Unperturbed by the Supreme Court verdict ordering harsh punishment to caste panchayat representatives for stamping out barbarism and feudal mentality, several such panchayats have come together against the court's decision. Last week, an apex court bench headed by justice Markandey Katju ordered state governments to act against the civil and police authorities if they fail to prevent honour killings or similar barbaric acts at the behest of kangaroo courts.Some speakers also stated that the plan of the government to introduce a Bill against honour killings - that would bring the offence on a par with murder - was a regressive move against the historical institution of caste panchayats. It could be misused against the representatives.
"We would gather political support against the move and persuade the elected representatives to oppose the Bill in Parliament," one of them said. The Union government believed that the Bill - which has political and social ramifications - was a step forward to check honour killings. Except Haryana, the majority of states favoured stern action against such killings.
The government proposes changes in the 'Indian Penal Law could be used to harass representatives' Code, the Indian Evidence Act and the Special Marriages Act. The changes would lead to penal action against caste panchayat members if they support honour killings.
Nafe Singh Nain, who heads Binain Khap, said caste panchayats were social institutions and they had taken some historical decisions for community welfare. These were unnecessarily blamed for the honour killings in Haryana, Rajasthan and other states.
Tek Ram Kandela seconded him. "Khaps always delivered pro- public decisions. Society benefitted from them. The image of caste panchayats had been tarnished by raising the issue of same- gotra marriages," the head of Kandela Khap said. Others said the court verdict would attract harassment towards the caste panchayat representatives. The chief of Panjgrami Khap Amir Singh said the administration had been harassing them in the garb of the court orders.
Justifying the need for kangaroo courts of the caste panchayats, he said several issues were resolved by " khaps" amicably at the village level. This saved people from the torturous legal process.