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How farmers’ protest has made Haryana khaps, infamous for honour-killing diktats, relevant again

Khaps were losing their influence on Haryana politics, but now these mostly-Jat councils are uniting in support of farm protests and against BJP-JJP govt.

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Chandigarh: Farmer leader Rakesh Tikait’s emotional appeal two weeks ago not only reinvigorated the agitation around New Delhi against the three new agricultural laws, but also injected life back into the khaps of Haryana.

Khaps are powerful groups that have tended to make headlines for all the wrong reasons, such as acting like kangaroo courts and issuing diktats like honour killings of inter-caste couples, and even making infamous comments like “eating chowmein increases rapes”.

Khaps are rural councils, mostly of Jat communities, that claim to control large pockets of voters. Most of their members are farmers, so naturally, they’ve been drawn to the agitation. There are almost 120 khaps in Haryana spread across the nine districts that make up the state’s Jat belt — Jind, Rohtak, Sonepat, Rewari, Mahendragarh, Charkhi Dadri, Hisar, Bhiwani and Jhajjar.

Since the appeal made by Tikait, who himself heads the prominent Baliyan khap in western Uttar Pradesh, other councils in neighbouring Haryana have moved to the forefront of mobilising people and materials for the agitation.

The political impact of their moves is discernible — Jats in Haryana seem to be consolidating again, and coming back to the centrestage of the state’s politics, positioned in direct confrontation with the Manohar Lal Khattar-led BJP-JJP government.


Also read: Rakesh Tikait helped BJP win over Jats in 2014, his tears have now turned them against Modi


‘Political affiliation doesn’t matter’

Last Thursday, a khap mahapanchayat organised at Jind saw massive crowds pour in from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Chaudhry Tek Ram, the head of the Kandela khap, a prominent body in Jind, and national convener of the Sarvjatiya Sarv Khap Panchayat, chaired the meeting. He is aligned with the BJP and is the chairman of the Haryana State Cooperative Labour and Construction Federation Limited. But Tek Ram sees no contradiction between his role in the BJP and organising the mahapanchayat demanding the repeal of the three laws brought in by the Narendra Modi government.

“It is not about which political party one is with. This is a fight for the rights of the farmers and I am supporting all the resolutions passed by the mahapanchayat,” he told ThePrint.

Then, Sunday, another khap mahapanchayat was organised in Charkhi Dadri by Sombir Sangwan, head of the Sangwan khap and an Independent MLA who recently withdrew support from the BJP-JJP government. Rakesh Tikait was the main speaker at the mahapanchayat, and addressed a crowd of several thousands.

Historically, khaps have bloomed whenever Haryana has had a Jat chief minister. Though no chief minister can afford to annoy Jats, they have been most powerful during the times of Devi Lal, Om Prakash Chautala and Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Now with a non-Jat chief minister in Khattar for six years, their political and social influence has shrunk, but the farmers’ agitation has brought them back into the centre stage of Haryana’s politics.

Sociologist K.S. Sangwan, who retired as professor from MD University, Rohtak, explained: “The social influence of Khaps had declined over a period of time with increasing interference in politics. Now because kisani (farming) is a common interest which cuts across all castes, it has helped the khaps to reassert.”

Since the farmers’ agitation reached the borders of Delhi in late November 2020, the khaps of Jind district have been providing daily provisions of food, water and milk. Several other khaps have held meetings and resolved to support the agitation. The Dhadan khap in Jind gave a call that if the government did not meet the farmers’ demand, its members would stop supply of vegetables and milk to Delhi.

The Satrol khap of Hisar decided to protest outside the houses of MLAs from the BJP and its ally JJP. In December, 14 khaps of the Bangar area wrote to the PM seeking the repeal of the three farm laws.

But since Tikait became the figurehead of the protest at the Delhi-UP Ghazipur border, khaps in Haryana are competing to be counted as supporters of the agitation.

“It is about the farmer’s agitation, but also about khap pride. Khaps have come to the rescue of the agitation, while it has brought them together. The khaps are collaborating to mobilise crowds, organising material and delegating duties because this is a common cause,” said Dr Rakesh Kumar, assistant professor, Lakhanmajra Government College, Rohtak.


Also read: Meeting with khaps, central intervention — how BJP plans to defuse Jat dissent over farm laws


Khaps and khap panchayats

Khaps are historical community groups of clans or related clans. They are active in western Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and some parts of Rajasthan.

“Broadly speaking, all khaps comprised a number of villages organised into a council, but they were of various types. The territory of some khaps was dominated by a single gotra or clan of a particular caste that had control over most of its agricultural land,” wrote Ajay Kumar in a social historical overview in the January 2012 edition of Economic and Political Weekly.

A khap was traditionally considered to include 84 villages, but now the number varies following several divisions within the khaps. Although they were initially believed to be multi-caste or sarv-jatiya, over the years they have come to be dominated by Jats.

A khap panchayat includes the elders of that council, who are considered the keepers of its socio-cultural traditions. Unlike the village panchayat, it is not an elected body, but wields quasi-judicial powers much like a gram panchayat.

Khap panchayats meet to take common decisions, resolve disputes and announce punishments. They have a substantial social influence over the clan they represent. They are generally run by men and decisions are in the form of resolutions voted for by show of hands.

It is almost impossible for a khap member not to agree to the decision taken by the panchayat. The most common form of punishment is social boycott of the accused from the villages falling in its jurisdiction, called “hookah pani band” (nobody is to share water or hookah with that person). In some cases, the accused is also expelled from the village. On most occasions, the accused is also fined.

In the past two months, several khaps across Haryana have announced the social boycott of various BJP and JJP leaders, including Deputy Chief Minister Dushayant Chautala.

Notorious for ‘Talibani’ diktats

In Haryana, khap panchayats are notorious for working like kangaroo courts, sanctioning severe punishments to couples who marry within the same gotra or clan or even a neighbouring village. On several occasions, khaps have nullified marriages between couples, and forced them to live like brother and sister.

In 2007, a khap in Kaithal ordered the killing of a couple that had married in the same gotra, which the girl’s relatives did.

Vineet Singh, a researcher at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, has illustrated the close relationship between khaps and honour killings.

After a whole series of such incidents in March 2018, the Supreme Court declared khap panchayats illegal, adding that they had no right to interfere in the marriage of two consenting adults.

Khap panchayats have also given some outlandish diktats, such as in October 2012, when one council blamed the eating of chowmein for the rise in rapes.

In 2013, khaps suggested that the age of marriage for women should be dropped from 18 to 16, because being married would make girls less susceptible to rape.

Khaps turning apolitical

Broadly, the khaps of Bhiwani, Rohtak, Jhajjar and Sonepat have traditionally been supporters of the Congress. Two-term former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and MLA Kiran Choudhry, daughter-in-law of former CM Bansi Lal, owe many of their victories to the unstinted support of the khaps like Meham Chaubisi, Dahiya, Sangwan and ‘Sonepat 360’.

In the 1980s, khaps of these areas supported former CM Devi Lal, but in the 1989 assembly elections, they were divided over supporting his son Om Prakash Chautala. The khaps of Jind and Hisar have continued to support Chautala’s INLD, and have now followed his son Ajay Chautala and grandson Dushyant Chautala to their breakaway party, the Jannayak Janata Party.

Khaps, with their captive vote bank, are wooed by all political parties. During the 2014 assembly elections, PM Modi started his speech at an election rally in Jind with: “Khap panchayat ki sardari wali is dharti ko naman karta hun (I bow to this land which is headed by khap panchayats).”

In the 2014 assembly elections, Tek Ram had contested as an Independent candidate from Jind after Congress refused him a ticket. The BJP fielded Dada Baljeet Singh Malik, head of the Gathwala khap, from the Baroda assembly segment in Sonepat. Shamsher Singh Kharkhara, head of the Athgama khap in Meham, contested the Lok Sabha elections from Rohtak on an INLD ticket. A few months later, he contested the assembly elections on a BJP ticket from Meham. Santosh Dahiya, head of the women’s wing of the Sarvjatiya Sarv Khap Mahapanchayat, was INLD’s candidate from Beri. However, all of them lost.

There are many who believe that the influence of the khaps on politics is now in decline. In September 2018, when the INLD imploded, leading to the creation of the JJP, the khaps tried to broker peace among the Chautala family members, but failed.

In 2019, though parties tried to remain in the khaps’ good books, not many offered them tickets to contest. Ahead of the Jind bypoll, Tek Ram, a BJP man, was approached by Congress, the INLD and the JJP for electoral support, but no one offered him a ticket. He filed his nomination as an Independent candidate when he was denied the ticket. He was however, convinced to withdraw his nomination and declare support for the BJP candidate.

Only Kharkhara contested the assembly polls from Meham on a BJP ticket, but lost.

In fact, for the past few years, there has been a debate among khap panchayats about whether to remain apolitical social organisations, or to be actively involved in politics.

“A khap leader who joins politics is not able to command that kind of authority over half the members as somebody who has shown detachment from power. Also, khap leaders joining politics was leading to division among the khaps,” said Hardeep Ahlawat, president of the Chaurasi khap.

“It has generally been accepted that khap leaders will not join politics, nor will they announce support for any candidate. The decision is left to the individual,” he added.


Also read: How RLD is looking to capitalise on Jat resentment to revive poll prospects in western UP


 

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1 COMMENT

  1. That is the problem. We were constantly told how horrifying khap panchayats and they are blot on modern India.
    Now they are against Modi and suddenly they are good again!

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