Tuesday, Dec 23, 2014

Storm in a khap: first woman member aims to bridge gender bias

Sudesh Choudhury at Satrol khap meeting Thursday. Sudesh Choudhury at Satrol khap meeting Thursday.
Written by Aniruddha Ghosal | Narnaud | Posted: April 25, 2014 3:59 am

She was, noticeably, the only woman present at the meeting of the the Satrol khap panchayat being held in Narnaud village in Hisar. But after being inducted as a member of the 650-year-old khap, Sudesh Choudhury aims to change that.

After lifting the ban on inter-caste marriages and inter-village marriages, sarpanch Inder Singh Mor — who heads the khap — has appointed Sudesh Choudhury as the head of the khap’s newly-formed ‘Mahila Wing’.

“Khap panchayats have earned themselves the reputation of being anti-women. We want to change that and we want to increase the relevance of women in the panchayat meetings. Hopefully, more women will come and through the mahila wing, their problems will get voiced,” Inder Singh said.

A former subedar-major in the Indian Army, Inder Singh has been at the forefront of modernising the Satrol khap, which oversees a 42-village cluster and is one of the state’s largest khaps. He’s already appointed a spokesperson for the khap, but the creation of the mahila wing, he said, was inevitable and much needed.

“There will be a wedding soon between members of two villages. Something which hasn’t ever happened with approval. But for this we need women representatives of the khap to be present,” he said.

After the April 20 meeting of the Satrol khap ruled to allow inter-caste and inter-village marriages, Sudesh’s first task is to ensure that the first such marriage, between a boy from Rajthal village and a girl in Puthi village, takes place without a hitch.

“I am talking to both families, making sure there are no objections. But in the long run, it is important that young girls of marriageable age are also involved in the khaps,” she said.

“Young girls should also get to know which villages they might get married into. They should know where to maintain brotherhood, after all they might married into those villages,” she added.

Sudesh, who is in her thirties, added that she had already begun talking to women in different villages and they had all showed interest in getting involved with the khap. “Women, especially young women, had shown great interest in what happens in and around their village.

They want to talk about the issues that affect them, but haven’t had a chance until now to do so,” she added.

Her induction took place during a meeting in Narnaud on Thursday, where discussions were focused on the decision to allow inter-caste marriages and dominated by the presence of youth. “Usually khaps consist of old people and consequently we don’t get to know about what the youth wants,” said Mor.

Anurag Thakur, 26, one of the youngest present at the khap, explained that this decision was the only way to make progress. “Earlier, talk of brotherhood remained limited to turbans and not ghagras. This will change, especially with the mahila wing,” he said.

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