Khaps and Modern India

You believe you know your society, your religion, your caste quite well. And then suddenly that delusion is completely shattered! I thought horrible things like honor killings were part of medieval cultures and Hindu society had largely moved beyond such terrible customs. Not true!

In a shocking case that come to light a few weeks ago, a Khap (sort of like a Panchayat) in Haryana ordered and successfully carried out the killing of a couple. Their crime: Marrying within the same sub-caste (or gotra).

Subsequently, a court in Karnal sentenced five people involved in the crime to death. That should have been the end of the case. On a more practical note, that should have been the beginning of the usual decade long appeals process where those five individuals would have begged the Indian state for mercy.

Not so! The Khap leaders are defiant. They don’t even claim that the crime didn’t occur. Rather they are fighting for their right to order such killings in the future! Here are some snippets from an HT article which covered one of the recently held protest rallies.

An assembly of 36 self-styled caste councils on Tuesday vowed to fight for the seven people convicted – five of them sentenced to death – by a Karnal court for their roles in an honour killing.

Several speakers said the authorities should not interfere in centuries-old traditions, as social norms were above the law

Former Haryana Police chief M.S. Malik, said, “We don’t want a Constitution or a law that goes against our age-old tradition. We feel strongly against the media for naming Khaps, accepted for the last 3,000 years, as Talibani Panchayats.”

I am sorry Mr. Malik, but the only way to earn the right to not be called Talibani Panchayats is by not doing things that Talibani Panchayats do! It is shameful that a retired IPS officer has such an attitude on upholding the rule of law and the Indian Constitution.

And finally, after all these events, it is the Judge who heard the case, who is running scared for her life. Indian Express reports that Justice Vani Gopal Sharma has requested a transfer from Karnal because she fears for her life after the Khaps have hardened their stance against the judgement pronounced by her!


Indian Census and Caste Statistics

I find it weird that no Census in independent India has ever collected any statistics about castes (scheduled castes and tribes aside). Given that so many of our policies and so much of our national resource allocation depends on caste, why does our Government shy away from collecting that data?

The original decision to not collect such data was, I think, to de-emphasize caste distinctions. While the intent might have been good, in reality much of our politics and national discourse is caste based and there are many benefits of accurate data regarding castes.

In fact the Mandal commission estimated the percentage of OBCs to be 52%. A much later survey conducted by the NSS (National Sample Survey) estimated the number to be 36%. Who is right? The cynic in me says the politicians want the public to remain in the dark since caste is one of the main tools they use to rule our country!

When this question about collecting caste data was put to C. Chandramoulli, the Census Commissioner, his reply was:

In Independent India, there has never been a Census where details related to castes were given. We don’t have that mandate from the government. There is no change in policy. We will only come out with total scheduled caste and scheduled tribe population in various areas. Details about caste will not be spelt out.

So we shall continue to live in ignorance!


Facebook vs robots.txt

Found this story through someone’s buzz updates. Pete Warden had built a service that crawled public Facebook profiles (public = not protected by robots.txt) and then displayed neat summary information about people’s social graphs (aggregated by country, things like who belongs to your inner circle etc).

In a rather evil move, Facebook decided to sue him! Their legal position was that even though the crawled pages are not protected by robots.txt, the legal validity of robots.txt has never been tested in courts.

Their contention was robots.txt had no legal force and they could sue anyone for accessing their site even if they scrupulously obeyed the instructions it contained. The only legal way to access any web site with a crawler was to obtain prior written permission.

I am willing to bet that Facebook itself has developed at least one web crawler in its short lifespan so far! Even if it hasn’t, should the business need arise, the last thing they will do is obtain written permissions from owners of websites they intend to crawl!

So here’s the irony: Pete knows he is right! Facebook knows Pete is right! But fighting lawsuits is so damn expensive in this country that a big company like Facebook can easily bully him into submission! Sadness.