There is a serious conflict between laws and customs in India. Here we will confine ourselves to Haryana and that too in the context of a single issue of honour killings. Towards the end, we will suggest a way out.
The social custom in Haryana is not to marry within the same gotra – a group that goes well beyond the family. Such a marriage is, however, allowed by law. So what is legal is against the social custom.
A young man who falls in love with a woman in the same gotra is naturally inclined towards the law instead of the social custom. Similarly, a young woman too is inclined towards the law On the other hand, the elders have a major difficulty. They have been brought up and lived with the belief all their life that boys and girls within a gotra are like brothers and sisters. It is an immediate corollary then that such a marriage should not happen at all.
When it does happen, the elders cannot go to the police or the court (people in such institutions have, in fact, allowed such marriages). But many elders are deeply offended. In extreme cases, there are honour killings!
There is hardly any significant mobility; Haryana boys and girls from rural or semi-urban areas are hardly travelling to Bangalore for jobs where they could find a complete outsider to fall in love with! (And TV shows and movies keep showing love marriages all the time.) So love marriages in Haryana can imply tension all round.
The people with the traditional mindset are wrong to ignore the law of the land. Also, the legal minded people are wrong to ignore the social customs. The way to move forward is to reduce the conflict between the laws and customs.
In India, there is often considerable conflict between laws and customs. This creates tension. People are in two minds. They are not sure if they should go by customs or go by law whenever there is a conflict, which happens quite often.
The educated or the legal minded people tend to go more by the laws whereas others tend to go more by customs. It is also a function of where one is located, who the neighbours are, and what the general social or occupational circle is. All these factors matter in deciding whether to take the law or the customs seriously when there is a conflict.
In many developed countries, there is much less of any such conflict – at least not for the native white Christian population in North America or in Europe. This is an important reason why people are more law abiding there; it is possibly not that they are inherently more disciplined people. In India, one reason why laws are not obeyed (or even enforced seriously) is that there is a conflict between laws and customs.
What to do?
Let the Legislative Assembly in Haryana consider (not necessarily pass) a bill that makes a marriage within the same gotra illegal (please read the whole proposal before some of you readers get angry). Also, let the political parties allow a secret vote on a social issue; they can retain their whips for voting on other matters. The idea is to get social customs get reflected in laws.
Two outcomes are possible. First, the bill gets passed. If it does, it will avoid any tension between obeying laws and obeying customs. Marriages within a gotra will hardly happen. There will be hardly any scope for honour killings!
Second possibility is that the bill gets defeated on the floor of the house. In this case, it becomes well known that though there is a lot of talk about a strict social custom against marriage within the same gotra, this is actually not true (otherwise the results of secret voting would be different). The government can then carry out an educational campaign particularly for the elderly and the traditional minded people; this campaign can be on TV, radio, newspapers, and so on.
The awareness about the results of the vote in the Assembly can also be at the Panchayat level. After all this, it is expected that more people would accept marriages within the same gotra. There will then be hardly any honour killings.
Observe that regardless of the outcome of the vote, there would be fewer honour killings. This is important. There is an urgent need to bring this violence and tension to an end.
After the voting, it will also become easier for the police and other enforcement agencies. They too will not face the conflict involved in enforcing a law that appears to be contrary to social customs.
It is true that at present we have a national law on marriage and not a state level law. However, this can change. After all, India is a diverse country. There are state level laws in USA and these have worked well there without endangering national unity.
Recently, UK carried out a referendum in Scotland to get to know people’s views on whether or not they wanted to stay within the UK the way they have been doing all this while. That referendum was of course about a different issue. However, in the case of within-gotra marriage also, the basic idea is to see unambiguously what the views of the people are and accordingly take a decision that avoids bloodshed and tension more generally.
A similar thing for a very different purpose can be done in Haryana. This does not even require a costly referendum.
By: Gurbachan Singh
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