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Caste, the constitution and women in Haryana

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The notion of human rights include the right to life, which extends to a right to health, livelihood and self-determination. A natural consequence of these rights, which we claim to be universal, give a woman rights over her body; in other words choice of a partner for sex.

Apparently all this is denied by powerful politicians in Haryana. ET reports:

INLD [Indian National Lok Dal] leader and former Haryana CM Om Prakash Chautala has backed a khap’s (caste council) prescription that child marriage was a deterrent against the rampant cases of rape in the state.

This comes even as the total number of rapes in Haryana in just the second week of October stood at 15.

Chautala’s support to the khap came a day after Congress president Sonia Gandhi came down heavily on the extra-judicial institutions.

Chautala, whose INLD is the main Opposition in the state, said, “we should learn from the past, especially in the Mughal era, people used to marry their girls early to save them from Mughal atrocities.

On examining case by case the incredibly large number of rapes in the last week one realizes that the victims are largely so-called lower-caste women. The statement about child marriage is actually one of a piece; it is a code for ending inter-caste marriages. Presumably the idea is that you marry off a child before she has grown old enough to exercise her choice. The agenda of caste politics by khaps is to retain economic control over other castes, and stop the blurring of caste lines by young people marrying “wrongly”. Caste and sex play a big role in this ongoing problem.

Chautala is playing power politics, caste and religion, not only by agreeing with the upper-caste panchayat ruling but also by his equation of Delhi with Mughals. The basic statement about women and khaps can easily be taken to court, since it so clearly violates the law.

Some have argued that laws need to be changed. Certainly they can be changed, but that needs a vote in the legislature, and then a test in court. Politicians of all colours were quick to make this point in the context of the Lokpal bill, but are unlikely to take the same stance now. This leads to a situation where existing laws are flouted, making the rule of law ever weaker.

In any case, Haryana is not the safest place for women. According to the Census of India 2011 the sex ratio in the state is 877 women to 1000 men. In the age group 0-6 years old, the ratio is even lower: 830 girls to 1000 boys. This means that the tendency to kill girls has been growing. The word “kill” is emotive, but is correctly used here, because over the years there have been reports of widespread cases of baby girls being killed. With the advent of easy pre-natal sex-determination tests, the intention to kill has been cloaked under the medical guise of abortion. The notion of a woman’s rights, which leads many people to support abortion, is completely subverted, in fact turned on its head, in such cases.

Rape, sex-selective abortion, teenage marriage, all have a common thread linking them. It is the notion that people can be property, and so do not have the rights that we deem universal human rights. These problems persist in many parts of the country. However, Haryana seems to be fast approaching the state of Pakistan where 14 year old girls can be shot for wanting to finish school.

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

October 11, 2012 at 6:52 am

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