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Exiled couple gets taste of panchayat farce
Raman Mohan and Deepender
Tribune News Service

Ashish, who was exiled along with his wife Darshana about four years ago, accepts the verdict of the panchayat regarding their rehabilitation at Jaundhi village in Jhajjar on Tuesday.
Ashish, who was exiled along with his wife Darshana about four years ago, accepts the verdict of the panchayat regarding their rehabilitation at Jaundhi village in Jhajjar on Tuesday. 

Jaundhi, November 9
In a blatant eyewash, a couple exiled from their village by a khap panchayat four years ago because of a gotra controversy over their marriage was today allowed to return but told to live like outcasts outside the phirni (village boundary demarcating the residential area). They were also directed to withdraw the petition filed by them in the court.

This decision was taken at a panchayat held here today to discuss their rehabilitation following an order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court which had taken a serious view of the panchayat diktat.

The couple had filed a petition motivated by the successful fightback by Sonia and Rampal of the neighbouring Asanda village last month after they were ordered to dissolve their marriage and live as siblings.

Today’s panchayat was convened on the intervention of the district administration. It was preceded by two meetings between the Superintendent of Police, representatives of social organisations, village elders and the couple — Ashish and Darshana. The first meeting was held at Jhajjar on Saturday, while the second took place yesterday.

About 100 persons attended the panchayat held in the presence of about as many armed policemen. Prominent among those who attended it were Mohammed Akil, Superintendent of Police, Jhajjar, Jagdish Gehlawat, head of the Gehlawat khap, Daya Kishen, who had chaired the panchayat that exiled the couple, Narain Singh of the Dagar khap, Nathu Ram of the All-India Jat Mahasabha and Jagmati Sangwan of the Janwadi Mahila Samiti.

Minutes after the panchayat began, a 20-member committee comprising 10 persons each from Gehlawat and Dagar gotras was set up to consult the village community. Heated exchanges were reported during the consultations following which about five members walked out of the room after about 45 minutes. The rest of the group emerged 15 minutes later.

Thereafter, Jagdish Gehlawat and Narain Singh announced identical verdicts on behalf of their respective gotras.

The panchayat ruled that Ashish and Darshana would live outside the phirni and build a house in their fields, adding that there would be no marriages between Gehlawat and Dagar gotras in this village in future and that no villager would pass any comments on the couple. But the twist came a minute later. Narain Singh said these decisions would come into effect only if Ashish withdrew the petition pending in the High Court at the next hearing on November 16. Later, talking to mediapersons, Jagdish Gehlawat, too, described this as a precondition in the presence of the SP, who immediately checked him.

Darshana’s mother, who was present in the panchayat, rose several times to express her disapproval of the decision, but she was not allowed to speak. Many of her neighbours, too, voiced their opposition but they were also not allowed to have their say.

Ashish and Darshana were absent. Ashish was summoned there only to hear the verdict. He first apologised and stated that he made a mistake by marrying a Gehlawat girl. He pleaded with the panchayat to let him live in his parental house since he had only three acres in two segments, one of which bordered the cremation ground. However, no attention was paid to his pleas. After the panchayat, the SP claimed that the matter had been resolved amicably. But he found no backers for his claim.

Jagmati Sangwan described the panchayat as a “farce”, saying that the administration’s action would go a long way in legalising the patently illegal khap panchayats. She said her organisation would oppose this decision till justice was done to the couple.

Jai Kishen of the Students Federation of India said, “It’s just an eyewash. The whole exercise was aimed at saving the necks of khap panchayat leaders and the administration apparently wanted to wriggle out of the situation”. The authorities had made a mockery of the court orders, he added.

Ashish and Darshana were married in 1998. While Ashish comes from a Dagar family, Darshana’s gotra is Gehlawat. Dagars are in minority in the village. Two years after their marriage, a khap panchayat was convened, which exiled them from the village for life. Ashish’s family was ostracised for two years. The couple had a one-year-old son at the time. Since then the couple has been living in a Delhi suburb. Ashish’s father died during this period and he had to be escorted to the village by the police to perform the last rites. 

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