ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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In the Name of Honour

Khap Panchayat: Women and Honour Killing edited by Deepa Awasthi,New Delhi: Kalpaz Publications, 2016; pp 296,990.

This volume is a collection of 20 empirically rich chapters that provide sociological insights into the structure and functions of khap panchayats. Highly readable and written for a general audience, the chapters in this book systematically deal with various aspects of the khaps and similarly organised social institutions. The book is written with an honest urgency to think through the issue of honour killings and their gendered nature, while boldly deconstructing the various myths surrounding the phenomenon with informative analysis—sociological, historical, legal and political. As the editor notes, the book was compiled with the explicit intention of providing a “complete picture” of the origin of these institutions, their constitution, ideology, functioning, legality and impact on society. Overall the book delivers on that agenda and, in fact, offers a solid platform to think through the larger notions of legality, state–society relations, liberal individualism, development, and the construction of gender and sexuality in modernising India, in a theoretically ambitious project. While some of the chapters do tend to fall into a teleological developmentalist agenda that posits simplistic binaries of modernity and ­tradition, the strength of this book is its attention to cultural detail. The best way to engage with this book would be to use the empirical substance to rethink what modernity and modernism might mean in such a large swathe of contemporary India.

The book is organised into four themes of five chapters each. This ­review, too, shall stick to this thematic categorisation to highlight the range and scope of this book. The first section of the book is called “Understanding Khap Panchayats” and is primarily ­focused on explicating the contours of how khap panchayats came about and how they are structured and constituted. All the chapters in this section delve into the details of how this particular institution has garnered the material and symbolic weight that it has over the years. Vidya Vati’s chapter is a useful beginning to understand how khap panchayats are structured, which is not on the basis of caste (as is popularly ­understood) but on the basis of gotra (clan), and why this difference matters. Building off on that, the chapters that follow bring different clarifications to the table, each enhancing the mainstream, simplistic view of khap panchayats and how they operate.

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Updated On : 16th Oct, 2017

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