The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Panchayat relook at 'sibling couple' ruling

Chandigarh, Oct. 14: The husband and wife who were asked by a Haryana panchayat to treat each other as siblings as an unwritten social code forbids unions between their castes have been given a 'final' chance to save their marriage.

'We have decided to hold another sitting on October 24 ' this time the final one ' to settle the matter,' said Dharam Singh, who had chaired Sunday's panchayat meeting in Asanda, in Jhajjar, near Delhi.

'Sonia and her parents will now have to prove that she belongs to the Hooda clan. If she fails, she will have to annul her marriage with Rampal. How they do it is their responsibility. If they can't, they will have to accept our order.'

Sonia and her family claimed she was a Hooda after the panchayat ruled there was 'bhaichara' (brotherhood) between Rampal's Dahiya (a sub-caste in the Jat community) gotra and Sonia's Rathee gotra, which meant they had to terminate their marriage of one-and-a-half-years. Marriage between a Hooda and a Dahiya is permissible.

The three-months' pregnant Sonia, who had to be admitted to a Rohtak hospital after she developed stress-related gynaecological problems, has said she would rather die than accept her husband as her brother.

'The panchayat wanted that I should accept its decree and abort my baby. But I don't want their wish to come true,' she said over phone.

Doctors have asked Sonia to stop worrying as it could lead to complications and a possible abortion. 'Whatever may happen, I will not accept the panchayat's ruling. I want my child to grow up in Asanda,' she said, even as the doctors remained uncertain over her baby's fate.

After Sunday's ruling, Sonia had left the village to live with her sister-in-law Sheela.

Rampal, who had offered a Rs 10 note to Sonia as acceptance of the panchayat decree, changed his stand and was by his wife's side. He visited Sonia yesterday despite the panchayat warning him of severe repercussions if he kept in touch with her. 'I will stand by Sonia in her time of need,' he said.

He expressed surprise at the media glare on the 'chhota sa' (insignificant) panchayat decision.

Sonia's father Satvir Singh visited Asanda early today with 67 residents of his village, Killoi, to pressure the panchayat to accept that his daughter belongs to the Hooda sub-caste. After the panchayat told him to prove his claim, he left to search for land records from the revenue office.

The Jhajjar district administration is keeping a close watch to ensure that no honour killings take place.Deputy commissioner of police Mohinder Kumar said no action can be taken till an FIR is lodged but added that efforts were on to reach an amicable solution. 'We normally don't like to interfere in panchayat matters. This is a social problem which has continued for centuries in the state. It is a different matter that such panchayats do not have any legal status.'

The ruling party in the state, the Indian National Lok Dal, remained aloof. 'This is election period. We cannot risk anything by intervening as it would have its repercussions all over the state,' a party spokesperson said, adding that 'meddling' in the panchayat's affairs would be 'politically suicidal'.

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