The manner, in which panchayats in north India especially in the states of Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh have been functioning, raises some serious questions on their existence. The first question that comes to our mind is whether the restrictions posed on women by these panchayats are going to change the behaviour of the people in the society? It is surprising that the people including women concede to the bizarre diktats given by the panchayats. These decisions are not only contrary to traditional beliefs prevalent in other parts of the country but also go against Indian laws. Posing restrictions on the lifestyle of women, inter-caste marriages, banning love marriages on the pretext of same ‘gotra’ are some of the decisions of the panchayats that reflect our conservative mindset.

Recently a panchayat of 36 members belonging to different castes in Bagpat’s Asara village announced that youths taking to love marriages would not be allowed to stay in their villages, women below 40 years of age will not be allowed to go to the market and will not use mobile phones. Clearly, these restrictions bring to the fore the mindset where women are not treated at par with men. The panchayats are of the view that restrictions on women will help maintain harmony in the society. But are women only responsible for destroying the harmony? No civilized society will ever endorse the views of the panchayats that limited freedom to women will help keeping them under control. This thought is an example of polluted mindset because the men are rather more responsible for the Talibani diktats given in the name of protecting social traditions.  No woman can be deprived of the right to lead their life the way they wanted. Even if a restriction has to be imposed on a woman, it has to be done by their respective families and not by a society. Since times immemorial, it is the parents who have been disciplining their children, but if same kind of discipline is imposed through a diktat by panchayats on a village or the society then it wouldn’t be right as some families may raise objections on such things. It is not justified that a family fails to give freedom to its children out of fear of the panchayat. This is a clear violation of the right to live. Unnecessary restrictions often give rise to dissatisfaction which in turn gives rise to violence. Honour killings are a perfect example of this.

It is unfortunate that some of the Panchayats in our country are showing their feudal mindset by imposing restrictions on love marriages and on the personal freedom of the women in their societies. In Talibani culture of Afghanistan, there is no scope for giving respect to a woman and the whole world is concerned over their mindset. It is wrong to say that the government and the administration are unaware of the strange decisions of these panchayats, but no action is taken against such decisions because the political parties see these panchayats as their vote bank. Political parties shy away from their responsibilities by saying that they cannot oppose a tradition which is in practice for many generations. In the garb of the ill-effects of the modern life style in the cities, the parties are often found supporting these diktats of the panchayats. Political parties usually voice their concerns against honour killings but when it comes to act against such diktats of the panchayats, they prefer to maintain silence. After all, the same political parties which are considered to be the torchbearers of the society hesitate in questioning the panchayats as to why they are breaching all canons in the name of social tradition.

As far as the culture in the rural areas of the country is concerned, many people in the cities who are greatly impressed by the western culture believe that the decisions being taken in the panchayats are obsolete, but at the same it should also be realized that such a vast population is not ready to accept western lifestyle. No doubt, TV, internet and films have widely spread western culture in the country; even then there is a large number of people who believe that social discipline is a must for the Indian society. Actually the problem lies in the mindset which believes that discipline should only be enforced on the women. But on the contrary, women have played a much bigger role than men in strengthening the Indian civilization and culture.

Our political and social leadership should understand that no society can prosper where women are treated badly. Besides, the condition of women in the country is not good. Recently, it was revealed in a survey that India lags behind other countries in promoting women in politics. Though the question of women empowerment is widely talked about in the country, it is disappointing to note that nothing has been done on this front. On the contrary, ill-treatment with women, both in rural and urban areas, is on the rise. It is ironical that instead of preventing such acts, now impertinent talks on imposing restrictions on their lifestyle are taking place. It is required to launch a fresh movement to allow the women to have respect and rights at par with men in the society. We should start a social debate over ‘why this male dominated country is not ready to change its mindset for women?           

(An original copy of the article published in Hindi on July 15, 2012 translated by the English Editorial. The author is Group Editor of Dainik Jagran)