No love marriages for women in this UP village

LUCKNOW: Women under the age of 40 in the Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat area can't visit a market unescorted, get married to the man they love or use mobile phones.

In a Taliban-like diktat, the village panchayat has barred women up to the age of 40 from going to the market alone, using cellphones and being seen in public without their head being covered to safeguard them from eve-teasing and harassment.

This decision was taken at a panchayat meeting of Asara village in Baghpat district after growing incidents of harassment in the area.

The panchayat has issued a order that anyone resorting to love marriage will be boycotted by the community and anyone found helping them will face a similar fate.

Speaking to The Times of India, the panchayat blamed the telecom boom for the 'sharp increase in instances of eve-teasing and elopement in the region' because young boys and girls can communicate with each other on cellphones unmonitored.

This, the panchayat claimed, has led to the 'objectionable union' of young people causing embarrassment to the parents and communities.

It also criticised the media for 'raking up the issue unnecessarily'.

This Talibani restriction on women has lead to some sharp reactions and infuriated women's rights activist.

Speaking to The Hindu, Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research, said: "Instead of taking action against the alleged perpetrators involved in the harassment, the panchayat has decided to keep tabs on the women. It is barbaric and mindless. The diktat is also in violation of the Supreme Court’s orders against such khap panchayat decisions and is against the tenets of the Constitution".

She also urged the UP government to take stern action against the panchayat.

"It is sad to see how in today's modern society too, such old fashioned, archaic mindsets exist and that they even try to force themselves on the women around them," said Madhu Garg of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA).

Added Naheed Verma, another activist: "I am bewildered why the government and the police does not clamp down on such elements once and for all. How can this be allowed and tolerated in today's era."

But the panchayat also decried the practice of dowry, calling it a punishable offence.