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:, website:  -  shared under Creative Commons (CC) attribution license

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