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From chowmein to skirts, Haryana's strange diktats

By Jaideep Sarin, Chandigarh, March 23 (IANS)
File photo - Reuters

In Haryana's hinterland, not just lawmakers and law-enforcing agencies deal with law. Diktats, many of them strange ones, keep coming from all quarters. The recent ones have been about stopping girls from wearing skirts to schools and prohibiting them from dancing and even banning chowmein.

The diktats come from extra-constitutional bodies like khap panchayats (community courts), village councils and even institution managements, which have no legal sanctity under law.

In Rohtak, the hometown of Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, a rightwing educational institution management prohibited girls from wearing skirts. Girls from Classes 8 to 12 in CBSE-affiliated Siksha Bharti Senior Secondary School were asked to wear salwar-kameez instead.

"We took the decision in consultation with parents who endorsed the same. We were receiving complaints about some girls wearing short skirts," the school's principal Nirmal Popli said.

In Jind district, dancing by girls at social functions was banned by a panchayat saying that it was a "crime against women". The Kinana village council also directed schools in the area not to involve girls in cultural events that promote dancing.

Village headman Raja Ram said the decision was taken after some men, who were drunk, were found watching a dance performance by girls and passing lewd remarks.

In October last year, a khap leader charted his own course when he said the growing number of rape cases were the result of youth eating fast food like chowmein, burgers and pizzas. He sought a complete ban on these foods, saying that this would save girls from crimes like rapes.

Haryana had 733 rape cases in 2011 and 686 in 2012. Last year, several khaps had demanded that the marriage  age for girls be lowered from 18 to 16 years to prevent cases of  rape.

Other khap and village councils have sought bans on mobile phones, cricket and loud music by DJs. Following India's dismal performance in the 2007 Cricket World Cup, khaps of some villages in Jind districts even banned the game in 28 villages.

Many other khaps have been notorious for announcing annulment of marriages saying that couples within the same community or village could not marry as they are regarded as siblings.

After the khaps started taking the law into their hands in recent years, the Punjab and Haryana High Court intervened and asked the Haryana government to rein in the khaps as they could not dictate laws to society.

For Haryana's politicians, dealing with the khaps, who have considerable clout in their respective communities and villages, is a sensitive matter. Most politicians shy away from taking any stand on the diktats of khaps, let alone taking a tough stand against them.

"The khaps cannot have a free run. In some cases, the khaps do good work, but they should not be allowed to take decisions that violate the rights of individuals or society," a retired senior  police officer said.


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