One can hardly miss an invite for afternoon tea at the Bharatiyam, a swank restaurant at New Delhi’s Constitution Club, with a man whose beliefs put tradition over the Constitution. ‘I will be the only one in the room in a white turban – you will have no problem recognising me,’ the voice on the phone chuckled beforehand. Sure enough, in his 60s and over six feet tall, Chaudhary Ramkaran Solanki stands out against the office-goers at the restaurant, dressed in the traditional garb of the Jat – a spotless white shirt, turban, dhoti, with a matching white moustache (see pic). I was curious to meet Solanki, the head of a body of khap panchayats (caste councils) whose coverage extends to 360 villages in and around Delhi. The khaps are social institutions that date back centuries but lack sanction under Indian law. This year, however, khaps have been increasingly in the news due to their tacit support for the recent spate of killings, in the name of ‘honour’, across several states in North India – as well as the realisation of their influence over local-level politics. Khaps might strike many as anachronistic, defying reason in the eyes of the liberal, urban observer in India and elsewhere. But there is little that is particularly eccentric about Solanki.
Read more in “Honour as a Strategy” my latest in the October issue of HIMAL, which enjoys an unique slot in South Asian media.