Fury over rural diktat banning women from 'falling in love'


A VILLAGE council in India has issued a Taliban-like diktat banning women under the age of 40 from falling in love, using mobile phones or going out in public unescorted.

The “fiat” issued by the Asara village council in Baghpat district of Uttar Pradesh province, 40km northeast of the capital New Delhi, has outraged women’s rights activists across India. It also requires women to cover their heads while away from their homes.

Anyone defying the order would be ostracised and then expelled from the village, council member Mohammad Mokam said yesterday. He added there were “other ways” to make the village women follow these “instructions” but that would be decided later.

“Love marriages are a shame for society as they dent the respectability of the girl’s family,” Sattar Ahmed, another council member, declared. Anyone who goes for such a union will not be allowed to live in Asara, he said.

The majority of marriages in India continue to be “arranged”, based largely on caste and community considerations following negotiations between the parents of the prospective bride and groom.

The Muslim-dominated Asara village council, however, claimed the edict was in response to complaints of sexual harassment from several young women, an explanation social rights groups dismiss.

“Instead of taking action against those involved in the harassment, the council has opted to restrict their women in a barbaric and mindless move. The diktat also violates the tenets of the constitution where equality for all is guaranteed,” said Ranjana Kumari, head of the Centre for Social Research in New Delhi.

“The government cannot allow such Taliban-style functioning of the village council. A woman who is legally of marriageable age should be allowed to choose her partner and have a say in who she wants to wed,” said Sudha Sunder Raman of the All India Democratic Women’s Association.

The notion that women up to age 40 need protection and need to be controlled is chauvinistic and undermines all norms of civilised behaviour, she added.

Similar “fiats” restricting women are not uncommon across India, especially in the north, with “honour killings” directed largely against women and girls who marry of their own volition.

While statistics are unavailable, human rights groups estimate more than 1,000 young women are victims of honour killings each year. Newspapers regularly carry gory reports of couples who married out of love being barbarically murdered, with the entire village complicit or looking on.

Activists say that despite India’s economic advancement, its social evolution remains mired in intolerance in some rural areas.