Participating in the debate, the former Haryana Chief Minister, Om Prakash Chautala had expressed the view that the situation in the state in terms of public safety and, particularly that of women is akin to the one persisting during Mughal times.
Well, the history of the Khaps goes back to about 14th century when these predominantly Jat institutions were established to provide social consolidation and preserve solidarity and harmony at a time of social turmoil. So it is true enough that as a social institution, they are older than conventional civil law.
Are Khap panchayats completely evil? So it would look, given the mystery that they appear to be shrouded in and the extremely regressive statements that they make. Well I suppose that one needs to distinguish between the two kinds of Khap panchayats around. (Not many will perhaps know that two kinds exist!). The first kind represents the various gotras or the sub castes and the second the Sarv Khap Panchayats which were more representative bodies, with delegates from several gotra panchayats and were at least in the past, involved in socio – political initiatives.
It has become customary for progressive voices to ad nauseum condemn traditional institutions as feudal, patriarchal and retrogressive and all that they are. But the substitutes we have these days in terms of the modern institutions – the pillars of parliamentary democracy do not lend themselves to canonization as temples of virtue. On the contrary, it can be argued that while institutions like the traditional panchayats served as a unifying force, albeit within their own restricted communities, parliamentary democracy and its institutions are a more divisive institution with its party politics, vote banks and the inherent tendency to divide, so as to rule.
It does not serve any purpose to blindly criticize traditional institutions, which have been around for centuries. We can argue that they and their arguments and verdicts are illegal, but it is also a fact that these institutions pre date the law as we know and understand it. Over time, as the country goes through increased urbanization and migration, the influence of the Khaps is likely to weaken as they are by their very nature, limited in their influence by geography. By decrying such institutions and giving them constant importance – especially by airing their views on various matters, we are only breathing oxygen into the lungs of an otherwise decaying institution.