Ishita Dang and Anjali Rana
"Marrying into your own clan (gotra) is like marrying into your own family. Young men and women of the same clan marrying one another is like brothers and sisters marrying each other. If you are going to allow men and women of the same clan to marry, you might as well allow incest, marriages between brothers and sisters," says Raju Kumar (name changed on request) from STATE.
Such conservatism regarding caste and religion is not uncommon, might even be a norm, in most parts of India. Inter-caste and inter-religion marriages have rare social approval. Of course, these attitudes are unconstitutional but are enforced anyway by unofficial institutions like the Khap Panchayat.
Khaps are community organizations representing a clan, and Khap Panchayats are the clan's self-government. They are informally elected, as opposed to the formally elected official panchayats. Naturally, they are more reflective of the clan's values than the constitution's.
They are notorious for not only condoning but also ordering casteist and religiously intolerant crimes. They have ordered honor killings and relationship killings in general. Not to mention, these crimes always have a pronounced sexist component. Therefore, in March 2018, the Supreme Court declared them illegal.
"Feudal perception [referring to casteism] has to melt into oblivion paving the smooth path for liberty," said Chief Justice Dipak Misra, leading a bench of three, adding, "Any kind of torture or torment or ill-treatment in the name of honor that tantamount to atrophy of choice of an individual relating to love and marriage by any assembly, whatsoever nomenclature it assumes, is illegal and cannot be allowed a moment of existence."
Still, Khap Panchayats continue to exist. The privileged, who have more influence over Khap Panchayats, find themselves more advantaged in this alternative system that shares their right and wrong ideas and justice.
There is another reason for their popularity: expedience. "The case is solved, the judgement is made, and the punishment is given out many times in just one session. Compare this to the legal system, where it takes years to provide justice," says Sanju, a lower caste man. "But the Khap Panchayat's short-order justice is not real justice. It is a decree from the more powerful castes."
Add to this, institutionalized casteist and religiously intolerant crimes are not covered enough by the media. When it is covered, it is not protected appropriately. The government also neglects it. For example, the National Crime Records Bureau's 2017 Crime in India report had data on lynching and honor killings missing.
Edited by Sanchit Pradhan, Pujit Tandon