Republic of revenge rapes and the Narcotics Act
Khaps have ordered (dis)honour killings of couples that have dared to break caste and community rules and marry out of their own choice, i.e. exercise their legal right. Khap panchayats have a particular fixation for getting such murders committed in the most gruesome ways, such as hanging by a tree, burning alive, and beating to death with sticks, all in full public view. They have done this with impunity even in cases where the couple has sought, and got, protection from the Judiciary; the 2007 murder of Manoj and Babli is case in point.
The only thing unique about the current case is that the international community has picked up the news after the girls approached the Supreme Court for security. The story has since caught the attention of British parliamentarians who have, in turn, called on their government to intervene and ensure the safety of the girls. The British foreign office has responded positively to the demand and promised to “work with the Indian government on this important issue.”
These developments have significantly increased the possibility of the girls escaping barbarity. But, is this enough? The Supreme Court had to come to the rescue of a newly-wed inter-caste couple under death threat from a “khap panchayat” in Faridabad this June. This rescue has taken place a full four years after the court pledged the harshest punishment to “brutal, feudal-minded persons” who commit atrocities “in respect of personal lives of people”. It is evident that the murderous illegal institutions that are khaps have not weakened even a little in all these years.
So while such welcome interventions can save a victim or two, they fail to address the real rot. Such isolated deus ex machina rescues, in fact, conceal the reason for the growth and support for such extra-judicial bodies. The reason for the strength of khaps and their retrogressive rulings is none other than the hollowed out Indian criminal justice system, which has only gotten worse since the colonial era, when it was created in a Victorian ethos to suppress Indian freedoms and ways of being.
The details of this case elaborate why all the right sounding noises at the top, read the Supreme Court, fail to make the smallest of the dent on the ground. The brother of the girls was caught with a married woman of another caste. As per media reports, the woman’s family insisted on charging the man with kidnapping, but the police could not, as the woman had not made a statement to such effect. Unable to book him for kidnapping, the police booked him under the provisions of the The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 and sent him to jail. The absurdity of a system which books a person under the Narcotics Act if it cannot substantiate kidnapping charges should not be lost on many in India. Sadly, that is exactly what happens day in day out.
The reason for this lack of awareness is that Indians are yet to come to terms with the nature of the systems they have been bequeathed from colonial times. Systems awash in cruelty, and distanced from the people, since inception to date, have only further corrupted and been hollowed out. It is because the system that is in place is unable to provide any justice that khaps have spawned and sustained.
Indians do not need tie-wig superheros to occasionally swoop down. And, khaps do not need to be fought. It is the “justice” institutions of India, i.e. the police, prosecution, and judiciary, that need to be structurally re-engineered so they work and guarantee rights in practice.
This is something essential the freedom fighters of this land and subsequent generations have failed to do. And because of this all of us suffer, not just young lovers.