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Alternative constitutions

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A few days ago a state legislature brought a breach of privilege motion against actor Anupam Kher for suggesting that the constitution needed change. Dr. Binayak Sen was accused of sedition and jailed before the supreme court threw out the charges. While various state governments seem to find challenges to the state in every little incident, they are consistently blind to a long-standing challenge to the Indian constitution and state. Now the Supreme Court has asserted the rule of law against caste panchayats, as the Hindu reports:

While deprecating the caste system in the country, the Supreme Court has declared illegal ‘khap panchayats’ which often decree or encourage honour killings or other institutionalised atrocities against boys and girls of different castes and religions who wish to get married or have married.

“This is wholly illegal and has to be ruthlessly stamped out. There is nothing honourable in honour killing or other atrocities and, in fact, it is nothing but barbaric and shameful murder. Other atrocities in respect of the personal lives of people committed by brutal, feudal-minded persons deserve harsh punishment. Only this way can we stamp out such acts of barbarism and feudal mentality. Moreover, these acts take the law into their own hands, and amount to kangaroo courts, which are wholly illegal,” a Bench of Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra said on Tuesday.

Ballah village, Haryana, May 9, 2008

Such a judgment is hardly likely to have any effect on a lethargic state. TwoCircles reports:

Just a day after the Supreme Court directed state governments to rein in khap panchayats (caste councils) from issuing illegal diktats, another such directive came to light Wednesday in Haryana, where a newly married couple have been ordered to terminate their marriage as they belonged to the same sub-caste.

According to the police, Krishan, a resident of Shera village of Panipat district, had married Ramandeep, a resident of Sanch village of Kaithal district, April 10.

Just five days after their marriage, the khap panchayat of Shera village directed them to end their marriage as they were from the same gotra (sub-caste).

“My son Krishan belongs to Shandilya gotra whereas his wife belongs to Tushamad gotra. According to the khap panchayat of our village, boys and girls of Shandilya and Tushamad gotra are brother and sisters. They have threatened us to end this marriage and told the boy and girl to start living as brother and sister,” Krishnan’s father Raj Mal said Wednesday.

Jat panchayat meeting

Why have these caste groups become so powerful in the last decade or so? Is it simply because the machinery of the state refuses to take action on murders? Or is it because politicians have over the years found that appeasing such bodies may gain them votes? The latter seems to be the case in Haryana, as HT seems to suggest:

Last year, Congress president Sonia Gandhi had written a letter to [Haryana’s Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh] Hooda expressing concern about such incidents. She had also demanded a report on the violence against Dalits at Mirchpur village in Hisar district on April 21, 2010 and also directed Hooda to take stringent action against the accused.

Hooda has come under severe criticism from within the Congress for his ‘softness’ on khap panchayats, which have been ordering ‘honour killings’.

His government has opposed the Centre’s move to amend existing laws to curb the growing menace of ‘honour killings’.

Out of the five states most-affected by ‘honour killings’, Haryana is the only one that has opposed changes in the criminal laws, including booking all members of a gathering that orders such killings under murder charge, along with those who actually commit the crime.

Hooda is certainly not the only politician who is soft on these unelected panchayats. As their political clout grows, they also form power groups with the wherewithal to bring the nation to a halt. But the politics of such movements clearly shows that it is the lack of development which causes them to grow.

Any solutions? Not until there is much more detailed scrutiny of the election process, which is the root of the deepening corruption in the structure of the Indian state. Depending on parties to force their election winners to obey the constitution seems to be too tall an order for India post-1975.

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

April 20, 2011 at 6:13 pm

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