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Christians welcome end to caste councils

Court says they consistently suppress women’s rights and indulge in honor killing

Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

April 21, 2011

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Christians in India have welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision declaring caste councils illegal. The court on April 19 said such councils encourage “honor killings” or other institutionalized atrocities against boys and girls of different castes and religions who wish to get married or have married. “This is wholly illegal and has to be ruthlessly stamped out. There is nothing honorable in honor killing,” the court ruled. Indian society is divided into four main castes and hundreds of sub-castes. Each sub-caste has a council, known as a “khap panchayat,” that decides on disputes and community issues, including marriages. However, it has no legal authority. Some such councils reportedly suppress women’s rights and indulge in honor killing if someone marries outside the caste. “It is a very good decision as we cannot have a parallel system to contradict the country’s laws,” said Jyotsna Chatterjee, a Protestant woman leader said. Chatterjee, however, said that it would be difficult to eradicate such a system immediately. “The change would be gradual. The court has given a direction and now civil society and the government will have to act upon it,” she said. Sister Mary Scaria, a lawyer, said this judgment is the “need of the hour.” Father Babu Joseph, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, said decisions by these  caste councils were adversely affecting the individual’s freedom, especially of women. The councils are mostly active in northwestern Indian states such as Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Last year, a court in Haryana sentenced five people to death and another to life imprisonment for their involvement in murdering a couple who belonged to the same caste.  The council had in 2007 said the marriage needed to be dissolved as people of the same caste are considered siblings. The couple were found dead in a canal with their hands and legs tied and their bodies badly mutilated.

Related links:

Caste council vows to fight female feticide

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