Fatehbad (Haryana), Feb 6 (G’nY news service): In the heart of Khapland, the woman sarpanch Sushma Bhadu of Miya Khadani has broken free of the yoke of the ghoongat, or the customary veil.
The Khap is a local body of caste or clan leaders, prevalent primarily in Haryana and Rajasthan, marked as having strong retrograde views against women, culminating into honour killings in cases where women marry outside the caste lines. However, at ground zero the prevalence of Khap is neither a strangle-hold, nor is the Khap always in the wrong.
A village where customary mahila sabha before the gram sabha is unheard of, lifting of the veil is indeed courageous. The Ministry of Panchayati Raj has advised that the mahila sabha should be held before the gram sabha. It is a forum where women can discuss their problems, which can then be carried forward into the gram sabha discussion. In the absence of the mahila sabha, the women are unable to voice most of their needs, as they do not attend the gram sabha – the single most important forum in the scheme of rural governance – let alone voice their difficulties and needs.
Sushma Bhadu, the courageous sarpanch of Miya Khadani (Photo: Shatakshi Gawade)
When Bhadu became the sarpanch, she found that the veil was a hindrance while talking to officials. This provoked her into discarding the veil altogether. After taking her husband and mother-in-law into confidence, the unveiling was done in a Mahapanchayat organized in 2012 in her village. Several women joined her in this act of defiance. The Khap have never intervened in this decision. In fact, they have asked the people around the village to hold marriages during the day, so as to avoid unnecessary expenditure for the parents and prevent alcoholism related atrocities.
The Khap holds an esteemed position amongst the villagers who respect their views. Haryana, as is most of India, bears an oppressive caste reality at the grass root. The community in village Miya Khadani understands this reality and testifies to it. However, education and proper guidance of the community by able women sarpanch have the ability to loosen the fabric of dependency of Khap diktat.