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Before Haryana polls, AAP speaks up for khap

Yogendra Yadav

New Delhi, Feb. 1: Aam Aadmi Party leader Yogendra Yadav today sought to extend nuanced support to khap panchayats, the de-facto community courts known for their rather strident stand on women.

The psephologist-turned-politician, who was possibly driven by the compulsion to get votes in poll-bound Haryana, said all community bodies had the “right to exist” as long as they played a “legitimate” role.

“All caste and communities tend to have social organisations. These organisations resolve disputes with consensus at the village level. They have a right to exist till they play their legitimate role,” Yadav said, refusing to join the demand for banning khap panchayats that wield considerable influence in rural areas in his native Haryana and other north Indian states.

The “problem”, he added, “arises when the law of the land is broken” and “killings or murders are defended”.

“Any organisation that defends such illegal acts is absolutely unacceptable,” he said, qualifying his support. “Our stand is uncompromising.”

Khap panchayats have been accused of ordering honour killings and issuing diktats to women not to wear western clothes and use mobile phones. Some khaps in Haryana have even demanded lowering the minimum age of marriage for girls to 16 from 18 to check rising cases of rape.

The Supreme Court has termed these de-facto courts “illegal” and women activists have been demanding that they be banned. The government and established political parties have, however, shied off speaking against khap panchayats as they wield considerable influence in rural areas.

The AAP, despite its professed stand of changing the system, appears to be treading the same path as the established parties, driven possibly by the same electoral compulsions.

The rookie outfit has set its eyes on Haryana, where polls are due later this year, and appears wary of annoying the powerful communities that control the khap courts.

Yadav, seen as the liberal face of the AAP, is tipped to be the party’s chief ministerial face and is campaigning widely in the state. “Delhi hui hamari, ab Haryana ki baari (after Delhi, it’s Haryana’s turn),” is the party’s slogan.

AAP boss Arvind Kejriwal, too, justified the existence of khap panchayats, which exist even in rural areas of Delhi.

“No, it is not a question of banning these panchayats. Khap panchayats are a group of people who come together. There is no bar on people to assemble in this country…. (But) whenever they take a wrong decision, whenever they take an illegal decision, they ought to be punished,” Reuters quoted the Delhi chief minister as saying.