Cameraperson: Abhay Sharma
Video editor: Prashant Chauhan
Somewhere in the heart of Haryana, we meet two newly-wed couples who have fled from their own families. They are holed up inside a dimly lit dormitory room, that serves as a ‘safe house’.
In the interests of their personal safety, we can neither disclose their names, nor their location. The first couple tells us:
Loving someone is not a criminal offence. But the world doesn’t seem to think that way. Ours is a story of an inter-caste love, and the world abides by caste norms.
The young man rues, “If she was a Pandit, and I was a Pandit too, then her family would have had no objections.”
“When did you get married?” we ask the second couple in the room.
“Yesterday. We got married yesterday.”
They spent their suhaag raat in a safe home.
But what caused them to get here?
“Both of us are Dalits. But we belong to different sub-castes. It’s her family members that are likely to cause trouble. People here have problems even with inter-subcaste marriages.”
The Crime Called Love
Travelling from one village to the next, we asked one person after another: Why is love considered such a crime? Young men and women have to flee for their lives, escaping the reach of furious families and regressive khaps. Their only fault – a desire to be with those they love.
As a middle-aged woman in Jind explains,
If people start choosing their own partners, it is humiliating for their parents. How can anyone do that? It is wrong, we cannot accept it. For example, parents will be and should be against marrying people from other castes.
When the first couple in the safe home eloped, the girl’s family urged them to return, promising a compromise.
He reminisces, “Her family called and asked us to come home. They said, “We will get the two of you married, right here.”
We asked, “Did you believe them?”
She replies, “I believed them to some extent, but then I felt scared too. So, I didn’t go home. He adds, “I had some faith in them. So I asked her family to visit mine and finish the pre-wedding work, and then we would return.”
But when her family did turn up at his house, things didn’t go as planned.
They came and said no to the wedding. And then they threatened, “Wherever we find the two of them, we will beat them up.”The husband
Khap vs Constitution
Haryana’s khap panchayats have always been at odds with the Indian Constitution. Remember Manoj and Babli? In June 2007, the two lovers were killed by Babli’s own family, on the orders of a khap panchayat. Their crime: Marrying within the same gotra.
A decade later, the Supreme Court continues to assert that when two adults marry, nobody can interfere. No parents, no society or khap panchayat can stop them.
This January, when the SC reprimanded the khaps again, guess how they responded?
We respect the Supreme Court, but cannot tolerate the apex court’s interference in our age-old traditions. If these kinds of orders are passed by the SC, we will stop producing girls or won’t let them study so much that they start taking their own decisions.Naresh Tikait, head of Balyan khap to The Times of India
But hang on, as far back as 2011, the Supreme Court had declared khap panchayats to be illegal kangaroo courts that needed to be “ruthlessly stamped out”. Yet, these khaps are up and running even today.
As a local in the district of Charkhi Dadri tells us, “Khaps are still very active. There are community-wise khaps too, including Muslim khaps and Hindu khaps. They will continue to function.”
And are their diktats followed?
“Absolutely, why not? We cannot go against the ways and rules of the khap. We have to live by them.”
Decriminalising Love: The Next Generation
Does the hope for change lie in those who have fought for their own love?
We ask the couples in the safe home, “When you have children of your own, will you too, try and control whom they marry?”
The first woman replies, “Not at all. When we have a daughter, we will work to get her educated and employed. If, even without telling us, she goes and gets a court marriage done, we will have no objection. We have done the same too!”
The second woman adds, “Of course we will accept it. We have done it, and we will get theirs done too without a hassle. We will try to ensure that our children think the right way – that their minds are free of discrimination.”
And maybe it will be them, young men and women, who have fought against their families and their khaps – who will break these traditions, and build new ones.
As the first couple says, poignantly enough,
We are happy to have gotten married to each other. Tomorrow, when our daughter will get married (of her own choice), we will still be happy. It is like this, when people are happy, these objections of caste and inter-caste marriages will stop. This whole system will change.