Caste panchayats, based on caste system in India, are caste-specific juries of elders for villages or higher-level communities in India. They are distinct from village panchayats in that the latter, as statutory bodies, serve all villagers regardless of caste, although they operate on the same principles. A panchayat can be permanent or temporary.
The term panchayat implies a body of five (Sanskrit: Panch) individuals, although the number may vary in practice. The number is kept odd to ensure there is no tie when a decision is made. Panchayat members are appointed by consensus.
Panchayats, the council of five elders, had existed since vedic period ( c. 1500 – c. 600 BCE) from the times of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Kautilya (Chanakya) also provides the 4th century BCE description of decentralised autonomous governing organisation for each village based on the council of five where the king ruled the empire based on the conglomeration of villages.
Historical mentions of panchayats include the Parsi Panchayat in 1818, the Aror Bans Panchayat at Lahore in 1888, low caste panchayats in 1907, and the Prachin Agrawal Jain Panchayat of Delhi, founded in the late 19th century, which runs Delhi's famous Bird Hospital and some of its oldest temples.
Caste panchayat versus Gram panchayat
Gram panchayats (village councils) were usually controlled by the upper caste for maintaining the social order and the resolution of criminal and civil disputes. There were also panchayats for resolving inter-caste conflicts. Gram panchayats were legally formalised under the panchayati raj system as a decentralised grassroot form of local governance.
Caste panchayats (caste councils) have members of particular castes who follow caste-based social norms, rules, religious values and settle conflict among its own members. Each caste, including upper caste and dalits, had own caste panchayat. They repair wells, organise festivals, look after the sick of their castes. These caste panchayats existed as the form of local governance much before the gram panchayats came into being.
Urban caste panchayat
- Fused caste panchayats: those with characteristics similar to the traditional caste panchayats in villages.
- Transitional caste panchayats: those where the characteristics of traditional village caste panchayats and modern organisations coexist.
- Differentiated caste panchayats: those more adopted to the changing modern conditions with diminished traditional characteristics and modern organisational characteristics projected outside.
Traditionally, panchayats have adjudicated disputes involving caste members in open meetings. The issues brought before these bodies can include: managing temples and schools, property disputes, marital relations, and breaches of community rules (such as extravagant spending on weddings or the eating, drinking, or killing of certain animals, such as cows). Penalties include monetary fines, offering a feast to the caste members or to Brahmins, or temporary or permanent excommunication from the caste. Pilgrimage and self-humiliation are also occasionally imposed. Physical punishment was levied on occasion but is now uncommon.
When the Evidence Act was passed in 1872, some caste members began to take their cases before civil or criminal courts rather than have them adjudicated by the caste panchayat. Nevertheless, these bodies still exist and exert leadership roles within their respective groups.
A Khap is a clan, or a group of related clans, mainly among the Jats of western Uttar Pradesh and eastern Haryana. The term has also been used in other communities. A Khap panchayat is an assembly of Khap elders, and a Sarv Khap (literally, "all Khaps") meeting is an assembly of many Khaps. A Khap panchayat is concerned with the affairs of the Khap it represents. It is not affiliated with the democratically elected local assemblies that are also termed panchayat, and has no official government recognition or authority, but it can exert significant social influence within a community. Baliyan Khap, led by the late farmer's leader Mahendra Singh Tikait, is a well-known Jat Khap.
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- अब उतपति श्रावकनु के, षांप गोत की जेम |
भई सु पोथिनु देषि करि, वरनन है कवि तेम ||६८२||
आगैं तो श्रावक सवै, एकमेक ही होत |
लगे चलन विपरीति तव, थापे षांप अरु गोत ||६८३||
थपी वहैतरि षांप ऐ, गांम नगर के नांम |
जैसैं पोथनु मैं लषी, सो वरनी अभिराम ||६८४||
Describes the 84 Jain communities, Buddhi-Vilas, Bakhtaram Sah, Samvat 1827, (1770 AD)
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