Peasants and priests cannot make laws

Any country that allows its laws and social customs to be dictated (or defied) by peasants and half-literate priests deserves to be called primitive. This is what we should remember when we discuss the amendments to the law that the khap panchayats are seeking and the restrictions on women that the Deoband seminary sought to impose last week. When the reaction from Muslims was general outrage, the Dar-ul-Uloom hastily denied its fatwa, ordering women to avoid contact with strange men in the workplace but the khap peasants have been emboldened by political support.

Among their political supporters are some peasant politicians from whom no better can be expected. But, when educated, supposedly urbane political leaders lend their voice to primeval practices they need to be publicly reviled. They deserve social boycott and disgrace. It is not enough to say, as Naveen Jindal did last week, that he was only reflecting the opinion of his constituents. His constituents are peasants who do not seek to be members of polite Delhi society by living in Aurangzeb Road and joining the Polo Club. Ninety-nine point nine per cent of khap panchayat members would be unable to read a short story or speak a single sentence in educated Hindi. How do I know? For the simple reason that it has been my lot as a reporter to cover many honour killings. Inevitably I have arrived in villages in Punjab, Haryana or Uttar Pradesh after the deed is done and inevitably I have found that those who supported the horror were barbaric fanatics. They cannot be allowed to dictate changes in our marriage laws or laws of any other kind. If the Haryana Police had the courage to arrest a few of them and throw them into some dark cell for a longish period they would be easily controlled.

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