Home > History, India, Social Trends > Khap panchayats seek legal claws

Khap panchayats seek legal claws

The real tehelka is that local-khaps is the way forward – and not centralized government regulation.

A over-regulating state is also ineffective state (Prohibitions cartoon and ©by Meera Sapra)

A over-regulating state is also ineffective state (‘Prohibitions’ cartoon and ©by Meera Sapra)

Irked at being equated with the Taliban and kangaroo courts, khap panchayats in Haryana are now determined to get some legal sanction.

Soon, they will draw up a set of recommendations for making “suitable” amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act (1955) at the state level so that their rulings become valid under law.

Khaps are traditional area-based community organizations whose rulings have no legal sanction. In keeping with tradition, khap panchayats oppose marriages within the same ‘gotra’ (lineage) and are known to have meted out harsh punishments to “erring” young couples. (via Khap panchayats seek legal claws – India – NEWS – The Times of India).

‘Indian’ NGOs

A NGO /activist publication recently ran an article on Haryana’s khaps – equating the khaps to the Taliban. This was the famous ‘Tehelka’, whose main aim in life is to show how ‘backward’, ‘ignorant’, ‘uncivilized’ the India(ns) are.

Of course, being ‘English speaking ‘activistas’ of the ‘civil society’, nobody can doubt their intentions or message or their ‘intelleigence. Except some like 2ndlook – whose ‘provincial’ mind’ (aka मोटी, देसी और मंद बुद्धि) cannot reconcile the ‘de-regulation’ that these NGOs want and greater regulation that they propose – as they exhale and inhale.

Of course, since they are ‘educated’. ‘modern activistas’ without any axe to grind, they must be right. What is the data that they have? This story was linked to me by an 2ndlook reader (novaaristotle) and is worth reading for an excellent hatchet job.

In conversations with villagers over weeks and months, it became clear that murders decreed by Khap panchayats were common. However, in most cases, a twisted notion of tradition and the fear of social boycott ensure the murders are never reported to the police or the media. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) doesn’t classify or record honour killings and hence has no statistics on them. The lack of figures on murders ordered by Khap panchayats or ‘honour killings’ hinders research and legislation that might address the issue.

Maybe, they should look take a 2ndlook at Indian society – from a law and order point of view.

All quiet on the Indian front …

In more than 1000 Indic books, claiming to record more than 10,000 years of history, there is no instance of any dispute reaching the King. The longest ancient epic in the world, The Mahabharata has no incident where a private dispute reached Yudhisthir (though a mongoose could lecture the King about sacrifices and yagnas). There was never any case of private dispute, recorded in the Ramayana, that reached Ramachandra (though a dhobi could ‘inform’ the king about bazaar talk regarding the Queen Sita). Even a poor Brahman, Kautsa, could reach King Raghu for help in the disbursal of guru-dakshina गुरु-दक्षिणा.

Is it that Indians were ‘saints’ and did not have private disputes? Were they so civilized that they could solve all disputes by talking to each other? Is it that Indian kings were not bothered about delivery of justice!

It gets worse! No prisons …

Modern econometric modelling has an interesting perspective on Indian economy where research shows that for much of the last 1000 years, India has been a significant economic power till the 1900.

China and India, this analysis estimates, for the last 1000 years, accounted for 50% of the world economy. Statistical analyses showed India with a world trade share of 25% for much of the 500 years during 1400-1900. With this prosperity, the most interesting (historical) aspect of the criminal management story is the absence of any surviving mass jails in India prior to colonial India.

Without prisons, just how did pre-colonial India, one of the largest (and most prosperous) populations of the world, deal with crime and criminals?

But then crime rate in India must be really high …

Cut to modern India. With such an inheritance, India has the lowest prison population in the world. How can India have such a low prison population, with a poor police-to-population ratio and a crime rate which is not above the average – in spite of a large civilian gun population.

All the 5 indices (below) create a bias for a lawless Indian society and rampant crime. With these five indices, namely: –

  1. Police to population ratio (‘increase police force’)
  2. Prison population (‘put more criminals behind bars’)
  3. Capital punishment (‘kill enough criminals to instill fear’)
  4. Poverty (‘it is poverty which the root of all crime’)
  5. Gun ownership (‘more guns means more crime’)

against a stable social system, how does current day India manage low-to-average crime rates. More than 2000 years ago, Megasthenes a Greek traveller to India wrote,

Theft is of very rare occurrence. Megasthenes says that those who were in the camp of Sandrakottos, wherein lay 400,000 men, found that the thefts reported on any one day did not exceed the value of two hundred drachmae, and this among a people who have no written laws

Historically, trade in India is governed by शुभ लाभ ‘shubh labh’ – and hence Indians have not been major players in drugs proliferation (unlike Japan, the West in which traded Opium in Korea and China) or in slave trade.

In modern times, India is not a big player in spamming or in software virusthough a power in computing industry. In August 2008, a hoax story alleged that an Indian hacker, had broken into a credit card database, and sold it to the European underworld. Some ‘experts’ feared that this would spark of a crime wave across Europe.

The Indic model of justice, crime and law

Evidence of a different Indic system goes far back in history – to Lipit Ishtar, Hittite laws, Hammurabi et al. As far back as 4000 years back in history. Indian kings did not deliver justice. It was done at the local level by panchayats पंचायत. Indian justice systems did not rely on imprisonment or executions or the police to control crime!

The answer – the world’s most stable marriage system and the extended family-social structures took care of the wayward. The khaps may have gone overboard in some cases (based on anecdotal evidence) – but the real tehelka is that khaps is the way forward.

And not more government regulation.

  1. Pravin
    September 30, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    agree. btw, in somalian justice system called the xeer sounds much like the khaap panchayat.justice is compensatory and not punitive in their system .govt or state doesnt exist,so there is no nonsensical law making happening.law is discovered ‘naturally’ by people and administered by the elders.

    most importantly,law and religion dont mix in xeer.thought it does take into account certain islamic interpretation in personal law (less freedom for women),it is suitable for the nomadic life that these clans lead.

    so inspite of being influenced by the ‘desert bloc’ ideas of one god,book or religion,largely muslim somalia has shown that polycentric justice can exist and satisfy all its citizens.even modernized somalis prefer it to state created laws.


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