CHANDIGARH: Former Haryana Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala today said he agreed with Khap Panchayat's diktat that the marriageable age for girls should be lowered to prevent the rising number of rapes in the state.
"A person learns from the past and chalks out the future. We should learn from the past... especially in Mughal era, people used to marry their girls to save them from Mughal atrocities and currently a similar situation is arising in the state. I think that's the reason khap has taken such a decision and I support it," Chautala said after meeting with Haryana Governor Jagannath Pahadia.
Chautala submitted a memorandum against the increasing instances of rapes in the state.
In the memorandum, Chautala urged the governor to call a special session of the Haryana assembly to discuss the rising crime in the state against women.
Khap panchayat (community council) leader Sube Singh this week said that the lowering of marriageable age, which is 18 years for girls at present as per law, would help in preventing incidents like rape.
Justifying his stand, Chautala said even in the Mughal era people would marry off their daughters early to save them from atrocities of the Mughals.
"Recently, there have been a lot of atrocities against women in our state. There have been 16 incidents of gang rape and the maximum number of these untoward incidents have taken place with the Dalit girls. We briefed the honourable Governor about the latest happenings," he said.
Chautala's remark came a day after Congress President Sonia Gandhi rejected the Haryana Khap Panchayat's suggestion.
Taking a tough stand against the rising rapes cases in the country, Sonia said those guilty of the raping the teenaged girl would get the severest punishment.
Gandhi said that these kinds of incidents should stop, not just in Haryana but across the country.
Powerful community groups of elderly men, known as "Khap Panchayat", which unofficially govern India's rural north, are seen as propagating these views by issuing diktats from banning girls from wearing jeans and using mobile phones to sanctioning practices like child marriage and "honour killings".
In fact, some Khap Panchayat leaders in Haryana have responded to the recent rapes by demanding that the age of marriage be lowered to 16 years from 18, saying it would stop boys and girls "straying" and prevent rapes.
Thirteen rapes have been reported in the last 30 days in India's northern state of Haryana - a rich, agricultural region bordering New Delhi - where deep-rooted conservative and patriarchal attitudes have often been blamed for gender crimes.
At the weekend, a 16-year-old low-caste girl doused herself in kerosene and burned to death after three men dragged her inside a house in Haryana's Jind district and gang-raped her. The men have been arrested.
Last month, the father of one victim committed suicide by drinking poison after perpetrators threatened to circulate a video of the rape of his daughter on their cell phones if he went to the police. Earlier this month, a mentally challenged woman was lured into a field by a man and raped.
A rape every 20 minutes
Indian women face a multitude of threats, from illegal abortions of female foetuses due to a preference for sons, to the murders of brides by in-laws for want of more dowry, child marriage and human trafficking.
One women is raped every 20 minutes in India, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, which reported 24,206 rapes in 2011 - an almost 10 percent rise over the previous year.
But gender rights activists say even those figures are a gross under-exaggeration, with most victims unwilling to report the crime out of fear it will bring dishonour on their families.
Gender abuses are more common across India's conservative northern belt - which includes Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Bihar - largely due a deep-rooted mindset that women are inferior and must be restricted to the role of homemakers.
Age-old customs, such as payment of large marriage dowries to a husband's family and beliefs linking a woman's sexual behaviour to family honour, have made girls seem a burden rather than an asset, lowering their status in society. (With inputs from agencies)
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