Vested interests and musclemen rule khap panchayats: Swami Agnivesh

New Delhi, June 20 (Calcutta Tube) Calling honour killings diabolical, social activist and former Haryana minister Swami Agnivesh says khap panchayats must end violence unleashed in the name of ancestral lineage. He admits that he was backed by caste councils in the past, but at that time these ‘were credible bodies’.

The Arya Samaj leader said khap panchayats should ‘realise the exigencies of modernity and stop interfering in the private lives of villagers using violent tactics’.

‘I was also backed by the khap panchayats in my political career in the state in the 1970s,’ Agnivesh told IANS in an interview. ‘But then, the khap panchayats were credible and influential bodies with a social outlook.’

The Arya Samaj leader alleged that the khap panchayats lost direction in the past 10 years or so.

‘They have been highly politicised. Vested interests and musclemen are holding sway. These panchayats have become highly male-dominated. Forget about women, even young men have no say at the khap meetings,’ he said.

Agnivesh condemned the effort by khaps to defend and glorify people sentenced to death for honour killings in the Karnal case in which a young couple from Kaithal district in Haryana had been brutally killed in 2007 for marrying in the same ‘gotra’, or sub-caste.

Khap panchayats should instead cooperate in ensuring the rule of the law and strive for social reforms, he said.

Agnivesh pointed out that honour killings have become an all-India phenomenon.

‘Recently, disturbing reports of honour killings have come from Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Worst, in the national capital, a couple was tortured throughout the night and electrocuted last week. If this happens in New Delhi, one can imagine the situation in remote rural areas,’ he said.

However, he said the ‘epicentre’ of such killings remains Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

‘Nowadays, no village is a completely isolated entity. Villages are not cocoons. The divisions and boundaries between a city and the villages have been blurred as several villagers go to city for work,’ he said.

‘Like that, many city people have strong links with the rural areas. So, the ban on marriages among people from the same village is neither logical nor practical,’ he argued.

While emphasising that honour killings were no answer, Agnivesh said there was some merit to the objections to same gotra marriages.

‘Medical science is against marriage between close relatives. Arya Samaj founder Dayanand Saraswati advocated marriage between people belonging to distant places. But this does not mean an Arya Samaj priest has the right to refuse to conduct a same-gotra marriage. Nor is killing the answer to a same-gotra marriage,’ he stressed.

Will the Arya Samaj initiate steps to create social awareness in khap-dominated regions? Agnivesh claims moves are afoot.

He has already addressed 600 college girls in Rohtak in Haryana, calling upon them to strive for social reforms.

Agnivesh said he could understand why political leaders of the region were adopting a ‘meaningful silence’ or indirectly supporting the khap panchayats.

‘As far as khap panchayat leaders are concerned, I am ready to meet them without any fear at any place or time they propose. I am confident of convincing them to stop causing social tension in the name of honour of the gotras,’ Agnivesh said.

(George Joseph can be contacted at george.j@ians.in )

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