Kochi: Jagmati Sangwan is a fighter. A versatile fighter, if you will. She hails from a village in Sonapet district in Haryana, known for its khap panchayts, honour killings and discrimination against women. She was unwilling to give in: she went to the university, was a member of Indian volleyball team and was the founder of the Haryana unit of the All-India Democratic Women’s Association, a left-oriented women’s organisation, at the age of 24.
Dr Sangwan, 56, is on another battle front now: to prod the central government into bringing in a new legislation to take on khap panchayats and honour killings. “The sections in the Indian Penal code that deal with murders are incapable of bringing the perpetrators of most honour killings to justice,” she told DC. “This is because they happen mostly with the active participation of or in connivance with the family members of the victim, and hence there would be little proof, leave alone eye witnesses.” So the demand is clear: the onus must be on the accused.
And the government response, which has been negative all these years, is turning positive under pressure from women’s organisations and the Supreme Court which has taken an unequivocal stand on the issue. The centre has now told the apex court that it does not recognise khap panchayats and is planning to bring in a new legislation to rein them in and take on honour killings. “We would welcome if the government is serious about it,” she said. “It cannot be a statement for public consumption.”
She has reasons to be skeptical about it. The two previous—the UPA government and the present NDA—showed no interest in it, forcing them to launch a signature campaign. “We were horrified by the law minister in the NDA government who strongly disfavoured such a law saying it will be grossly misused,” she said. “And there are specific reasons for the governments not to disturb the khap panchayats, too. Inter-caste marriages are a threat to the social order the governments want to protect: an order of hegemony of the upper castes, elites and the men. The khaps and the governments are afraid of the formation of an egalitarian society which would result in the collapse of their hegemonic structure. That is the real problem.”
The women’s organisations also want an amendment to the Special Marriage Act, which calls for a notice period of 30 days for the registration of a marriage. “This is a very dangerous duration for a couple who belong to different castes or religions,” she said. “Our stand is that two adults should be allowed to marry as and when they feel like it.” There must be also provision for compulsory post-mortem if a girl /woman aged between 12 and 35 are found dead, she said.
The AIDWA has already prepared a draft bill. “If the government does not move on this, then we shall try and introduce it in Parliament as a private member’s bill so that people will understand its dire requirement,” she said. Dr Sangwan, who walked out of the CPM central committee and resigned from the party over policy decisions, is now back with it. At present she is state vice-president of AIDWA.
The Haryana government is now undermining the couple protection homes that offer asylum to newly-married couple who fear for their lives, by cutting down their funding and other support systems. “The aim is to put them to slow death, and we shall not allow it,” she said.