“Our Fundamental Rights Are Being Violated Here": Inside Bihar's Ultra-Conservative Khap Panchayats
The Patwatoli village in Manpur is sparsely populated with 6,000-7,000 Patwas. The village located in Gaya district, Bihar, was traditionally known for its weavers but now for a large number of its youth opting for engineering as higher education.
But hidden under the vibrancy of its youth is the harsh reality of the village’s Khap Panchayat.
“No one is allowed to step outside the age-old traditions set by the elders. People are ostracised and made to live like ‘untouchables’ if they break the rules. The period of living as an outcaste can be indefinite and during this time we aren’t allowed to seek help of another Patwa, eat food with them, go to temples or conduct marriages. Can you imagine how must it feel to live among your loved ones but not talk to them or even go close to them?” said Avinash (name changed), a youth from Patwatoli to The Logical Indian.
Restricted to marry non-Patwas
“If we marry a non-Patwa, we will be convicted and ostracised for life,” said Avinash.
The youth of the community move out of the village for higher education. If they meet someone they might want to settle down with, they can’t, as marriages are permitted only within the Patwa community.
“With growing education and people living across the country and the world, one may develop a liking/love towards someone, maybe in colleges or at jobs. But we can’t afford to express our love or likeness towards another person because we can’t afford to marry them,” said Avinash, adding if someone marries against the wishes of the Panch, they are shunned. Even their parents are treated as outcastes if they continue to maintain a relationship with the offenders.
“Our fundamental rights are being violated here,” he added.
The youth are forced to marry a person they might not want to settle down with. The village has lesser number of girls as compared to the male population, hence, plenty of times a girl child is made to marry a man much older to her. A decade of age gap between the bride and the groom is common in Patwatoli.
“Not long ago, child marriage was breaking all the records here when girls of age 1 year, 1.5 years, 2 years used to get married to older men. Marriage at the age when she can’t speak, she can’t stand. Now at least girls are able to complete Board exam before they get married,” said Avinash.
There are some who married outside their caste. But they do not live in the village and reside separately from their parents. “Those who take such decisions make sure to put up an act which makes the Khap believe that their parents had no idea of their choices, or else even they would be ostracised along with their sons and daughters,” he continued.
Harsh punishments for minor offences
“The Panch sometimes take decisions based on personal grudges,” said Avinash.
“Earlier, a group of 30 youth had come to the village after they completed their studies from Delhi. They were celebrating in the village and in that group a youngster who was ostracised was also there; no one realised. When the Panchayat found out, they ostracised the entire group of 30 people,” he added.
Avinash narrated another incident where a man, wrongly accused of stealing, was made to visit every household in the village and apologise. This was in addition to the Rs 1 lakh fine slapped on him. As most of the villagers felt that the punishment was too harsh and uncalled for, the Panchayat removed the fine. However, when after a few weeks they fell short of funds, they imposed a Rs 51,000 fine on him.
“The punishment that the man received was the same as the ones who molest or harass women receive. While such people deserve the punishments, the only fault of the man was to buy stolen raw material that he wasn’t even aware of,” said Avinash.
The Logical Indian take
The wrath of the Khap Panchayat is not unknown. It is prevalent not only in Patwatoli but villages across India.
Most people who live under their jurisdiction are too afraid to speak up and end up adjusting to their ways. The youth are the ones most affected.
The ones who are ostracised have their lives stripped away from them.
The Khap Panchayat is a union of five elders of a village who have emerged as quasi-judicial bodies pronouncing harsh punishment for menial crimes. It includes people guided by old traditions and regressive values that have no place in the modern society.