Law tightens noose around Haryana’s community courts

By Jaideep Sarin, IANS,

Chandigarh : After having a virtual free-run through their illegal diktats which resulted in criminal fallouts, Haryana’s notorious “khap panchayats” (community courts or kangaroo courts) have now started getting a taste of the law themselves.

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The decision of a sessions court in Haryana’s Karnal town, 125 km from here, last week convicting six people for the murder of a young couple and holding another person guilty for abduction in the case has, for the first time, tightened the noose around the “khaps”. The court is expected to announce the sentence against the convicts Tuesday.

The honour killing of Manoj, 23, and Babli, 19, a newly-married couple of Karoran village near the state’s Kaithal town, 120 km from here, because they belonged to the same “gotra” (community) had sent shock waves in June 2007.

After their community “khap” declared their marriage void, the two who committed the “sin” of falling in love and eloped to get married May 18, 2007, could not even complete a month of married life.

Relatives of Babli, seething to avenge their act of marriage, chased the couple in Karnal and brutally murdered them and threw their bodies into a canal. The police swung into action only when the bodies were recovered from the canal near Hisar town.

All this happened despite the couple seeking protection from the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Chandigarh and Haryana Police being directed by the court to provide them security.

A policeman attached to them for security later faced departmental action after he was suspected of revealing their whereabouts to Babli’s family.

It was not the first time that Haryana’s notorious community courts had come in the way of lovers tying the knot. In recent years, “khap panchayats” in the Jat-dominated rural Haryana have given diktats against marriages within the same “gotra”.

These have led to murders and other criminal activities. Affected families have faced social boycott and have been turned out of villages after the “khaps” arbitrarily ruled against them even at the cost of going against the law.

In certain cases, the couples or one of them have been murdered by family or village members saying that it was done to implement the “khap” decision.

Ved Pal, 23, of Singhwal village in Jind district was lynched by residents of his wife Sonia’s village when he went there July last year to bring her back. Incidentally, he was accompanied by a high court warrant officer and a police force with a court order to get back his wife when he was attacked. The policemen abandoned him before the murder.

The Bhupinder Singh Hooda government never took any action against the extra-constitutional acts of these panchayats and community leaders taking the law into their hands. Hooda, several times, went on record to say that the “khap panchayats” were only carrying out societal duties.

Even though completely illegal, “khaps” have been getting away with their actions. Former Haryana chief minister Hukam Singh had, a few months ago, endorsed an illegal decision of a “khap panchayat” against another couple.

Things have changed in the last couple of months after the high court came down on illegal actions of “khap panchayats”. The court has taken notice of these cases, forcing the Haryana government to curb the “khaps”.

Some action has been taken in recent days. Two lower level revenue officials were suspended in Hooda’s home district of Rohtak for being part of an illegal decision of a “khap panchayat” which had declared a husband and wife as brother and sister.

Rohtak Deputy Commissioner P.C. Meena suspended “Numberdars” (revenue officials) Ajmer Singh and Virender of Kheri panchayat (village council) as they were members of a “khap panchayat” which declared a husband and wife as brother and sister.

The district administration in Bhiwani, 300 km from here, had suspended two village council (panchayat) members, including a village headman (sarpanch).

In a campaign launched earlier March, the Rohtak district administration has asked representatives of “khap panchayats” to desist from pronouncing unilateral and controversial decisions which adversely affect the rights of any particular community or section of the society or any individual.

“Khap panchayats” have been cautioned that the district administration will not hesitate from taking legal action against those panchayats which take “atrocious and anti-society decisions”.