The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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'Sibling' couple verdict overturned

Chandigarh, Oct. 28: The Haryana panchayat that ordered a couple to annul their marriage and treat each other as brother and sister has rolled back its decision.

'The decision has been taken in the larger interest of society and to ensure that rural areas, too, become as progressive as urban,' panchayat head Dharam Singh said.

Singh, who had called an urgent meeting of the Asanda panchayat, said Sonia and Rampal could continue to live as husband and wife in the village in Jhajjar district near Delhi.

The verdict came after the panchayat was convinced that Sonia belongs to the Hooda clan and her marriage to Rampal of the Dahiya sub-caste is in keeping with local customs.

Jhajjar superintendent of police Mohammad Akil and Bahadurgarh sub-divisional magistrate Suraj Bhan attended the meeting.

Sonia, recuperating from pregnancy-related complications at PGI in Rohtak, said from her bed that she welcomed the panchayat's decision.

'My only wish now is to go back home and live a life free of tension. I hope the villagers will accept me. Main pehle bhi unki bahu thi, aaj bhi hoon aur marte dam tak rahoongi (I was their daughter-in-law, still am and will always be). I want everyone to forgive everyone and carry on with our lives to ensure a better future for our children. Yeh sabki vijay hai, auraton ki zyada (It is a victory for everyone, especially for the women),' she said.

The panchayat had decreed on October 10 that Sonia is a Rathee, a Jat sub-caste. Marriages between members of the Rathee and Dahiya clans are barred. Hence, Sonia's marriage with Rampal could not be accepted.

Sonia and her father Satbir Singh contested the decision, saying they belonged to the Hooda clan and the wedding was legal.

'We are convinced after Satbir swore that he is a Hooda. Please do not rake the issue up further. Sonia is the daughter-in-law of the entire village now,' Dharam Singh said.

Sources in Asanda said today's panchayat meeting came after pressure from the district administration. Punjab and Haryana High Court had stepped in and the National Human Rights Commission yesterday directed the state police chief to submit a report on the issue within a week.

On Tuesday night, some youths in the village tried to pressure Dharam Singh to declare Sonia an outcaste. They even began extorting money from villagers to launch a movement against interference in social customs.

But the presence of the two officials had its impact on today's meeting. Akil said those who object to the wedding were free to leave the village. The superintendent added that Sonia's father, who is a policeman, is a Hooda.

The Asanda panchayat's decision is expected to have its fallout on another similar case in Jakhauli where another panchayat has ordered the break-up of engagement of another couple, Satyajit from Rajpura Bhain and Pinki from Jakhauli, on similar grounds.

Villagers have boycotted the Lohan caste members, who are objecting to the match. A panchayat meeting will be held at Narnaund in Hissar on Sunday.

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