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A Question of Balance. Really?

May 19, 2010

In an article titled , ”A Question Of Balance’, (in TOI) Madhu Kishwar writes,

While the murder and brutalisation of those defying restrictions on intra-gotra marriages needs to be strongly condemned and punished, i fail to understand why most sections of the media and progressive opinion are condemning Haryana MP Naveen Jindal for taking up the demand for amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act (HMA) of 1955 to include same-gotra marriages in the category of prohibited relationships for the Jats of Haryana.

While it is fair to term honour killings “barbaric” it is perfectly legitimate for each community to insist on the right to decide for itself what aspects of tradition it wishes to cherish and what it wishes to discard or reform, provided its leaders can enforce community norms through democratic consensus and not life-threatening forms of coercion.

But those who wish to opt out of gotra-based identities have to be allowed to do so, without fear of criminal forms of coercion. The Special Marriage Act exists precisely to legalise marriages of those who wish to opt out of their community’s customary practices and restrictions. Clan or family members of such rebels have the right to disown and disinherit such persons but cannot be given the right to hound them to death.

No civilised society can sanction murder simply because some people claim a particular person brought them “dishonour”. Likewise, no civilised society can allow a small minority of self-appointed social reformers to decide arbitrarily which identities have sanctity and which must be banned out of existence through statist coercion.

Thoughts that are in my mind.

When she writes about NOT allowing a small minority of self appointed reformers to decide arbitrarily as to which identities should have sanctity , does she then also extend this reasoning to cover France’s burqa ban that she supports wholeheartedly? Why no emphasis by her on first finding a consensus among the Muslim society there? It was okay to have a small minority of self appointed reformers to decide on the burqa ban in France?

Pull the Muslim women out of the medieval age she says or else they will be stuck there forever. Okay. One accepts she has a point there. (Though the word BAN is like this bone stuck in my throat)
But why an about turn by her on the khap issue in India then? Why no calls for ‘pulling the community out of medieval age?

A ban in France would have been fine HAD the Muslim population, specifically the Muslim WOMEN been asked . Had there been a poll. The democratic consensus that Ms Kishwar writes about here.
But lets forget France . I am more interested in whats happening here.

Seems like the kindergarten example of If you wont agree to the rules, even I won’t.
‘Other’ religious minorities show no inclination to be part of a consensus on UCC writes Madhu Kishwar and therefore Ms Kishwar argues even Khaps should be allowed to have their own personal laws.

Ah! I can so see how we are on our way to that elusive UCC.

If in future, as Madhu writes, Khap Panchayats will give freedom to any couple that wants to get married under the Special Marriage Act, then where is that freedom now?

Why the demand for amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act (HMA) ?

An individual would like to use the Special Marriage Act to get married to the person of his/her choice IF there are certain obstacles in the way . (Too numerous to describe here)

But to FIRST CREATE an obstacle(the proposed amendment) and THEN say that oh! you have the Special Marriage Act for your benefit???
Absurd in the extreme!

After all, the whole issue is about choice.

Two individuals want to get married to each other and the khap panchayats citing age old tradition don’t allow them to do so.
So the couple escapes(or tries to) and is killed before or after getting married. Depends on when the Khap panchayats catch hold of them.

And it is named ‘Honour’ killing .
Just exactly whose ‘honour’ it is, is yet to be determined.

So khap panchayats that don’t allow two individuals to get married now will ‘allow’ or ‘give the choice’ to their sons and daughters to do so in the future?
After the amendment?

Apparently Ms Kishwar thinks so. She seems to think that once the amendment is made, Khap Panchayats will undergo a change of heart and will agree like little kittens to any wish of their children to marry within gotra. And that they will lose their bloodthirsty tendency.

If according to Ms Kishwar Clan or family members of such rebels have the right to disown and disinherit such persons but cannot be given the right to hound them to death., then why are the clan members not already doing so?

They need an amendment to change their heart?
But wait! The proposed amendment is EXACTLY what the khap Panchayats want so WHY would they become all docile AFTER their wish has been granted???

They can at best use moral persuasion to urge youngsters to avoid marrying within the gotra.

And where is the moral persuasion NOW? Why is it missing?

There are many communities that are still outside that all important sphere called education and are still stuck in a medieval mindset. So are they to be allowed to do what they want?

There are many communities that are holding on to certain questionable practices even now.

If one extends Ms Kishwar’s arguments regarding ‘preservation of tradition’ vis a vis the khap panchayats to other ‘traditions’ of other communities as well then where will it lead us?

Where does one draw the line in giving communities the power to choose which traditions they want to keep and which ones they want to discard? Those youngsters who are dying for simply making a choice are also a part of this very same community right?

HOW will these communities EVER come out of the old mindset? When will they advance on the path to progressive thinking? A vicious circle again?

As a commentor writes in response to Ms Kishwar’s column, For, the constitution not only lays down the framework of governance, but also expects the state to perform a pivotal role while facilitating Indian society’s forward movement towards meaningful social change

And sometimes scattered young voices calling out for change and dying for it speak more loudly than that of a collective Khap Panchayat. But only to those who want to hear.

Madhu Kishwar’s arguments are shaky at best.
If there is a more logical presentation of facts one might feel compelled to listen. Not so the case here.

Note- I have only tried to look at Madhu Kishwar’s arguments. (since she is the one being quoted everywhere on the khap issue)

There may be others who may be making some valid points. But if so, I have not come across them.

Meanwhile here is another view.

As the author says, Are we talking about a modern India where we have been fighting to abolish age-old caste practices? Are we talking of a dynamic and integrated India where there is a high level of mobility, inter-mingling, and inter-mixing of religions and castes?

Related reading

Khap panchayat: signs of desperation?

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