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A Khap is a community organisation representing a clan or a group of related clans. They are found mostly in northern India, particularly among the Jat people of Western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, although historically the term has also been used among other communities. A Khap Panchayat is an assembly of Khap elders, and a Sarv Khap is an assembly of many Khap Panchayats like Dahiya Khap.
Khaps are not affiliated with the formally elected government bodies and is instead concerned with the affairs of the Khap it represents. It is not affiliated with the democratically elected local assemblies that are also termed Panchayat. A Khap Panchayat has no official government recognition or authority, but can exert significant social influence within the community it represents. The Baliyan Khap as led by Mahendra Singh Tikait until 2011 is one that has gained particular media attention.
The Khaps evolved as tribal and village administrations. One of the terms used to denote the republic[clarification needed] was the Khap. Others were Pal, Janapada, and Ganasangha. The Khap consisted a unit of 84 villages. The individual villages were governed by an elected council, known as the Panchayat. A unit of seven villages was called a Thamba and 12 Thambas formed the Khap unit of 84 villages, though Khaps of 12 and 24 villages existed. Their elected leaders would determine which units would be represented at the Khap level. The Sarv Khap (or All Khap) Panchayat (Council) represented all the Khaps. The individual Khaps would elect leaders who would send delegates to represent their Khaps at the Sarv Khap. It was a political organisation, composed of all the clans, communities, and castes in the region.
The Khap Panchayats frequently make pronouncements on social issues, such as abortion, alcohol abuse, dowry, and to promote education, specially among girls. In October 2012, one Khap Panchayat leader in Haryana blamed the eating of chow mein, a non-traditional food, for the rise in rape in India, while 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.
A 2015 Sarv Khap meeting launched a "Save daughters, educate daughter" movement.
In recent times, the Khap system has attracted criticism from groups, citing the stark prejudice that such groups allegedly hold against others. The All India Democratic Women's Association has reported cases where the Khaps are alleged to have initiated threats of murder and violence to couples who marry outside of the circle.
The Supreme Court of India has declared Khap Panchayats to be illegal because they often decree or encourage honour killings or other institutionalised 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 honourable in honour killing or other atrocities and, in fact, it is nothing but barbaric and shameful murder. Other atrocities in respect of the personal lives of people committed by brutal, feudal-minded persons deserve harsh punishment. Only this way can we stamp out such acts of barbarism and feudal mentality. Moreover, these acts take the law into their own hands, and amount to kangaroo courts, which are wholly illegal.
In a 2012 report to the Supreme Court, Raju Ramachandaran, a Senior Advocate appointed by the Court to assist it in public interest litigation actions against Khap Panchayats, called for the arrest of "self styled" decision makers and for proactive action by the police to protect the fundamental rights of the people. He also asked for the recommendations to be converted into directions applicable to all states and union territories of India until a law is enacted by the national parliament.
There are sources that describe the Khap as unofficial caste system where the panchayat dominates all other members of the group. Like the function of traditional caste and family systems, this Indian traditional institution engages in dispute resolution and the regulation of members' behavior. The group uses violence to maintain a rigid structure that controls members particularly, women, Dalits, Muslims, and youths. The panchayats aggressively push tradition and outlook in which caste divisions are desirable while violence towards lower castes is normal and acceptable. An important Khap ethos involves the commitment - for the good of the community - to work with one's body, heart and soul under the leadership of its leaders, who are believed to have high moral superiority. For this reason, these leaders are afforded the right to demand a member's life.
Despite the criticisms against this institution, it remains popular in some parts of India because, in its benign form, it resolves disputes and achieves social order with less time and resources. Sometimes, the Indian government avoids a direct confrontation with the panchayat especially in rural areas.
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