Viva la woman power
It had to take the grit and determination of a woman (nay two women) to bring
to books the culprits in an honor killing of a young married couple (Manoj and
Babli), on the orders of a khap (caste) panchayat in Haryana. Their crime was
to marry for love despite belonging to the same gotra (lineage), which so
enraged their family members and local community that they were abducted and
Chandrapati, the widowed mother of Manoj, has earned the distinction of being
the first woman in Haryana to have taken on the dreaded khap panchayat and
fought a legal battle against the perpetrators of the heinous crime.
Chandrapati has done what even our so called leaders and administrators could
not dare to do. She dared to challenge the credibility of these rural
panchayats, which operate as a parallel judicial system, enforcing a brutal
form of justice.
And coming to the aid of Chandrapati was another woman of substance - Vani
Gopal Sharma - the additional district and sessions judge of Karnal. In a
landmark judgment, she awarded death penalty to 5 members of Babli's family and
life sentence to the head of the khap panchayat for hatching a conspiracy to
kill the couple.
In her 96 page long judgment the judge said, "the present case reflects a long
standing tradition of oppression against women. It has to be curbed by
legislation treating honor killings as a separate offense. I wonder how such a
progressive society could allow such action in the name of community honor."
The verdict sends a strong signal to these panchayats which have become a law
unto themselves, with the silent consent of politicians and policemen, in some
parts of India. According to one estimate, every year, more than 100 men and
women are either killed or forced to commit suicide by khaps for not adhering
to traditional norms. Even as I write this piece, there is yet another news
(Hindu paper dated 1.4.2010) of an apparent honor killing of a young couple in
Punjab. The victims, hailing from Firozpur, were provided police protection on
orders of Punjab and Haryana High Court after marrying against their parents'
wishes. Yet, they were shot dead by 5 people in full public view near Amritsar.
The verdict in Chandrapati's case came after a tireless three years long legal
battle by her, when her life came to a standstill. Shunned by her own people
and community, she fought single handedly against social orthodoxy. Her battle
for justice, despite all odds and social ostracism by the community, is a
source of inspiration to all of us.
She was happy at the verdict, but wanted punishment for those also who abetted
and aided the crime. She wondered "How can people who kill our children be
trusted to mete out justice?" Despite her rustic and traditional upbringing,
Chandrapati has the wisdom and courage to proclaim that children should have
the freedom to choose their life partners.
Many of us elite city folks would do well to learn a lesson or two from her. It
is not uncommon for highly educated urbanites to make life hell for their grown
up sons and daughters if they dare to go against their parents' diktat - be it
choosing their life partner or even a profession of their choice. I am shocked
to see the belligerent attitude of affluent families when it comes to marrying
outside one's caste, or marrying without dowry, or even refusing to abort a
female fetus. It seems that, as our horizons expand, our vision is becoming
It is hoped that the newly enforced "Right of Children to Free and Compulsory
Education" Act will be another important step in developing progressive minds,
free from social and religious bigotry and from prejudices of caste , creed and
cultures. It is also hoped that the government amends the Indian Penal Code to
make honor killings a separate offense with appropriate punishment.
But mere enactment of laws will not do. Enforcement of laws must be accompanied
by a change in mindset. We need to educate ourselves and our children to live
in peace and harmony with each other. We need many more Chandrapatis and Vanis.
- The author is the editor of Citizen News Service (CNS). She has worked
earlier with State Planning Institute, UP, and teaches physics at India's
prestigious Loreto Convent. E-mail: sho...@citizen-news.org, website:
www.citizen-news.org) - shared under Creative Commons (CC) attribution license
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