New Delhi, Jan. 15: When survival is at stake, tweet.
Khap panchayats, the extra-judicial village courts that face possible ban following allegations of encouraging "honour killings", have decided to give themselves an image makeover.
And the "best way" of doing that, they feel, is logging on to social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.
"It is essential for us to spread information about what we do and who we are. The Internet is the best way to do that. I think khaps are misunderstood. We are not a negative force. In fact, we are the first democracy of this country," Yuvdhir Singh, general secretary, All India Jat Mahasabha, told The Telegraph yesterday.
"We are meeting in Delhi again on February 2 and hope to take a call."
Sources said the fear of being banned had forced khap leaders to explore ways to find new sympathisers, especially among urban youths.
The decision to go online came on a day the Supreme Court asked khap leaders to explain their position on honour killings.
The directive came as the court heard a public interest petition that sought a ban on khap panchayats and action against their leaders for encouraging violence against couples who married outside their caste or religion, or married within the same gotra (bloodline).
The court directed khap panchayats in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to file their response on the legal validity of their role as "parallel courts".
Om Prakash Dhankar, a khap leader, claimed they were "not against inter-caste marriage".
"We are just saying that even science has said people shouldn't marry in their own gotra because it leads to diseases. We believe that people shouldn't marry in their own gotra and their mother's gotra."
The Dhankar Sabha chief had a word of advice for village youths. "Since in a village everyone is like a brother or a sister, they shouldn't marry among themselves," he said. "Children should make friends with people of their own gender." He also claimed khaps had "no hand" in honour killings. "These are done by the families themselves."
Dhankar said the decision to go online had been prompted by the need to remind youths to follow social norms. "With the help of social networking sites, we want to tell everyone that youngsters should abide by the rules and regulations laid down by the society."
The khaps also plan to publish books and distribute pamphlets on their history.
Sources said the khaps would hold an international conference in Uchana, Haryana, in March to deliberate on how to change their image.
Krishna Kumar, Jat pradhan in Panipat district, said khaps have formed teams that go house to house telling people of their relevance to the social structure. "But we have to adapt to new forms of media to reach out to more people."