Incest: Haryana's shameful social heritage

Sukhbir Siwach, TNN, Aug 28, 2010, 02.05pm IST

 It was a national debate on a news channel. Tempers were running
high, so were the decibels. The subject was explosive - Haryana's
khaps and their diktats. In the midst of this charged atmosphere, a
voice rose above the rest, silencing them all. Seema, a law graduate
and resident of Karora village, made an allegation that changed the
course of the debate. Her brother had been executed for marrying a
woman from the same gotra, but that was not what Seema wanted to talk
about on the primetime show. It was another shameful reality of
Haryana villages she wanted to expose - incest.

"Khaps should look into their homes before passing fatwas on lovers
and crying hoarse about honour. Incest is rampant in the state and
virtually every home is affected. Where is the honour anyway ?" she

Early this week, the state was shocked when a pregnant girl was
strangled by her parents and her body dumped on the outskirts of
Bahadurgarh in Jhajjar district. Her crime: she was reportedly having
an affair with her brother-in-law and her vengeful elder sister had
complained to their parents.

In another embarrassing case earlier this year, a farmer in his early
50s developed a sexual relation with his 30-year-old daughter-in-law
in a village in Kaithal district. Their liaison continued for almost a
year. The matter even reached the village panchayat, which ordered
separation of the two unlikely partners so that the woman could go
back to her husband.
And only last month, Sonepat was jolted by the gruesome murder of two
minor girls, just 12 and 14. They were killed and their bodies flung
in a canal by their uncles and grandmother after their "affair" with a
cousin was exposed. The police said the kin of the victims were
enraged when they allegedly caught the minors getting intimate with
their cousin. In Yamunanagar, a girl complained to the police that her
father-in-law had raped her just a few months after her marriage.

These are not isolated incidents: incest is reportedly a real part of
life in rural Haryana. "It's a menace nobody wants to talk about. Even
the elders are setting a bad example, " says D R Chaudhary, member of
the Haryana Administrative Reforms Commission. The elders,
predictably, blame this perversion on the growing sway of the west
over the state's youth.

When Kurukshetra-based Ramesh Kumar's daughter married a close
relative, he blamed it on urban influence. Now he is fighting a legal
battle to have the marriage declared null and void, terming it a
contravention of the provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. The
mothers of the newly-wed couple were apparently related, being
granddaughters of the same person.

The incidence of incest may be higher in rural areas. "Social mores in
villages are different. People here are very conservative and there is
no scope for interaction between men and women and boys and girls
outside their homes. So, they often end up having relationships with
members of their accessible, extended family, " says Balbir Singh, a
social activist in Fatehabad district.
Experts believe that such relationships have survived behind closed
doors for many years. But given the modern means of communication and
the proliferation of the media, the skeletons are now tumbling out of
family cupboards.

The youth, interestingly, believe that incest is a traditional
practice and not a new reality. "Yeh to hame virasat mein mili hai
(incest is a part of our tradition), " says Naresh Kumar, a villager
in Rohera in Kaithal district. Sociologists, in turn, say that the
ethnic history of the region is full of such instances.

"In the pre-Independence era, in some parts of north India, the
father-in-law almost had the right to physical relations with a
daughter-in-law, and in most cases the female was not in a position to
resist much. The very young husband also had no say in the matter.
Widows would routinely be married to a brother of the dead husband.
Sharing of the wife by brothers was also not uncommon, " says Ravinder
Kaur, a professor at IIT-Delhi.

What adds to this problem in Haryana is its skewed sex ratio caused by
rampant female foeticide. "Its effects are now being felt on intimate
relationships within and without the family. The shortage of
marriageable women can have many unintended consequences, especially
when only one out of four men find a bride (as in the case of Haryana)
in their own community, " adds Kaur.

Kumar's 35-year-old nephew, Roshan, is yet to get any offers for
marriage. "We are at a loss, wondering what to do, " says Kumar. A
growing army of bachelors has become a problem in the state, leading
to more illicit relations.

Yet, there seems little the government and social organisations can do
about this. Haryana has not seen any strong social movement in recent
years and there are very few NGOs working on such issues. While a
Haryana court was quick (it took three years) to deliver the death
penalty to five khap members accused in the sensational murder of
Manoj and Babli in March this year, it took a Bhiwani court around
five years to give its verdict in a shocking case of incest that
surfaced almost a decade ago.
In a letter to Bhiwani senior superintendent of police, an 18-year-old
girl spoke of how her father and cousin exploited her sexually for
seven months. "My father used to rape me. Not only this, my uncle and
his son too sexually assaulted me, " stated the girl.

"My mother was usually sent to sleep in another house and I was made
to sleep with my father. My mother was not aware of all this. When I
told my boyfriend and he objected, my father and cousin beat him up
and also got a false case registered against him. When I threatened to
go to the police, I was locked up, " she wrote in the letter.

It was only after the girl said she would tell her mother that she was
released from her confinement. The girl then ran away with her
boyfriend and a case of abduction was slapped on the boy. Nobody knows
where the couple is today.

Chilling tales of incest and abuse have been pouring in from all over
the state. Inquiries reveal that physical relationship with a
husband's brother is not considered 'unusual. ' "Such relations are
not objected to. They are considered a family's 'internal affair', "
says Prem Singh, a farmer-leader from Kaithal.

In a study conducted by the UNICEF in 2001 to gauge the context of
abortions involving 83 adolescent girls in the age group of 10 to 19
years in Rohtak district, it was found that incest was a common cause.
"It was responsible for pregnancies in 16 per cent of the cases. We
have even had cases of girls getting pregnant through their kin,
including fathers and brothers, " says Sonia Trikha, who's associated
with the UNICEF. Many feel the situation has worsened in the last

Leaders of gotra-based khap panchayats blame the law for protecting
those who are guilty of incest. "A scheduled caste girl had run away
with a boy from her family. Later, they married and even got police
protection, " says Badan Singh, leader of the Kalayat khap. Another
prominent leader, Om Parkash Dhankar, president of the Dhankhar khap,
complains about new social trends: "Illicit relationships are on the
rise. Even a Supreme Court ruling spoke of permitting live-in
relationship without marriage. "

But Seema blames the khaps for shifting the focus from the real
problems. "The problem, " she says, "is not of love marriages, or
marriages within gotras and villages, but incest. Marrying out of
choice is not a crime, incest is. Khap leaders should be addressing
the problem of incest and check this evil instead of hounding people
who are in love. "


If you thought Greek tragedies such as Odeipus Rex were embarrassing
in their details of incest, our own epics and mythological texts are
no less. They, in fact, abound with instances where men and women have
conjugated with close kin. For instance, in the Mahabharata, Arjuna
was married to Subhadra, the daughter of his aunt Rohini. Then there
is the union of Yama with his twin sister Yami;Manu, son of Vivasvat,
and his sister Sraddha;Prajapati and his daughter Ushas;Pushan and his
sister Surya;Sukra and his three sisters;Satrajita and his 10
sisters;Nahusha and his sister Viraja. Purukutsa's queen Narmada after
her husband's death obtained a son through her own brother


Skewed sex ratio; 860 girls for 1,000 boys

Very conservative society;girls and women are allowed to speak openly
with only close relatives

A large number of girls and women don't work outside their homes

Social resistance to love marriages

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