In the 21st century, we often would love to believe that caste and restrictive traditions are things of the past. Enter Uttar Pradesh and their khap panchayats. Often run by Rajputs or other upper castes, the panchayats are famous for enforcing — without any real power but with consequences — rules and codes that are restrictive, casteist, and patriarchal.
In the latest sequence of such events, a khap panchayat in Muzaffarnagar in UP decided that men and women shall no longer wear shorts and jeans. The Rajput community panchayat added that if anyone violated this diktat would face extreme consequences including social boycotting. Announcing the decision, community leader Thakur Puran Singh said that these clothes are part of the western culture. “We should wear our traditional clothes such as sarees, ghagra and salwar kameez.”
He clarified that society is destroyed when culture and tradition dies. “One does not need guns to destroy a society. It would be enough for the people to move away from their culture and tradition for the society to die,” Thakur said. However, after the issue became a matter of concern on social media, Thakur began to soften the stance. “We have no issues with girls moving out for education and jobs, and we have opposition to them wearing jeans outside of the village. However, the decision was to protect the culture of our village, and the girls should wear traditional clothes while here.”
According to sources, he also asked the Rajput community to boycott girls’ schools that allow skirts as part of their uniforms. On the other hand, while speaking to a few journalists, Thakur clarified that he has no issue with uniforms and that he doesn’t believe the dressing of women will lead to rape. His concern was the “destruction of the culture and tradition of his village and community”. During the meeting, the community, interestingly, decided to oppose the UP government decision to “grant” reservation to Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Classes in the upcoming panchayat polls.
In 2013, the Supreme Court had said that khap panchayats’ diktat on dress codes are unlawful and cannot be “legally enforced”. This was in 2013 while hearing a petition filed by a women’s rights organisation against a khap panchayat — of UP and Haryana — diktats enforcing dress codes and a blanket ban on mobile phones.