Women rights activists demand ban on religion-based Panchayats

Lucknow, India - Women rights activists are up in arms against caste and religion-based panchayats delivering anti-women verdicts in sensitive cases pertaining to rape, elopment and kidnapping and have demanded an immediate ban on them.

The infamous Imrana case and another of Parvin, who was ordered to marry the rapist by a local caste panchayat in Fatehpur district of Uttar Pradesh recently, have prompted the women activists to demand an immediate ban on these panchayats which they alleged were interfering in the law of the land.

Noted activist and president of the All India Janvadi Mahila Samiti Subhashini Ali said stern action was necessary against all those delivering verdicts against the law of the land.

Ali, who also visited Fatehpur where the panchayat gave its ruling in the presence of policemen, said criminal law was the same for everyone and panchayats had no no right to interfere in it.

The victim, who was, however, burnt to death by the accused and his brothers to evade the panchayat verdict, could have been saved had the law taken its course and not remained a mere spectator to the Panchayat, she said.

A women's parliament ogranised by the UP chapter of All India Progressive Women's Association (AIPWA) here recently, passed a resolution demanding ban on such illegal religious and caste panchayats giving death penalties on issues such as inter-religion and inter-caste marriages. The resolution also demanded that members of such panchayats be arrested immediately and sent to jail.

The secretary of the AIPWA, UP, Ajanta Lohit said that caste panchayats, specially in western UP had been giving strange decisions like public flogging of an accused or announcing man and wife as brother and sister.

In eastern districts like Deoria, certain incidents of the panchayats pronouncing a woman as a witch and ostracizing her and in some cases even awarding death penalties have come to light, she said.

Convenor of Tehrik-e-Niswan Tahira Hasan who is working primarily for creating awareness among Muslim women, said not only UP, other states too have been reporting several such rulings by caste panchayats.

In Nainital (Uttaranchal), a caste panchayat ruled that a woman be tonsured and be paraded naked after her son eloped and married a higher caste girl, Hasan said adding a majority of these decisions were aimed at marginalising women. Though the media attention in the Imrana case brought to the forefront the injustice meted out to the victim of a rape case and denial of justice to her, there were several other victims who had been silently suffering by accepting such writs, she said.

The convenor of 'Sanjhi Duniya' and former vice chancellor of Lucknow University, Room Rekha Verma plans to organise a convention by September to discuss the rising phenomenon of panchayats giving rulings which defied the Constitutional human rights of women in a secular country like India.

The matter could be set right only if exemplary punishment is pronounced for those running such panchayats besides banning them, she said.