September 8, 2009
Sisauli (Uttar Pradesh): Squatting on his haunches, dhoti-clad, bare-chested Mahendra Singh Tikait, 79, appears to be just another farmer with a shovel in his hand. But the appearance is misleading. For the influential farmer leader, as Baliyan khap’s Chaudhary, presides over a parallel medieval criminal justice system within 150km of the national capital that disdains law to “award’’ punishments ranging from amputations to death to “protect honour’’.
“We live by a moral code where honour has to be protected at any cost,’’ says Tikait. And anyone who dares to “cross the line’’ meets the fate of the likes of Radha, who was brutally slain for falling in love in Muzaffarnagar’s Fugana village in 2006. Radha was stripped, burnt and then hung by a tree. Radha is not alone. Dozens of women are summarily executed every year as panchayats cling on to the retrograde system that denies them the right to choose their partners.
Reliable data on “honour killings” is unavailable as National Crime Records Bureau does not maintain any records on such murders. “Honour killing” is not a separately classified crime and is recorded under murder. They are also difficult to identify since they tend to be closely-guarded secrets.
Home minister P Chidambaram acknowledged the problem’s severity when in July he told Parliament, “Villagers give precedence to caste panchayat judgments rather than that of the courts.’’ He said some panchayats approve of the so-called honour killings. “I recoil with shame when I read about them.’’
“Honour killings” appear to enjoy public sanction in the vast swathes of Western Uttar Pradesh. Locals say khap rulings are a binding on them and the sway Chaudhries (village leaders) hold over their people ensures police are kept away. “How will police know if parents kill and dump their daughter’s body?’’ asks Kamlesh Devi of Alipur village. “What is the harm, if we solve our problems among ourselves?’’ She says if police dare to intervene, they are driven out.
Tikait claims panchayats are infallible, for they have the divine sanction. “Panch means parmatama (god) and ayath means court.’’ He seeks legitimacy for panchyats in tradition saying panchayats existed even under the Mughal and British rule. “They never interfered.’’
Tikait is at pains to explain opposition to same-gotra marriages. “Such alliances are incestuous. No society would accept it. Why do you expect us to do so?’’ asks Tikait.
He says incest violates maryada (tradition) and they will kill and get killed to protect it. He sounds another chilling warning for lovebirds. “Only whores can choose their partners. Love marriages are dirty, I do not even want to repeat the word,’’ he says and adds that education has contributed to “this dirt’’.
“Recently an educated couple married against samaj’s wishes in Jhajjar. We hail the panchayat’s decision to execute them,’’ he says. “The government cannot protect this atiyachar (travesty).’’
If the government does so? Tikait declares that they are ready for a struggle. He disdains the Constitution and scoffs at the rule of law as “root of all problems’’. “That is your Constitution, ours is different. Your constitution also says that you should eat and pee while standing,’’ he says. “Samaj is unhappy with democracy.’’
Villagers say the Chaudhry enjoys “administrative and executive powers’’ over his khap’s 84 villages. Tikait is said to have presided over a panchayat in 1950 in which a resolution pledging complete loyalty to him was passed. “He can even demand our lives,’’ says Virendra Singh of Jaitupur village.
Daryanl Singh, one of Tikait’s retainers did not bat an eye when he said, “These shameless people (lovers) deserve death.’’ He graphically described how brutally “transgressors are dealt with’’. He says erring couples are either hanged or nailed to death. “Some people are tortured to death.’’
While Singh explains the whole gamut of punishments, he underlines the crux of what sustains the medieval system – bad governance. Villagers say the government is non-existent and everything works, thanks to kinship. “The government has failed to provide basic necessities. It is impossible for people to survive without samaj (society). They cannot challenge it.’’
A Dalit, Raju, echoes Daryal. “Pani mey rehna hay toh magarmach say bair nahi leysaktay.’’ He says social boycott as a punitive measure is common. “People are also regularly paraded and beaten with shoes. Another villager says theft is punished by cutting a hand or feet. “I have seen how a couple was hacked to death after they were caught making out.’’
Additional SSP Raja Babu Singh refuses to accept that something was amiss and says jats have a penchant for bragging. “Panchayats settle minor disputes. We have never come across any case of honour killing,’’ he claims. “If khap violate the law, action is taken.’’
But a journalist, who covered Tikait’s arrest for abusing chief minister Mayawati last year, dismisses police claims as sophistry. “A heavy police contingent laid a siege around Sisauli for 12 hours but did not dare to enter the village to arrest Tikait.’’ He says if they did not dare to implement Mayawati’s orders, how can they stand up to all-powerful Chaudhries.
Courtesy: The Times of India