|The National Human Rights Commission has issued notice to the Haryana government seeking a report about the status of the case of a husband and wife who were declared brother and sister by a self-styled caste panchayat in Jhajhar, Haryana and asked the state police to ensure their safety.
The NHRC chairperson Justice A S Anand has asked the chief secretary and the Director General of Police of the state as well as the Commissioner and Senior Superintendent of Police (Rohtak) to look into the complaint filed by All India Democratic Women Association (AIDWA) in this regard. He has directed that reports be submitted within a week. He also directed the officials to inform the Commission on what steps they have taken to ensure the personal safety of Sonia and Rampal.
Brinda Karat, AIDWA general secretary and Jagmati Sangwan, AIDWA Haryana state unit president, have written a letter to the NHRC chairperson on this issue. Karat had alleged that in village Assanda in Jhajjar district Rampal and his pregnant wife Sonia, married for two years, are being forced to declare themselves brother and sister in the name of protection of “gotra”. She further alleged that in spite of repeated representations to the authorities there have been no arrests of the guilty, no cases have been registered and that the couple is unable to return to the village.
Full text of the letter written to is given below:
“You are aware of the growing intervention of self-styled caste panchayats in many states in India. The most recent case is that of Assanda village, Jhajjar district in Haryana where a couple, Rampal and Sonia, married for two years are being forced to declare themselves brother and sister in the name of protection of “gotra” Sonia is three and a half month pregnant.
The Haryana committee of the AIDWA has been helping the couple since the so-called fatwa of the caste panchayat of Assanda village was issued on October 11. In spite of repeated representation to the authorities including the Commissioner of Rohtak region, there have been no arrests of those guilty, no cases have been registered, the couple are still under threat and unable to return to the village to reside. The main person involved is one Naresh Sharma, sarpanch of Kharar village. He is helped by Vinod Rathee of the same village, Jhajjar district who has given a statement in the press also. It was Sharma who led the group to Sonia and Rampal’s residence to inform them of the ‘panchayat fatwa’. He forced Rampal to sign his agreement. When Sonia refused Sharma abused her, pulled her dupatta off her head and shook her by the shoulder. Sonia’s sister in-law Sheila who tried to save Sonia was also threatened by him. Sonia fel ill after the incident and was admitted to Rohtak hospital on October 12 with threatened miscarriage. She is better now and is ready to go back to her home in Assanda. However since no action has been taken against the chief instigator Naresh Sharma and Vinod Rathee, she and Rampal fear for their lives. Even though there is a police guard posted for their protection, unless arrests are made – at least of the two main instigators – the security of the couple is under serious threat.
We request the NHRC to intervene in the case and to issue notice to the police as to why arrests have not been made and to direct them to immediately arrest the persons involved so that the couple can live in their own home in the village.
Women are the worst victims of these retrograde fatwas which include “honour” killings and lynchings as in Muzzafarnagar, throwing out the concerned family from the village and taking possession of their land, social boycott, financial fines and so on. There are no laws in the country to deal with such caste panchayats which is why they are emboldened to continue their extra judicial harassment. In 2003, the Rajasthan Human Rights Commission had appealed to the Jodhpur High Court to take cognizance of caste panchayat committed crimes and to ban implementation of all their anti-constitutional decisions and make them liable for criminal prosecution and arrest. We are unaware of any orders issued on the petition which however is extremely valid, appropriate and urgent. We believe that if the NHRC could initiate a case in the Supreme Court on various aspects of the issue with a prayer for clear direction to arrest and prosecute the caste panchayats, it will not only bring a much needed focus to the issue but may also nudge the authorities into taking preventive steps as also enacting a legislation to deal with this specific type of crime.
Our organization, the All India Democratic Women’s Association, is one of the few organisations which has done consistent and sustained work on this issue by helping victims and their families in such cases mainly in Haryana but also in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Tamilnadu. We would be able to give the commission all assistance in providing background to the issue, in providing details of cases and so on.
Sir, the matter is urgent as the constitutional guarantees provided to citizens of this country are being violated with impunity by caste panchayats with no prevention by state agencies and in most cases with no punishment to those guilty. We hope the NHRC will intervene in this matter.”