tie rakhis as brothers and sisters. If any couple declines to comply with the diktat of the khap, then it not only imposes a ban on all kinds of social interaction with the families of the lovers or married-couples and ex-communicates them, but even goes to the extent of murdering the couples.
Many questions are thrown up from above incidents. This article is an attempt to examine the basis of the khap panchayat’s existence and continued strength, and the purpose of interference in marital relations even going to the extent of perpetrating murder of youths for not complying with custom and rituals. We also interrogate the ‘modern’ state’s failure to put a leash on them, and the means through which the autocratic powers of the khaps be challenged and its domination ended.
What is the Khap System?
Khap is the informal institution of each gotra in the Jat community of North India which determines the customs and practices as well as religious norms for its specific gotra. The members of each gotra elect their headman. This headman convenes the panchayat of his village. It is obligatory for all members to comply with the decisions taken in the panchayat. There is a supreme organisation of the entire Jat community which is called the sarv-khap, it includes all gotra’s khap.
This gotra based institution is not peculiar to this region. Such types of institutions existed in Munda and Gond tribes of central and eastern India. Gotra based institutions are product of that tribal age when human society was in its primitive stage. The society was divided into Kul (clan or Gotra) based groups at that time. These kinship-groups independently determined their social norms and customs. Rig Veda refers to many clans (Kul). The society of that period was primarily based on pastoralism, though some amount of agriculture was also carried out.(Thapar:2008:150) However the concentration of power was checked by various assemblies of the clansmen, in particular, the vidatha, sabha and samiti. (Thapar: 2008:158) As long as the gana-sangha system of polity existed; these clan-based institutions were responsible for regulating the society. The assembly of the clan-chiefs used to wield the power of governance (Thapar: 2008:190). Their society was organised on the basis of clans, of which the larger unit was the tribe. This form of organisation distinguished them from the peasants and the caste-based society. (Thapar: 2008:83)
Tribal groups which did not become a part of the caste-system in India still exist. They have genus and tribal institutions in them. In Munda tribe of Jharkhand, all the gotras have their own headmen. They are called the Rajas. They determine the social norms by holding assembly in accordance with their respective gotras. For determining the norms of the entire tribe there is an assembly of the Rajas of all gotras within the tribe.
However, in other communities which have become part of the Indian caste-system, such gotra-based institutions hardly exist. In some castes there are biradari panchayats. But neither the structure of the biradari panchayats is similar to that of the gotra-based panchayats, nor are they so strong and powerful. In these communities too there might have been gotra-based institutions sometimes in the past. According to Frederick Engels, it was the tribe-based and genus-based institutions which played the role maintaining order in the society in the primitive stage of social development. The headmen of the tribes and gotras were selected in this manner, and so were the priests and the military generals. However, during the process of state formation which progressed along with social development, these Kul-based institutions started to meet their end or it survived merely in symbolic forms.
In Magadh during 5th century B.C. earlier pastoral cum agriculture economy with tribal organisation had given way to a more settled agrarian based economy which become major factor in State formation (Chakravarty:2007:4).and in the process of the strengthening and geographical expansion of state power, the collapse of the political institution of gotra-based tribal republics known as gana sanghs was becoming inevitable in the face of rapid changes taking place in 6-5 centuries B.C. (Chakravarty:2007:6) The rule of the assembly of the clan’s chieftains in the gana-sanghas or the tribal republics was now replaced by monarchies. The monarch was now being determined by inheritance and by birth. Political power got concentrated in the hands of the king. The council of ministers or an assembly remained merely as advisor (Thapar:2008:193). However, the character of such an assembly or council was totally different from those under the clan-based system. The emergence of the state meant the abandoning of clan-based institutions from the society and the polity. (Thapar:2008:157)
In Haryana too, clan-based tribal republics such as Yuddhyeya, Arjunayan, Agra and Kunid etc. got disintegrated by the 5th century A.D., and monarchy under Pushyabhuti came into being (Yadav:1992:137-8). Harshvardhan was a member of this Pushyabhuti royal family and established a vast empire, whose initial capital was Thanesar. (Yadav:1992:154).
With the emergence and expansion of state power in India the caste-system also got consolidated. Castes (jati) were different from the clans, because the former were in general not based on kinship, nor were there any collective ownership of resources. The peasantry was generally distinguished for its caste system (Thapar:2008:88)
But in spite of the fusion of the Jat community into the caste-system, the gotra-based institutions of the primitive tribal age are not only in existence today but also remain highly powerful and unchallenged, and maintain the ability to implement all the decisions pronounced by it. They remain ready even to confront modern state if and when a contradiction develops with it.
The Reasons for the Persistent Survival and Strength of the Khaps
The Medieval Period: Transformation in the Jat society and in the Character of the Khaps
The Jats who now inhabit Haryana reached this region between the Sutlej and the Yamuna in 11th century after getting displaced from Sindh. During that time, this community was a pastoral socity and its social structure was egalitarian/semi-egalitarian.Talking of the pastoralist society, Romila Thapar writes that The family formed the core and patrilineal descent was often traced from a common ancestor. Kinship, whether actual or Active, was essential to identity and to loyalty, with a premium on the latter. This ensured the coherence of the larger unit, the clan, which because of constant movement would otherwise tend to get dispersed. The clan was relatively egalitarian with a sharing of the produce, although a better and bigger share was collected by the chief. A group of clans constituted what have been called tribes, although this word can cover diverse forms of social groups (Thapar:2008:85). In all probability, these characteristics of the pastoralist society may have also existed among the Jat community.
The Jat community continued to migrate towards the north-eastern direction or the present-day Haryana, Punjab, and Western Uttar Pradesh. Most of the Jats in Haryana settled in bangar area, the dry region where there was insufficient rainfall. This region presently falls under the Rohtak, Sonipat, Panipat, Karnal, Jhajjhar, Bhiwani, Jind, Kaithal and Hisar districts. There was also no river in this region. Therefore, this was a region of sparsely populated barren land without having any means to make the land cultivable through irrigation. In this region of sparse population, people belonging to each gotra could settle their villages only within the borders specified for their gotra. With the victory of the Turks over India, the entry of rahats, the Persian wheel, also paved the way for the transformation of pastoralists to peasants(Habib:2006:31). Muhammad Bin Tughlaq also constructed four canals in Haryana along with the Western Yamuna Canal in this period. This canal created better conditions for cultivation in this region. Possibility to increase agriculture productivity had been amplified. Various gotras of Jats also settled in and around this region along with their clan members. The possibilities of maintaining the gotra-based institution or khap also continued along with the settlement of specific gotras in specific areas.
In that period of history i.e. the reign of Sultan, a land revenue based feudal social system got firmly established in this region of Haryana. Under feudal system, the state and the big landlords used to usurp a large part of the crop produced by the tenants and the peasantry in general. The tribal society of Jats displaced from Sindh also started cultivation. The Jats who were once pastoralists, became peasants engaged in settled agriculture between 11th and 16th centuries. However, they maintained many of the tribal characteristics in their society (Chandra:2007:176). In the process of becoming settled cultivators, they became a part of the contemporary feudal social structure and the production process of that period as well as got fused within the India’s caste-system.
For being close to the political capital of the Sultans and the Mughal Empire, land revenue in this part of Haryana was collected directly by the royal officials under the supervision of the central authority (Moreland :1963:36). Khap, an institution of the primitive tribal age became an instrument of struggle to reduce the revenue of the peasants. Under the banner of the sarv-khap, peasants also fought against the central authorities of Balban and Shah Jahan.
A section of the Jat peasants became a part of the revenue collection mechanism which played the role of intermediaries. They were employed in the post of Chaudhries and Muqaddams as a part of the tax collection mechanism in the parganas and villages respectively. Chaudhuris and Muqaddams usually belonged to castes and gotras which were dominant and in majority in a particular region. There used to be 10 to 15 villages within a pargana. They received a fixed amount from the revenue collected as their pay.
Most of the Haryana region was within the Delhi subah during the Mughal era. Jats were employed as Chaudhuris in 35 percent of the parganas under the Delhi sarkar encompassing Rohtak, Sonipat and Chaproli, etc. Under the Hissar-e-Firoza sarkar that included Agroha, Hissar, Fatehabad, Gohana, Hansi etc, Jats were employed in 74 percent of the parganas for the collection of land revenue They were also employed as Chaudhris in 25 percent of the parganas under the Rewari sarkar which included Patodi, Baawal, Rewari, etc. and that of 33 percent under Sarhind sarkar including Thanesar, Khijrabad etc. Thus, the tribal egalitarian society of the Jats during pastoral stage disintegrated by the time of the Mughals and as a part of the feudal society got stratified and divided into various classes of landlord and peasants. The dominant class of Jats who emerged as chaudharis and muqaddams became owners of large landholdings by using state power and influence of their official position. This very class also started to play important roles in the khaps by wielding the influence of their property and political power. Akbar even co-opted the members of the sarv-khap to the status of ministers in order to integrate them within his state.
On one hand, the khaps were used by the Jat landlords in making bargains and compromises with the Mughal emperor in order to maintain or strengthen their role as intermediaries in the feudal land revenue system. On the other, the upper class that belonged to those who were called khudkast-the landholders and peasants- and had proprietary ownership of land, used the inherent power of the khaps and panchayats to maintain control over other artisan class and castes, menial castes and tenants. The village administrators connected to the khaps also used to collect hearth-tax from other inhabitants as additional revenue. It was also used to control the Jat peasants from other gotras who were invited to the village to till fallow lands in a khap’s area. The tenant peasants who belonged to other Jat gotras were not given the right to intervene in matters of village management, and only a subordinate status of their rights over land was recognised (Ibbetson:1883:para 240)
The ruling class character of the Jat landlords who were appointed as chaudhuris once again came in clear evidence when they opposed the rebellion by the landless peasants, tenants, artisans and merchants led by Banda Bahadur, and pleaded with the emperor of Delhi to crush this movement that raised the slogan of land redistribution (Sing:2006:22,60). The Jat leader Churaman of Mathura which himself rose up against the Mughal Empire with the help of the khaps went to the extent of becoming a part of the Mughal army in order to quell the rebellion under Banda.
This way, the Jat tribal society did not get transformed into a caste based feudal society in the general course of social development in which gotra based institutions generally got disintegrated with the emergence of the state. The Pastoral society of Jats straight-away got assimilates into the relatively advanced land revenue and caste based feudal system. This is why the clan-based institution of a society and rule survived among the Jats. This tribe and gotra-based institution of srav-khap/ khap continued to survive and coexist with the feudal social and political structure. Khaps got transformed into a means of fulfilling the interests of big landlords from being the political institution of an egalitarian community and became an instrument to maintain the status-quo in agrarian relations as per the needs of landlords.
British Colonialism : The New Administrative System and the Khaps
The British East India Company inaugurated colonial rule in Haryana by taking over the right to collect land revenue from the Mughal Emperor in 1803. The British started the Mahalwari system here. Under this new system, they did not bring about any fundamental change in the lower stratum of the land revenue collection mechanism. Revenue continued to be collected in the villages through the Muqaddam/Muqaddams, who later came to be termed as Numbardars. The pargana system was transformed into the Zaildar system. Post of Chaudhari had been replaced by Zaildar. The posts of Nambardars and Zaildars were continued to be filled by the government from among the dominant Gotra and caste in concerned area. They were invariably from the wealthy and influential families of the region.
Only one khap (clan as used by the British) was kept in on Zail circle and someone from that khap who was loyal to the British rule, who had helped British during 1857 revolt was appointed as the Zaildar. One Settlement officer had to alter his proposed division so as to separate a Dehia village which he had included with Haulanias while framing Zail (Ibbetson :2008:127). So the Zail was framed as per Khap area. The person appointed as Zaildars and Nambardars played major roles within the khaps as well. The hold over the khaps also gave them an important place in the colonial regime. The headmen of Gathwala gotra’s khap was appointed as a Zaildar. So British had co opted influential section of Jats who had a prominent position in Khaps. This is probably why the khaps did not play any significant role after the struggle for independence against the British in 1857, even though there was a sharp increase in land revenue demand as well as a number of famine occurred during this period.
This influential section of jats also consolidates their hold over land during the land settlements introduced under the British rule. During the 19th century ‘there was an abundance of land and a scarcity of cultivators’ (Ibbetson:1883: para240).
However, the tenants from Dalits, backward and other castes were deprived from ownership of land. They were forced to take up share-cropping on the fields of the landlords who had proprietary rights over land, to work as bonded labourers (siri-sanjhi), to supply the means and tools of production. These influential section had probably crushed the aspiration of tenants of other castes (kamera class, or ‘partial cultivator’) to acquire a proprietary right on land by using the strength inherent in Khap.
During the colonial period even after the establishment of the ‘modern’ state according to the rule of law, institutions like the khap remained as parallel political authority which also became a means to consolidate the political status of its influential leaders.
Post 1947: Socio economic Changes and the Khaps
The situation did not change even after 1947. The hold of big landlords over land remained unaltered. The land-reform acts of the government proved to be ineffective. There might be even a single family from big landlords whose land was adjudged surplus. The state legislative assembly tried to delay in every possible way the imposition of the upper limit on landholdings. This is because these big landlords themselves had become society’s representatives in the state and central political institutions.
Peoples’ movements against feudalism and for land redistribution could also not emerge so strongly in Haryana. The Mujhara movement had taken place only in some villages of Hissar , Sirsa and Bhiwani. The sporadic struggles took place under the leadership of the Laal Jhanda Party of Teja Singh Swatantra in Narwana and Yamuna Nagar. The movement for land is hardly heard in the areas where Khaps are very strong. The most important factor behind this is the fear of the organised strength of the khaps, which violently crushes even the smallest of resistances by the oppressed classes and castes. In recent times, there has been some struggle to claim the right over the Samlati lands reserved for Dalits. However, these struggles too have not been able to expand in an organised way at a mass level. No significant change took place in the pattern of land ownership and consequently agrarian relations even after Green Revolution. In spite of the development in the productive forces in agriculture, no fundamental change has come about in the production relations in the agrarian society.
Nevertheless, the development of new sectors of production and service has created ever new opportunities for productive labour. A part of the so-called ‘lower’ castes entered in these new productive sectors since manual labour is primarily undertaken by the members of these oppressed castes in the Indian caste-system. Political consciousness and sense of dignity developed among this section of Dalits and other oppressed castes as a result of working in urban areas, getting into government employment and procuring higher education. The aspiration to live a life of dignity and self-respect emerging among the Dalits and oppressed castes has also led to the development of this consciousness among the agricultural labourers and poor peasants as most of Dalits do not have a proprietary right on land and have to face exploitation and extra-economic coercion. These classes are now raising their voice against caste-based exploitation, discrimination and begar (obligatory labour service) and are walking with their heads held high. Now impediments are being faced by the landlords in their policy of extracting extra surplus on the basis of caste. But the landlords are using the power of their gotra or community inherent in khaps for their own interest and try to maintain control over exploited and oppressed classes by perpetrating caste-based social-boycotts and attacks on those who claim their legitimate rights. Incidents of caste-based atrocities in Gunna, Mahmuddpur, Gohana, Harsola and Mirchpur are some of its terrible instances. The big landlords not only prevent the tenants, artisans and agricultural labourers from even availing their constitutionally-guaranteed rights but also deny them a life of dignified existence.
The agricultural sector has got trapped in a great crisis after the Green Revolution. New techniques of production are being introduced and applied in a big way. The input costs are growing exponentially. Most of the small and middle peasants are indebted to the usurers who appropriate a large part of the peasant’s. The land of the indebted peasants is being bought over at nominal price by the big landlords and usurers in lieu of the lent amount. The peasants of Haryana had to also bear the consequences of being close to the country’s capital Delhi. Due to the policy of ‘Special Economic Zones’ introduced in the name of second generation reforms led to the flourishing of the real estate speculation. The peasants of Haryana engulfed by the debt trap adopted the selling of land as a means of escaping from indebtedness. Most of the peasants lost their primary source of livelihood. The youth does not consider their future to be secure in the agrarian sector which is entirely being overlooked by the government. On the one hand agrarian crisis has deepened in Haryana, and on another hand, Gurgaon, Faridabad, Bahadurgarh, Sonipat, Rewari, Bawal etc. have become the centres for industrial production and the service sector on the other. This process has expanded rapidly after adoption of Liberalization, Globalization and Privatization in 1990; it has become the nerve-centre of foreign corporations and Indian big business.
Due to the expansion of these new sectors of production and the transformation of agriculture as an unprofitable venture, the new generation of youth in Haryana have also started to become part of new production relation after leaving their ancestral agriculture. This section of the youth is now in contradiction with the traditional customs of the feudal society. To point fingers at the traditional norms by the youth is to challenge that section of the agrarian society whose interest is fulfilled even today by these traditions. This amounts to challenging the exploitative agrarian relations and the caste system nurtured by it, through which the landlords keep control over the labouring classes. The big landlord class therefore are getting these youths killed through the khaps in order to maintain their sources of strength – the caste system and the agrarian relations. The strict control of the landowning castes over the society’s matrimonial relations is a ground reality in all the states of the country.
The Jat peasants have also benefited from the support of the khaps to their struggles. These khaps have played an important role in the peasants’ movements of Kandela, Adampur, Nisingh etc. led by Bharatiya Kisan Union, and because of the active participation of the khaps the peasants’ movement of Haryana have been so militant and extensive. Therefore the khaps also fulfil the interests of the Jat peasants apart from serving the Jat landlords, for which the former also accepts the decisions of the khaps.
In the context discussed above, not only the tribe and gotra-based institution of the khap survived, but it also remained highly powerful.
Agrarian Relations, Growing Trend of Love Marriages and the Terrible Role of the Khaps:
The expectation to uphold the customary rules and regulations in conjugal relations is common to all castes and communities in India. Same-gotra marriages are particularly eschewed, whether it is the tribal society of the Gonds of Bastar or the Munda adivasi community of Jharkhand, or the Aggrawal caste who are considered to be advanced in trade. It is worth noting that patrimony-based gotra system and the marriage norms related to it had been widely prevalent in the entire world during primitive age. Inter-marriage in the same gotra (endogamy) or conjugal relations outside the tribe (exogamy) was prohibited in the clan-based system of primitive stage. But these tribal traditions are firmly present in the Indian society even today, particularly in the marital relations the continuation of these norms are highly visible because the “Entire Course of Indian History Shows Tribal Elements Being Infused Into A General Society. This Phenomenon, which lies at the very foundation of the most striking Indian social feature, namely caste…..” (Kosambi:1991:27)
In North India, particularly in the agrarian societies, love for someone is not the deciding factor in marriage. Rather caste affiliation and financial status are the determining factors and that are too decided by parents. As in the patriarchal society, the child born out of a marriage – particularly the male child – is considered to be the legitimate heir to the father’s property. Therefore there is a close interconnection between the conjugal relations and the property relations existing in the society. As described by Engels, “the origin of monogamy…was not in any way the fruit of individual sex-love, with which it had nothing whatever to do; marriages remained as before marriages of convenience. It was the first form of the family to be based, not on natural, but on economic conditions – on the victory of private property over primitive, natural communal property. The Greeks themselves put the matter quite frankly: the sole exclusive aims of monogamous marriage were to make the man supreme in the family, and to propagate, as the future heirs to his wealth, children indisputably his own.”. Monogamy is that form of marriage practice which produces a ‘legitimate inheritor’, and this is the form which is presently in practice in Haryana and in India. Restrictions were imposed on women so as to produce legitimate heirs to property. The main objective of these restrictions is to control their sexuality and reproduction. To maintain the familial hold over property, to keep property within a particular caste, and to reproduce the production relations that got established on the basis of the caste system, not only the rules and customs related to marriage are promulgated but are also strictly enforced. Those who violate the marriage customs are punished by biradari panchayats, in which members of one caste, usually influential persons of a particular caste, participate and pronounce the ‘judgment’. However, these panchayats are not as powerful as khap because khap, being a tribal institution, has a traditional chief and has a well-organised structure. In Haryana too, the violation of the marriage regulations is considered to be a very serious crime . But death sentence is pronounced for the violation of these norms. This is because the khap panchayats of the Jat community is more organised, powerful and influential in comparison to the biradari panchayats. They even confront state power.
Majority of the Jats in Haryana are landowners. Among them some are big landlords, while others are middle and poor peasants. In the Jat community, marriage alliances outside caste are not permitted. If there is any, degree of punishment varies.
If a Jat woman marries a ‘lower’ caste man – she is often murdered. Such a marriage will elevate the social status of the lower caste and will prove to be an impediment in the continuation of the caste-based exploitation and oppression as these Dalits and other oppressed caste are their subordinate in agrarian relation. This concern is aptly reflected in this saying by the dominant Jat community, “Yeh dhed mahre jamai ban jiyange. Mhari gelya khat pe bethiya karenge” (These Dalits will become our sons-in-law. They will sit with us on charpai as equals). This means that Dalit relatives will have to be treated as equals. Thus, in a majority of cases when a Jat girl marries a Dalit boy, the khap panchayats pronounce death sentence on the couple as a mark of social honour. However, if a Jat boy marries a girl who belongs to the ‘lower’ castes, he is not killed. The Jat boys are establishing conjugal relations with girls in ‘lower’ castes from Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal, Jharkhand, etc, as number of girls have declined sharply in Haryana due to female foeticide. But no khap has opposed such inter-caste marriages, though considered to be a taboo in the traditional customs of the Jat society. The reason for this is that even after such an inter-caste marriage, there is no possibility of a change in the status of the bride’s family and subsequently of her caste members, since in a patriarchal society the bride’s family in any case has a lower status.
One of the reasons for the continued instances of ‘honour killing’ may be the fear of Jat women after inter-caste marriage could claim a right to inherited property which is otherwise claimed entirely by men in the present patriarchal society. In that case, the property of Jat woman’s family will be accessible to the ‘lower’ caste family. As a result the ‘lower’ caste family will get an equal status with the Jat family not only socially, but economically as well. Murder of couples in love have gone up manifolds after the Hindu Marriage Act and Hindu Succession Act, which recognises the legal rights of daughters to ancestral property, came into being.
The marriage of Jat boys from minority gotras of the village or the locality with the girls of the dominant and majority gotras of Jats is also opposed, even if the girl’s family is located in a far-off village. The majority gotra not only administers the village but also is the owner of most of the village land. They had always given an inferior status to the tenants and craftsmen who came from outside. If boys from the minority gotra get married to the girls from the majority gotra, people from the minority gotra would socially become their equals. This will reduce their social honour, prestige and the status of the Chaudhris. This will have the possibility of indirectly influencing the people from other castes. The Jats of the majority gotra puts forward an argument against same-gotra marriage that there will be a difficulty in determining whether they should call the newly married bridegroom as sister or daughter-in-law. However, this argument is articulated in the areas of khap domination. In the areas outside their influence, marriages are taking place even within the same village. Hundreds of marriages have so far been solemnized within the families of the village Chautala, which is the village of the Indian National Lok Dal leader Om Prakash Chautala who have fully supported the restrictions imposed by the khaps on matrimonial alliances. It becomes very clear, therefore, that the reason behind the selective and arbitrary imposition of marriage restrictions is to maintain the dominance of some gotras of a particular community in a village or a region.
Apart from these regulations, other norms coming down from the tribal-age is also implemented through the khaps. This includes prohibition on same-gotra marriages and marriages among fraternal gotras having the same ancestry, etc. But such marriages are less in number. Such traditions are enforced by the dominant class of the Jat community to maintain the necessity, relevance and existence of the khaps, which still remains a medium in their hands to maintain their dominant status in the society.
The khap panchayats even forcibly interfere with the matrimonial relations of Dalits of a village. For instance, a Dalit couple was murdered in a Shimla village just for being in love. Also Dalits of a village cannot establish marital relations with Dalits of another village, in which the gotra of dominant Jats is on a par with the Jats of their own village.
The Relation between the Khaps and the ‘Modern’ State:
It is worth noting that the population of Jats comprises about 25 percent of Haryana’s population. This plays a decisive role in the electoral politics based on numerical strength. There are politicians from among the big landlords that belong to the Jat community and who occupy important ministerial posts in every government in the state. These politicians are eagerly putting the stamp of approval to the medievalist diktats of the khap panchayats. In 2004, former Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala said, “Whatever decision panchayats takes is correct.” The present Chief Minster, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, says khaps are social institutions any step taken in hurry to curb them will have dangerous impact on the law and order situation of the state. He has openly opposed same-gotra marriage. Even big industrialist and Kurukshetra MP Naveen Jindal revealed his feudal character when he seemed to be in agreement with the anti-democratic demand of the khaps to prohibit same-gotra marriage.
The power of the khap panchayats exists parallel to the political power of the government. Be it the Gohana massacre or the Dulina killings, politicians have directly or indirectly supported khaps and other anarchic forces. Political leaders are themselves presiding over khap panchayats. The Beniwal khap panchayat that issued the autocratic diktat of declaring the marriage of Kavita and Satish null-and-void and forcibly making them siblings, was presided over by former chief minister of Haryana, Hukum Singh.
The administrative machinery too supports it directly or indirectly. In cases of inter-caste marriage, violence on women and caste atrocities, the police and the administration reflects their feudal character by standing with the perpetrators against the victims, or at best by playing the role of mute spectators as seen in Gohana, Mirchpur and Harsola clearly.
A Radical Transformation in the Agrarian Relations is the Only Way Forward:
For putting an end to the terrifying character of the khaps it is necessary that the class which is ensuring the survival of khaps and using them for their own interest is get rid of. The entire land owned by these big landlords need to be redistributed among the agricultural labourers and poor peasants and thereafter proceeding towards collective farming and to create an egalitarian society. Statistics tell us that the Dalits constitute 19.5 percent of the population in Haryana. According to the Agricultural Census of 20005-06, out of 16,03,267 agricultural landholding, the Dalits own merely 33,055, which is only 2.06 percent of the total landholdings. Out of the total cultivable area of 35,83,297 hectares, they have a miniscule 44,620 hectares, which is a measly 1.24 percent of the land. According to the Agricultural Census of 2005-06, small peasants constitute a large section of the peasantry in Haryana. Of the total operational holdings, 67.029 percent are of below 2 hectare. Out of this too, the section of peasants whose cultivable land is less than one hectare is 47.67 percent of the total peasantry. These 47% peasants have just 3,46,118 hectares land. But landholdings above 20 acre comprise 11,50,488 hectares land i.e. 32.1 % of total cultivable land and these constitute merely 5.58% of total landholdings. These landholders form landlord class in Haryana. Their land should be redistributed.
Only after doing away with the ownership of landed property by the big landlords as a class can the pattern of land ownership and property relations in Haryana can be altered. Once the forces benefitting from the khaps are destroyed, the culture, norms and customs of the society will also undergo a positive change. The caste system will also go through a transformation after the land of the big landlords is redistributed among the landless and poor peasants, majority of whom belongs to dalit and other oppressed castes and path towards annihilation of caste and caste oppression will be opened up. Only in such a condition can the ideological struggle against the caste system will be able to do away with caste discrimination. Strict norms related to marriage alliances will become weak and the foundations for recognition of love marriages will be laid.
There is no political will or intention of the leaders of various parliamentary parties to redistribute the land. That is why in the conflict between the agriculture labourer and peasant’s organisation named Krantikari Mazdoor Kisan Union and the goons of the dominant Jat community in Ghasso village 2005 (PUDR:2007:6), the then finance minister openly stood with the Dadhan khap. Land can be distributed only through peoples’ movements. The agricultural labourer and poor peasants themselves will have to struggle in order to redistribute land among the labouring classes of the society, no matter whichever caste they belong to. As the dominant Jat landlords have also started to play the role of the arhatiya (money-lender) as well, who exploit a big section of even the Jat peasants and also take over their land. Only during the struggle by the labouring class of the society for claiming the right of land to the tillers it will be possible to build a class-based unity and social structure in place of the present caste and khap-based social structure.
Along with putting an end to the material basis for the khaps, it is also necessary to wage an ideological and cultural struggle against the irrational and unscientific traditional ideas, such as the kinds of thinking which holds that ‘inter-caste marriages lead to pollution of blood’, and ‘inter-gotra marriages consummate children who carry health-related deformities’.
The notion of ‘purity of blood’ is a concept propagated by brahmanical Manuvad in order to consolidate the caste-system so that the feudal exploitation of the castes engaged in manual labour gets social recognition and to ensure that the labouring classes keep reproducing children for the fulfilment of the needs of the landlord classes. Therefore it is necessary to struggle both against these regressive ideas as well as their baneful impacts on the society.
There is no basis for the notion that ‘same-gotra marriages lead to children that carry health-related deformities’. The present society being a patriarchal one, only the father’s gotra is considered to be a part of the hereditary gen, and fit for determining the inheritor. However, the genes which are the determinant factors in deciding the physical properties of the body come both from the father and the mother. The child inherits the combination of both the parent’s genetic properties. During the hundreds of generations through which gotras have evolved, the genes of generations after generations of mothers, who got integrated to the family from external gotras, have got mixed up with that of the original ancestor father of the gotra. So only a fraction of the properties of this ancestor can be found in today’s generation of children. Therefore there is no scientific basis of above argument.
Apart from fighting the ideological battle, there is also a need to render moral and physical support to those who are being targeted and have suffered the acts of the khaps, be it in the issue of caste-based atrocities or of the right to personal choice in marriage of the couples in love-relations. All the conscious citizens need to support their cause.
After redistributing land among the agricultural labourer and poor peasants including the oppressed Jats and other labouring castes, steps will have to be taken towards establishing collective ownership over land. Only then will we be able to make the khap system irrelevant and thereby get rid of it. Only then can we transform the terrifying image of the khap panchayats.