Unlike various constitutional bodies such as UPSC, Finance Commission, National Commission for Women, etc. a non-constitutional body does not find its name in the Constitution of India hence it doesn’t derive any power from the Constitution of India.
There are various non-constitutional decision-making bodies in India which are not even statutory bodies, but they have a large impact on the communities mainly in rural areas because of their harsh pronouncements. Some of the biggest examples of these non-constitutional decision-making bodies are ‘Khap Panchayats’ and ‘Kangaroo Courts’ in India. These bodies act as agents of mass pushback mainly against women’s rights.
Khaps are unconstitutional and informal law giving bodies representing a clan or a group of related clans that have captured much rural terrain in the north and eastern India, particularly among the Jat people. They are not affiliated with the democratically elected local assemblies that are also termed panchayat, and have no official government recognition or authority. But in rural India, they have been asserting much power over the lives of people, the weakest of whom are women of all communities. They frequently make pronouncements on social issues such as abortion, alcohol abuse, dowry, etc. They have sanctioned several honour killings and have suggested a level of misogyny that is completely at odds with what the leading courts in the country are articulating.
Here are some of the harsh and cruel pronouncements made by Khap Panchayats:
In Haryana, two jat cast bodies imposed dress codes on women and one even said that girls are “agents who pollute society and bring a bad name to the community”.
Another suggested that the age of marriage should be dropped from 18 to 16 because being married would make young women less susceptible to rape.
On the other hand, a kangaroo court is a judicial tribunal or assembly that ignores recognized standards of law or justice, and often carries little or no official standing in the territory within which it resides.
Few years back, a 20-year-old Santhal tribal woman was raped by 12 men in West Bengal on the orders of a kangaroo court called a salishi sabha. Her crime was to have fallen in love with a man outside her community. The couple were tied up and “tried” and asked to pay Rs. 25,000 as payment. The man was able to pay but the woman could not. The headman reportedly decreed that she could be “enjoyed” by several men and that they could “have fun” with her.
The tone of diktat parrots what Nirbhaya’s rapists said- they were out to “have some fun” and a “good time”. She later died after having sustained massive injuries but left behind a mass political movement calling for more rights for Indian women.
Since the country is already struggling with the problems of women and implementation of their rights, these bodies, moreover, add to the problems instead of helping in any way. Khap diktats are singular statements that send messages to all women and families with daughters, successfully silencing any protest that could arise against their rulings.
The Indian state has been quite reticent in initiating any action against khaps even though it is apparent that khap diktats are blatantly undercutting women’s rights and thereby contradicting the verdicts of the highest constitutional lawmaking bodies. One of the biggest reasons for why no protest could arise against their rulings is that in rural India police presence is low and many local notables have links with local law enforcement agents. These notables are also involved in the functioning of khaps. So, they are reasonably confident that their diktats policing women’s behavior will not be challenged. But so long as Khaps have the power to take decisions in rural areas, proper implementation of law cannot be ensured.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anshu Tulsyan is a second-year student of BBA LLB (H) at ICFAI Law School, Dehradun. She has a deep interest in legal research and legal writing. That apart, she is also interested in creative writing. Her first article to be published is titled ‘How to love what does not exist’. Dedication, in her view, is the one quality that describes her best.