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From social boycotts to betrayals, love can conquer all in the hinterland. TOI-Crest brings you some endearing and enduring tales.

LOVE IN KHAP-LAND
SUKHBIR SIWACH, TNN

It was on the campus of Janta College in Charki Dadri, Bhiwani that Anita Juthera and Shribhagwan Legha met and fell in love. After two years of courtship, Legha was keen to tie the knot. “I love you, marry me, ” he pleaded with her.

Anita, more clued into the complications of gotra taboos among Jats, was hesitant. Both belonged to the Phogat gotra. She came from Makdani and he, Samaspur and they were tied by the rules of gotra fraternity which rules out between Jats of the two villages.

“It’s not possible. The khap will oppose our marriage, ” she told him. But Shribhagwan’s persistence wore her down. “Times have changed. These things don’t matter in a modern society, ” the Jat boy had argued naively.

But Anita’s worst fears came true when the couple declared their love. Legha’s family was harassed by furious villagers egged on by a diktat issued by the khap. Their crops were destroyed, their tubewell was damaged, and their home was pelted with stones. The police remained deployed around the Legha home for 10 months to ensure that Shribhagwan’s parents were not harmed.

In the meanwhile, Shribhagwan was recruited as a constable in the Rajasthan Police and Anita got admission to a management course in a Jaipur college. Six years after they befriended each other, the couple got married in without telling their families. But word spread and all hell broke lose again.

Shribhagwan ducked calls from his father, Randhir Singh. And Anita was on the run from her panchayat. The couple managed to stay safe but their families bore the brunt of khap rage.

“I was told to get the marriage annulled or leave the village and abandon 40 bighas of our land for the panchayat to dispose of as it pleased, ” says Singh, 62. The khap announced a social boycott. And so vicious was the khap that Singh’s nephew Raj was fined Rs 5, 200 for daring to talk to his uncle.

The situation took a violent turn on March 4, 2010, the “deadline” for the family to leave the village. Their home was stoned and Randhir Singh and his wife Prem Devi had to lock themselves up in their rooms to escape the mobs. The police team assigned to their protection had to ask for additional forces to tackle the situation.

Three days later, the khap had reasons to rejoice – former Haryana chief minister, Hukum Singh, not only presided over its meeting but also expressed solidarity with the Phogat khap’s efforts to implement its diktat against the couple. The panchayat, attended by 1, 000 villagers, demanded that the girl and the boy be “restored” to their families within a week and divorce proceedings initiated.

Randhir Singh as well as Anita’s father, Azad Singh, a retired army captain, pleaded that they could not carry out the diktat because the couple would not listen to them. A few days later, Hukum Singh distanced himself from the panchayat and the khap relented on its stand that Shribhagwan’s family had to leave the village.

“Many villagers still don’t talk to me, ” says Randhir Singh. The village ex-sarpanch, Surender Singh Phogat, claims that no one is prevented from speaking to the family but “formally, we have not lifted the social boycott as yet”.

Anita, 24, and Shribhagwan, 25, have been married for two years now. But they are still in hiding and their families have no address for them. “Our parents have suffered a lot because of us. We will return to the village but only after we secure good jobs that will prove that our love marriage has been a success, ” says Shribhagwan. The two have cleared the written and physical exams for the recruitment of subinspectors in and are busy readying for the interview round.

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